August 12, 2015

The Latest in Language Learning: TED Talks

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The Latest in Language Learning: TED Talks

My colleague, Colleen Essid, senior in Cartus’ Language Academy,  and I recently had the good fortune to attend the International Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conference in Toronto, where the buzz was all about how to introduce English language topics that are both personally motivating and culturally relevant. One increasingly popular solution is to use the popular online forum, TED Talks. One publisher hosted a breakout session on the topic and introduced a new series of books centered entirely around using TED Talks for English language training. And in a roomful of professionals who are devoted to incorporating technology into language learning, there were multiple presentations about TED Talks. As we all stood huddled around the presenters, reviewing how they had taken this global phenomenon and incorporated it into structured lesson plans, we were very tempted to share that Cartus language trainers have been doing this since 2010!

For anyone unfamiliar with TED Talks, TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design” and is a global conference that brings together thought leaders and experts of various fields to share their ideas. TED has developed an online platform called TED Talks, where nearly 2,000 of its recorded presentations on extremely diverse topics are available, free of charge. TED Talks has gone viral, and the range of topics is bound to include a selection that piques everyone’s interest.

For the past few years, Cartus language trainers have identified specific TED Talks that address many of the common skills gaps we currently see in English language training. Cartus trainer Lucinda Flegeal recommends TED Talks as a way to engage the new global learner who needs to go beyond book-driven learning. “TED allows for a mindset change, in a way tricking [you] into learning,” she says.

Why should learners care? For one thing, because TED Talks showcases a variety of speakers, voices, and accents. TED mimics a real-life setting, where you can listen to a speech in real time but also have the eventual support of transcripts and even translations into your native language. We’ve figured out that through a flipped classroom approach, in which Cartus language trainers encourage customers to watch talks on their own and then, during the lesson, debrief the content, idiomatic expressions, and speaker effectiveness, TED Talks is an extremely effective language-learning tool. And for assignees who are always on the go, shorter versions of the Talks (less than 18 minutes long) have been introduced in podcasts such as the TED Radio Hour on NPR.

TED Talks speaks to an ongoing fascination with online education, as evidenced by the experimental Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by elite institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, and many others. Global publishing companies are also taking note: both National Geographic and Cengage Learning this year have developed an English language series based on popular TED Talks, and English as a Second Language (ESL) lesson plans are available on  

Last but not least, the talks have been translated into more than 100 languages through the Open Translation Project, so Cartus plans to integrate TED Talks as authentic material for other Cartus language programs, as well!

Picture of Ilana Hahnel

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Ilana Hahnel

About Ilana

Ilana Hahnel is the Language Academy Recruiting & Alliances manager. She has been a member of Cartus’ language department since 2003.

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Sara Ryan
I used TED Talks with my most recent adult student, at her request, and she said that it was very helpful. We chose topics that were interesting to her and she was able to listen to an American accent while learning about business culture in the U.S. The length of each talk was perfect and as a teaching tool I like them as a supplement to reading materials.
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