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Ted Talk English Lesson

Learn English Through Ted Talks #4: Before I Die I Want to…

This really inspiring (and emotional) Ted Talk looks at loss, community, and bringing clarity to our lives.

There is some really interesting language used here. So, watch the video, read the analysis, and then complete the sentence at the bottom of the post.

Here is the video.

Watch the Video

You can turn on the transcript for the video, or read it below.

The Transcript

The following is the transcript taken from Ted.com:

Click Here to Read the Transcript

There are a lot of ways the people around us can help improve our lives. We don’t bump into every neighbor, so a lot of wisdom never gets passed on, though we do share the same public spaces.

0:24 So over the past few years, I’ve tried ways to share more with my neighbors in public space, using simple tools like stickers, stencils and chalk. And these projects came from questions I had, like, how much are my neighbors paying for their apartments? (Laughter) How can we lend and borrow more things without knocking on each other’s doors at a bad time? How can we share more of our memories of our abandoned buildings, and gain a better understanding of our landscape? And how can we share more of our hopes for our vacant storefronts, so our communities can reflect our needs and dreams today?

1:05 Now, I live in New Orleans, and I am in love with New Orleans. My soul is always soothed by the giant live oak trees, shading lovers, drunks and dreamers for hundreds of years, and I trust a city that always makes way for music. (Laughter) I feel like every time someone sneezes, New Orleans has a parade. (Laughter) The city has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, but it also has one of the highest amounts of abandoned properties in America.

1:34 I live near this house, and I thought about how I could make it a nicer space for my neighborhood, and I also thought about something that changed my life forever.

1:47 In 2009, I lost someone I loved very much. Her name was Joan, and she was a mother to me, and her death was sudden and unexpected. And I thought about death a lot, and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had, and brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and forget what really matters to you.

2:35 So with help from old and new friends, I turned the side of this abandoned house into a giant chalkboard and stenciled it with a fill-in-the-blank sentence: “Before I die, I want to … “ So anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.

2:57 I didn’t know what to expect from this experiment, but by the next day, the wall was entirely filled out, and it kept growing. And I’d like to share a few things that people wrote on this wall.

3:12 “Before I die, I want to be tried for piracy.” (Laughter) “Before I die, I want to straddle the International Date Line.” “Before I die, I want to sing for millions.” “Before I die, I want to plant a tree.” “Before I die, I want to live off the grid.” “Before I die, I want to hold her one more time.” “Before I die, I want to be someone’s cavalry.” “Before I die, I want to be completely myself.”

4:04 So this neglected space became a constructive one, and people’s hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up, and they consoled me during my own tough times. It’s about knowing you’re not alone. It’s about understanding our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It’s about making space for reflection and contemplation, and remembering what really matters most to us as we grow and change.

4:32 I made this last year, and started receiving hundreds of messages from passionate people who wanted to make a wall with their community, so my civic center colleagues and I made a tool kit, and now walls have been made in countries around the world, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and beyond. Together, we’ve shown how powerful our public spaces can be if we’re given the opportunity to have a voice and share more with one another.

5:08 Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people. In our age of increasing distractions, it’s more important than ever to find ways to maintain perspective and remember that life is brief and tender. Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.

5:40 Our shared spaces can better reflect what matters to us as individuals and as a community, and with more ways to share our hopes, fears and stories, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us lead better lives. Thank you. (Applause)

Language Analysis

“We don’t bump into every neighbor”

To bump into someone means to meet someone by chance. Where I live I am constantly bumping into my neighbors as we have a quiet street and there is a good community here. Here are more examples:

  • I bumped into Sean at the grocery store, he’s doing well.
  • (Talking directly to someone).. Hey, wow, this is the 3rd time we’ve bumped into each other this week.

Also note that to bump into someone can mean physical contact.

  • It’s so busy here, people keep bumping into me.
  • Someone bumped into me on the way home (talking about a minor car collision).

“I feel like every time someone sneezes”

This just means that there are a lot of parades in New Orleans. Do you know the most famous one that takes place there in late winter?

