Acquiring listening comprehension abilities in a foreign language is a continuous challenge for any studious language learner. Just when you’re feeling competent in understanding one topic, switching to another topic makes you realize you still have so much to learn.
TEDx Talks can be a valuable tool for developing listening skills in your target language.
TED Talks are videos of speeches about a variety of topics, presented in professional forums. Topics range from science to psychology to culture. Speakers are diverse and have a range of speaking styles. TEDx Talks are the spin-offs of the original TED Talks, which are hosted in numerous countries around the world. As such, many TEDx Talks are presented in foreign languages. Students at ILR 1+ and above are best suited to comprehend the talks. However, stay tuned for a note to beginners later in this post.
When you listen to a TEDx presentation in your target language, it not only helps you review and expand vocabulary for a particular topic, but it also may be an opportunity for you to connect with a personal or work-related interest. Having background knowledge about a topic can be incredibly helpful to making the content of the presentation more accessible in a foreign language. This is because you may be able to piece together what certain words or main ideas from the speech are, thanks to your prior understanding of the topic.
Effective ways to listen to TEDx Talks as a learner at level 1+ or higher include:
- Trying to understand the main idea by listening through the speech without stopping the video.
- Focusing on vocabulary by looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary as you are listening. Don’t worry about grasping all the details; this is a vocabulary-based exercise.
- Taking notes while listening to the speech, noting the main idea and key details, with or without pausing the video.
- Passively listening to the talk in the background as you are doing something else, to hear the sounds and rhythm of the target language, without trying to understand everything.
- Practicing pronunciation by pausing the video after each sentence and repeating aloud after the speaker. Try to mimic the nuances of how the speaker is talking.
- Listening broadly to the speech as a whole, considering how the speech is organized, how humor is or is not used, and reflecting: Is this different from how you would organize a speech? Is this common for speeches presented in the target country? How might you adjust your speaking to better adapt to your target country?
If you find that the TEDx Talk you chose is too challenging, skip to another talk rather than plowing through the initial one. This will help keep your motivation high.
Some TEDx Talks are already curated into language-specific playlists, including:
Other languages may take some searching. Try Googling the phrase “TEDx + (your target language).” For example, search TEDx中文 for TEDx Chinese to get results in Chinese.
TED-style podcasts are available for some languages, as well. Search for your language on Spotify or where podcasts are found. For example,
On a related note, English TED talks contain speeches about various countries and cultures, too; listening to such content could provide you with even more information and understanding about your target country or language. Simply search “TEDx + (name of your target country)” for this kind of content. For example, searching TEDx Japan produces videos about Japan or talks presented by Japanese people.
Finally, a word to beginners. Listening to TEDx Talks in your target language may be well beyond your current language abilities. However, you can still find value in these speeches if you change your intentions while listening. That is, at this point, avoid listening for the sake of understanding the main idea and/or details. Instead, listen for:
- The sounds and rhythms of the language,
- Pronunciation practice,
- Variations between speakers’ regional accents or speaking style,
- Filler words (um, ah, oh) and Transition words (first, second, next, so)
Listening to your target language being spoken by native speakers, even when you are not yet at an advanced level, will help you recognize and mimic how the language is spoken in authentic, professional contexts. This knowledge is applicable all throughout your language learning journey.