What are the qualities of great leadership?

Skill: Listening Theme: Leadership
Level: Intermediate/Upper Intermediate (B1-C1)

The following short video takes a fun look at some qualities of good leadership that you may not have thought of.


In your opinion, what are the essential qualities of a good leader?  Make a list, then try and put the qualities in order from the most important to the least important.

Write your list of qualities in the comments field below.


There are hundreds of different « movements » around the world that have had outstanding leaders.  Click on this link for a list of movements.  Choose three that you would like to know more about, and look for information to answer the following questions:

  • Who were the key leaders of this movement?
  • In what ways did they demonstrate effective leadership? (you may not be able to find this information for every movement on the list)


Derek Sivers is best known as the founder of CD Baby. A professional musician since 1987, he started CD Baby by accident in 1998 when he was selling his own CD on his website, and friends asked if he could sell theirs, too. CD Baby was the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients.  In the video below, entitled How to start a movement, he mentions some qualities of leadership that you may not have thought of.  According to Sivers, what are the principles behind starting a movement?

Note that this video can also be viewed at Ted.com, where there are subtitles and a transcript available.


The video contains the following idioms:

he needs the guts (courage and fortitude; nerve; determination; stamina)

lone nut (an eccentric person)

tipping point (the crisis stage in a process, when a significant change takes place)

be part of the in-crowd (a group  of people sharing similar interests and attitudes, producing feelings of solidarity, community, and exclusivity)

recap (short for ‘recapitulate’)

over-glorified (honoured with praise or admiration, in an exaggerrated way)

gain momentum (the force that keeps something moving or developing after it has started)

It also contains the following phrasal verbs:

stand out, stick with, join in

Test: how would you translate these idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs into your language?.


1. Sivers says:

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.

Do you agree?  Why?  Can you think of any other examples?

2. Do you think that leadership is over-glorified?  Why?

3. Would you revise any of the qualities of leadership that you thought of before watching the video?

How to use automatic captions to improve your listening skills

If you have been a Facebook or Twitter user for any length of time, you have probably been sent links to hundreds of video clips stored on YouTube that your friends have found cute, funny, interesting, shocking, or worth sharing for some reason. But who has time to watch them all, right?  If you’re like me you probably ignore a lot of them.

But if you are a language learner, have you considered turning the otherwise time-wasting activity of viewing all your friends videos into a method for improving your listening comprehension skills?

There are many ways of using video clips to improve listening skills:

  • Watching without subtitles for « gist » or general comprehension.
  • Watching with subtitles in your own language for fun, or just generally tuning your ear to the sounds of the language.
  • Watching with subtitles in the original language (the language of the video) to work on both receptive skills simultaneously (listening and reading), which aids in retaining vocabulary.

The problem is that many YouTube clips do not come with their own subtitles.  Enter the YouTube « automatic captions » function, currently available in ten different languages (English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Russian and Dutch).  Automatic captions uses voice recognition algorithms to create subtitles, but as you might expect, the technology is not perfect, and this can lead to some quite hilarious errors. These imperfections give advanced learners a great opportunity for improving intensive listening skills, through correcting the captions.

For this exercise, short videos are best (two minutes or less).  To give an example, we’ll look at a short video from The Economist entitled Personal Technology, a short look at how mobile devices are overshadowing the personal computer.

1. Watch the whole video for general comprehension.

Focus questions:

  • What did Steve Jobs mean by the phrase « a post-PC era »?
  • The video predicts an explosion of mobile data by the end of the decade. What form will most of this data be in?

Focus vocabulary:

The clip contains several verbs to describe statistics and change.  Do you know and use these words?  How are they used in the video?  Copy any new words with their context sentences into your vocabulary notebook.

  • grow (strongly)
  • outstrip
  • outnumber
  • catch up
  • soar
  • account for
  • leap
  • rise

2. Access the captions in one of two ways:

Note that to access the captions function you will have to view the video on YouTube.com.

  1. Select « automatic captions available », and highlight the language in the menu.
  2. Select « transcript » for the full text.  Notice that this option allows you to jump to specific points in the video, by clicking on the sentence you want to focus on.

YouTube screenshot

3. Watch the video a second time while viewing the captions.

As you watch, write a corrected version of the transcript.  A great tool for doing this is Videonot.es.

At present there doesn’t appear to be a way of uploading a corrected transcript to benefit the YouTube community.  However, you might be able to persuade a friendly native speaker to review and comment on your work.

Note that it is possible to upload transcripts with videos that you upload yourself.  To do this, you need to create your own Google account if you don’t already have one, and upload your first video.  You then select from your personal menu (top right of your YouTube screen) the option « video manager », select « captions » from the « edit » menu beside the video you want to transcribe, and then « add captions », which opens a field where you can type your text.  Once you have uploaded the text, YouTube will automatically adjust the timings in order to synchronise the text with the dialogue.

How have you used YouTube as a language-learning tool? Let us know in the comments.








Improve your listening comprehension with TED

If you are learning English and you have never heard of TED Talks, you need to stop what you are doing take a look at it right now.  It is a fascinating collection of talks on a huge variety of subjects, each talk with subtitles in a number of different languages, and a transcript to follow with clickable links to navigate your way around the talk.  This makes it an excellent tool for improving your listening comprehension.

Tips for listening with TED.

If you are an advanced learner, all of the talks are accessible.  If you have a lower level, you may find that many of the talks are too long.  You used to be able to search for talks by length, but for some reason this function has been removed.  However, many of the short talks (under 6 minutes) have been tagged « short talk », and you can access a list here (or select view all tags/short talks from the home page).

An example:

One of my engineering students put me onto a short TED Talk entitled How to Start a Movement, by Derek Sivers. Let’s look at how you might use this video for a listening comprehension activity.

