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Using TED Talks To Learn Any Language

It’s a lunch-break ritual: I grab my lunch and watch a TED talk. It’s a chance to learn about something new, to listen to fascinating people – and, last but not least, to get a breather from the work before me. I love me some TED-related goodness. And the best part? You can actually use TED talks to learn just about any language. Here’s how (the four ideas differ in difficulty, but they’re all definitely useful).

Easy: Learn more about languages and learning

Even if you’re doing it in your native tongue, learning more about education – or listening to stories about languages – can do wonders for your motivation and re-shape your learning style. TED is replete with talks about language, and they’re by definition riveting and really useful.

The best option is to save them for the moments when you should be learning, but just can’t be bothered: everybody has those, and so will you! So the next time your inner voice rebels against revising Spanish verbs, listen to Erin McKean’s dictionary talk. It will still be language-related research (if you believe it hard enough), and it may even inspire you to get back to your flashcards afterwards!


Medium: Translate a talk

The biggest appeal of the TED talks for language learners must be their translatability. TED makes it really easy to translate talks – providing interactive transcripts and encouraging translator communities. There are thousands of talks already translated on TED website – and every day, another video gets its subtitles in a foreign language.

This may feel daunting, but if you’re up for it – jump in! You will receive lots of help and support from the community, and learn a lot more about the translation process. Your language proficiency should be pretty high for this task – but even if it’s not, providing subtitles to a TED talk as part of a class project could be a fascinating way to learn a language better.


Hard: Organize a TEDx Conference

Apart from the main TED conference, every year hundreds of smaller TEDx events take place around the world. The formula is easy and replicable, and its success attracts followers. The talks are no longer in English only – many countries choose to focus on their native languages and audiences instead.

If you’re a really active and proficient language speaker, it may be hard to find new challenges to test your proficiency. So here’s one for you (if you’re lucky enough to function in a foreign language community).

Organize a TEDx Conference. Prepare an agenda, find a venue, invite speakers, get in touch with the local authorities. Pull it off.

This will be the most hectic, exciting and challenging time. It will test your patience, your cool – and your language proficiency. Next to starting a business, though, this may be the best way to tackle your language shyness: a project like that is bound to put huge demands on your creativity and communication skills. And by meeting these demands, you’re in for a huge confidence boost (not to mention a nice event to put down on your CV).


What’s it going to be, then? Which of these ideas are you willing to try?

(Photo credit: Gisella Giardino @Flickr)

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