Recommended TED talks for language learning

TED talks can not only be a great source of information on language learning but also a useful resource for developing learner listening and presenting skills in classes.

I have included below some of my favorite talks on language learning.  When using them as resources in classes, the content would likely be too difficult for beginner learners, but I have found they can be great for upper-intermediate to advanced level learners, particularly in more specialized courses on oral presentation/culture etc.  English subtitles (or even other languages) can be displayed by clicking on the bottom-right icon.


Teaching suggestion

The videos can also be used together with TED Education which is a free resource allowing lessons to be created around TED talk videos. Lesson design is easy and resources produced very polished.


TED Talk Comment

Ten ways to have a better conversation – Celeste Headlee (12min)

Interesting and very relevant to non-language learners, too. Talks about importance of empathy, listening skills, and an open mind in conversation. Should we really be avoiding sensitive topics like politics? Or have we just lost the ability to share different opinions effectively?


How to speak so that other people want to listen – Julian Teasure (10min)

A focus on the delivery aspects of communication (prosody, voice inflection etc.) so very relevant to speech/oral presentation, athough some of the terminology used might be difficult for language learners


Five ways to listen better – Julian Treasure (8min)

Second half of talk introduces more practical techniques for active listening. Processes like RASA (Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask) especially useful for language learners


Feats of the memory anyone can do – Joshua Foer (20 min).

Have trouble remembering people’s names? Very interesting and humorous talk on how we can most effectively memorize new information and how it is a skill that is learnt rather than a natural ability. Content not limited to language learning, and useful and practical info. on how human memory works and the most effective way to memorize things including new words, peoples names etc.


Four reasons to learn a new language – John McWhorter (10min)

With English being increasingly used as a global language, it is effectively argued that there are still numerous benefits to learning other languages. A bit serious in places but insight into strong connections between language, culture, and behavior.


What makes a word real? – Anne Curzan (17min)

An interesting look into the world of linguistics, and lexicography (writing dictionaries). Insight on how languages are constantly changing and evolving, reflecting social trends etc.


Power of Words – Charles Browne (12min)

Which words are the most useful for language leaners to learn first? How recent research on corpus linguistics is changing ideas on how foreign language learners should be learning vocabulary


Linguistic genuis of babies – Patricia Kuhl (10min)

Very interesting insight based on research on how infants acquire languages and how this ability changes as children get older. Particularly relevant if you are considering bilingualism for your children


How language shapes the way we think – Lera Boroditski (14min)

An interesting talk arguing the extent to which language influences the way we think (Sapir-Warf hypothesis) and how it combines with culture to affect the way we view the word


Rapid language hacking – Benny Lewis (18min)

Talks about how there is no such thing as a “natural language leaner” and that everone has the ability to learn a language. Using his own learning experiences, the importance of practical communication skills and real-life practice are emphasized (a great argument for communicative language learning)


The Secrets of Learning a New Language – Lydia Machova (10min)

Talks about four key points that good language learners have in common: 1. Enjoyment 2. Methods (useful techniques) 3. Systems (making regular habits) & 4. Patience


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