Contributed by Georgina (Sydney ESL Team)


Ever tried to learn a new language from a textbook? It’s hard work, reading and memorising new words, trying to make sense of grammar rules and making baby sentences only to have them corrected over and over again.  It all seems very unnatural and disconnected from how language is learnt and spoken in the real world. Learners become frustrated, their interest wanes and ultimately their progress will slow down. As a language tutor, I am always looking for authentic material that can I can use to make English come alive.  Material that presents English as it is used in everyday situations.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly pronounced or grammatically correct (although this helps!); it must, however, be thought provoking, interesting and above all, real.  Authentic materials will beat textbook materials every time!

TED talks are a useful and readily available online resource that can make English language sessions stimulating and engaging.  Used correctly, its benefits are limitless.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, TED speakers are real people, openly sharing their ideas and experiences.  They’re not professional speakers, they might stumble, they might have an accent, they might speak very quickly, but, ironically, this is how language sounds in the real world.  TED speakers sound the way we all sound in our daily lives.  So, when you listen to a TED talk you are tuning into to the language and hearing it “warts and all”.  It’s natural and authentic.  Secondly, Ted talks offer something for everyone.  The topics are endless.  From the obvious ones such as new advances in technology, personal growth and life experience stories, to the more bizarre and unusual topics such as, “what happens when you reply to spam emails” and “understanding a master procrastinator.”  There’s something to spark anyone’s interest.  So, if my client is a marketing executive interested in street art, or a nurse passionate about plant - based diets, or a lawyer working in social justice or a student studying sustainability, there will be a TED talk that speaks to each and every one of them.  My job is to find that talk and make it a complete learning experience.  And the final reason; TED talks are about big ideas. They encourage conceptual thinking; they fuel discussion and foster critical thinking.  We can all relate to this regardless of our background or first language.  All in all, they are a useful tool in anyone’s language!


So, how do you turn a TED talk into an English learning exercise?

  1. Turn off the subtitles. Concentrate on watching and listening carefully.
  2. Concentrate on understanding the main themes or messages. If some words are unfamiliar, don’t worry.  Just keep listening.  Definitely DON’T stop or pause to look up those words.  At this point, conceptual understanding is much more important than labouring over every unfamiliar word.  In teaching terms, this is listening for “gist”.  An important skill when learning a new language.
  3. Take notes as you go. The act of listening and taking notes helps comprehension and retention of key points.
  4. Use your written notes as a guide to discussion. A conversation with your tutor and the opportunity to express an opinion or two is invaluable.  At this point you can also ask your tutor to clarify or explain unfamiliar terms or words.

TED is devoted to spreading new ideas that motivate and inspire us.  Thanks to TED, we can achieve our language goals and be entertained at the same time.  Thank you, TED!


Here are some favourites:

  1. Julian Treasure – 5 ways to listen better
  2. Meg Jay – Why 30 is not the new 20
  3. Robert Waldinger – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness
  4. James Veitch – This is what happens when you reply to spam email
  5. Celeste Headlee – 10 ways to have a better conversation
  6. Sid Efromovich – 5 techniques to speak any language
  7. Mia Nacamulli – The benefits of a bilingual brain


About ESL Tutoring Services

At ESL Tutoring we tailor our lessons for your particular needs. As every person is unique, so the lessons we prepare are also different for each individual student. At ESL Tutoring, we don’t just go from one chapter to another in a text book. We teach you what YOU want to know and our tutors put in the extra effort to help you achieve your goals. We don’t just teach English, we live English! Contact us to learn more about what we can offer. You can also email us on or call 1300 137 186.


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