1. First activate the English subtitles

TED subtitles for listening comprehension

2. You can also view the whole transcript from the drop-down menu « show transcript ». This becomes especially useful when you want to focus on specific vocabulary in the talk.  For example, in this talk you will hear the word « guts ». After watching the video once you may want to go back to the point in the video where this word was used.  Simply  select ctrl + F (PC) or cmd + F (Mac), type « guts » in the « Find » field, and it will highlight every instance of the word in the transcript. To return to the exact point in the video, simply click on the word « guts », and it will return you to the right spot.

TED talks find key words

What can you do improve your listening skills with this talk?

Focus question:

What are the qualities of a good leader?

Make a list of the top ten qualities, thinking about good and bad leaders you have known.  Now watch the video, and make notes on the following question:

How do the principles in this talk relate to leadership?  What qualities of good leadership are mentioned?

You will notice that there are a number of idioms and phrasal verbs in this talk. For example:


  • to have the guts (courage and fortitude; nerve; determination; stamina)
  • lone nut (an eccentric person)
  • tipping point (the crisis stage in a process, when a significant change takes place)
  • to be part of the in-crowd (a group of people sharing similar interests and attitudes, producing feelings of solidarity, community, and exclusivity)
  • recap (short for recapitulate)
  • over-glorified (to honor with praise, admiration, or worship; extol.)
  • gain momentum

Phrasal verbs

  • stand out
  • stick with
  • join in

How are these expressions used in the talk (use the « find » function mentioned above to locate where in the talk they are used)?  Can you guess the meaning from the context?  If not, you can use a good online dictionary such as Dictionary.com to check.

For further vocabulary work, watch the talk again, and make a list of no more than ten new words or expressions, under one of the following categories:

  • the ten words/expressions I find most interesting
  • ten words/expressions I didn’t understand
  • ten words/expressions that summarise the talk

For some writing practice, use the comments below. You could comment on the following:

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.

  • Do you agree with this statement?
  • Do you think that leadership is over-glorified?
  • Would you revise any of the qualities of leadership that were mentioned in the beginning?

Finally, note that you can also download the talks to your hard drive for later viewing. This way you won’t have the option of using subtitles or the transcript, however.

Happy viewing!

For more articles related to listening comprehension:

How to use automatic captions to improve your listening skills.  There are many ways of using video clips to improve listening skills. YouTube automatic captions uses voice recognition algorithms to create subtitles.

To learn a language, listen to it first.   The best means to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns, even if you haven’t a clue what it all means.

To learn a language, listen to it first.

The headline « New study may revolutionize language learning » caught my eye the other day.

Blue pill red pillIf I was hoping for a kind of miracle pill, or some means of downloading a language to my brain the way Neo learns Kung Fu in The Matrix, I would have been disappointed – the title of the article is a little optimistic.  It don’t think this « discovery » is exactly revolutionary.

Nevertheless, it brings to the fore some « old knowledge » (as one of the commentators on the article puts it) that is worth revisiting for the language classroom.

The report suggests that the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns, even if you haven’t a clue what it all means.  Nothing new, perhaps, but how has this knowledge influenced teaching methodology, particularly when it comes to teaching beginners?  Not much, it would appear.  Beginner-level language courses still tend to launch into grammar from day one, and introduce vocabulary first in written form, before the learner ever has the chance to hear the language.

Without going into all the findings of the research, it rings true in the sense that this is surely the natural progression in first language acquisition: toddlers learn to speak by first listening, then imitating the sounds, and only then beginning gradually to formulate words in isolation.  Not long after we moved to France I observed my 5-year old daughter begin to learn French from her school friends.  I was fascinated one day to come across her babbling to herself unintelligibly much as you would expect a 2-year old to do.  I realised that the sounds and intonation were not at all English-sounding, and it dawned on me that this « franco-babble » was an essential milestone for her in learning French.

Some feedback from a very brief Twitter conversation on the topic stipulated that that adults and children do not learn languages in the same way.  This is undoubtedly true – it took my then-5 year-old  only 7 months to reach the same level of French as her classmates – there are not many adults who could do that.  As adults the way we learn a second (third, fourth etc.) language may differ significantly from the way we learnt our native language.

Nevertheless I wonder if the differences haven’t been overstated.  This « new » research suggests that simply listening to a new language sets up the necessary structures in the brain required to learn the vocabulary.

One interesting line of enquiry which motivated the research was what makes it so difficult to learn foreign words when we are constantly learning new ones in our native language.  It was found that even as adults each time we hear new combinations of sounds our brain develops new corresponding neural structures.  The more exposure to the sounds, the better prepared we are to learn and retain  the language.

The practical application of all this relates to how we can better harness the power of the Internet so that every hour in the language classroom is matched as much as possible with an hour of aural exposure to the language outside.  In years gone by this kind of immersion was impossible – today we can surround ourselves with the sounds of a language through songs, movies, mp3s…  according to this study language-learning is more about exercising brain tissue than learning facts, and an iPod may just be one of the best tools available for making those necessary neural connections when preparing to learn a language.

So what does that all mean for language teachers – should we not adopt the model of « trainer » or « coach » rather than « teacher », if our role is to help learners exercise their linguistic neurons, rather than simply offload language facts.  How should beginners’ classes look different?  What if teaching « hello, good-bye, my name is , please and thank you » was replaced by a programme of listening to language spoken at a natural speed with activities designed to help learners identify and begin to practice the sounds of the language.  How then should we help learners keep motivation levels high when swimming in long passages of spoken language before they have any « hooks » to hang recogniseable vocabulary on?

If you have any thoughts on this I would love to hear about it in the comments.

New study may revolutionize language learning, PhysOrg.com

For more discussion on these findings, E/FL 2.0 has an interesting post.

photo credit: B Rosen cc