Answer

It’s Mardi Gras. Here is a picture of this parade.

Mardi Gras

“It has one of the highest amounts of abandoned properties in America”

If a property is abandoned, no one is living there. Abandoned properties usually become derelict (a really bad condition). You could see examples of abandoned properties in the video.

Screen Shot

Are there any abandoned properties near where you live?

“I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and forget what really matters to you.”

To get caught up in the day-to-day means that you are focusing on your routine, concentrating on all the small things. And like the speaker said, not thinking about and spending time on the things that are important, the bigger things.

Before I die, I want to be tried for piracy”

This was pretty funny as you saw a picture of someone dressing like a pirate writing this. To be tried for something means to go to court to stand trial for something: to find out if you are innocent or guilty in a court.

Screen Shot

“Before I die, I want to live off the grid.”

This is another example of what someone wrote. To live off the grid means to live in a self-sufficient way without utilities (water, electricity, sewers etc.).

When i think of someone living off the grid, I think about a log cabin, like this one:

English lesson: off the grid

“…And people’s hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up…”

To tear up means to cry. Here is another example:

  • This film is making me tear up.

Discussion

I really like the conclusion of the talk where the speaker talks about how our shared spaces can better reflect what matters most, and that the people in our communities can help us lead better lives.

It’s great to see how popular her idea has become, and I want to continue that here. In the comment box below, complete the sentence:

Before I die I want to ___________.

Ted Talk Lesson 3 Artwork

Learn English with Ted Talks #3: How to Create a Movement

Would you like to inspire a movement and become a leader?

Well according to this video, there are certain things that need to happen for a movement to take place. And, in this short video, you will learn what those things are.

Watch the video, read the transcript, see more examples of the key language, and then answer the question below.

The Video

The Transpcript

The following transcript is taken from Ted.com

So, ladies and gentlemen, at TED we talk a lot about leadership and how to make a movement. So let’s watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under three minutes and dissect some lessons from it.

First, of course you know, a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. But what he’s doing is so easy to follow. So here’s his first follower with a crucial role; he’s going to show everyone else how to follow.

Now, notice that the leader embraces him as an equal. So, now it’s not about the leader anymore; it’s about them, plural. Now, there he is calling to his friends. Now, if you notice that the first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader. (Laughter) (Applause)

And here comes a second follower. Now it’s not a lone nut, it’s not two nuts — three is a crowd, and a crowd is news. So a movement must be public. It’s important to show not just to show the leader, but the followers, because you find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader.

Now, here come two more people, and immediately after, three more people. Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we’ve got a movement. So, notice that, as more people join in, it’s less risky. So those that were sitting on the fence before, now have no reason not to. They won’t stand out, they won’t be ridiculed, but they will be part of the in-crowd if they hurry. (Laughter) So, over the next minute, you’ll see all of those that prefer to stick with the crowd because eventually they would be ridiculed for not joining in. And that’s how you make a movement.

But let’s recap some lessons from this. So first, if you are the type, like the shirtless dancing guy that is standing alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals so it’s clearly about the movement, not you. Okay, but we might have missed the real lesson here.

The biggest lesson, if you noticed — did you catch it? — is that leadership is over-glorified. That, yes, it was the shirtless guy who was first, and he’ll get all the credit, but it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader. So, as we’re told that we should all be leaders, that would be really ineffective.

If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in. And what a perfect place to do that, at TED.

Analysis

A leader needs the guts to stand out

To have guts means to have courage. This is quite common in everyday language, and can be used both seriously and when joking.

  • I didn’t have the guts to ask her out.
  • I bet you don’t have the guts to play me at FIFA (computer game).

To stand out means to look and/or act differently from the everyone/everything else:

  • Wow, your yellow shoes really stand out!
  • People spend their time at school trying to fit in, but once they graduate, they want to stand out.
  • I really want to stand out in my interview.

To be ridiculed

If someone is ridiculing you, it means that they are making fun of you and most likely laughing at you. Everyone who was watching the dancing guy was probably ridiculing him before they joined in.

There he is calling to his friends

There is a difference between call and call to. In the video it shows that the second guy is waving at his friends and telling them (through body language) to come over and join in – he is calling to his friends.

But, when we’re talking about using a telephone, then we don’t use the preposition to.

  • My boss called me last night.
  • I need to call my mother; it’s Mother’s Day.

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader

A lone nut is someone who is doing something crazy on their own. It can be used in a funny way (like describing the dancing guy) or a serious way (like describing someone in general). The second way is used to describe someone who is a little (or very) crazy and doesn’t have any friends.

Be careful how you use this one.

Because you find that new followers emulate the followers, not the leader.

To emulate means to copy/imitate someone and to follow their lead.

This is the tipping point. 

The tipping point describes the point when something starts to become significant. You can clearly see the tipping point of the movement in the video.

So those that were sitting on the fence before, now have no reason not to.

I love this saying, and it’s very common in English. To sit on the fence means to be undecided, to not have an opinion, or to not take sides in a dispute.

In this case, a lot of people were sitting on the fence and didn’t join in. But, once there was a lot of people dancing, they got off the fence and joined the dancers.

They will be part of the in-crowd if they hurry

To be part of the in-crowd means to be involved in the popular group. At school, there’s always a few people who are the most popular, and they are in the in-crowd.

Discussion

What I like about the video is that it takes a funny event and gives an important lesson. The talker explains that it is the second person who is the real key to the success, and it takes a lot of guts to do this.

And, if that you really want to inspire, you need to have the courage to follow, and then encourage others to follow.

Now, my question to you is this:

Would you have joined the dancing guy? If you answered yes, when would you have joined in?

Leave your answers below.

Ted Talk 2

Ted Talks #2: Learn Something New for 30 Days

This is our second Ted Talk post and is by Matt Cutts called, “Try Something New for 30 Days.”

Before you start the video, I’d like you to think about the following questions:

– What have you achieved in the past thirty days?
– What things do you do on a daily basis that are a waste of time?
– Have you tried something new recently?

(NOTE: We use the present perfect in the first question as “the past thirty days” is a present time expression and it still is connected to the present.)

Now, let’s take a look at the video:

The Clip

To download our special transcript, click the link that matches your native language:

Russian
Spanish
Italian

If your language is not show above, go to the following link and show the transcript in both English and your native language to compare: Ted Talk Original.

Analysis

To be stuck in a rut / To be in a rut

To be stuck in a rut means that you aren’t making progress and you are doing the same things all the time. Matt got out of his rut by trying something new for 30 days.

Here are more examples:

  • My work is so boring and I’m not progressing. I’m stuck in a rut.
  • I don’t want to get stuck in a rut with this novel I’m writing. I need some inspiration.

To follow in the footsteps

Matt says, “I decided to follow in the footsteps of the great American philosopher..” This means to copy someone or do something that is very similar to someone you know. A lot of the time, this is to do something similar to your parents.

  • My friend followed in his father’s footsteps and became a painter.
  • I’m going to follow in your footsteps by travelling to Argentina next year.

The months flying by

If time flies by, it means that it goes by very quickly. There is one particular expression here:

  • Time flies when you’re having fun.

To want something badly enough

To want something badly means that you really want something.

  • (A football manager to his players): How badly do you want to win this game?
  • If you want to speak English badly enough, you’ll work at it every day.

They were more likely to stick

If something sticks it means that it continues. When Matt made small changes, he said that he was more likely to continue doing these things, that they were more likely to stick.

Give it a shot

This is an American expression that means to give it a go, or try it out. It is usually used when the risks are low and the potential outcome is positive.

  • (Talking to a friend who likes a girl): Go on, talk to her, give it a shot.
  • I’m going to give this new project a shot.

Exercise

Choose the best option (taken from the talk):


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Centenarians

Do You Want to Live to Be Over 100?

What is the key to living long, healthy lives? In todays lesson you are not only going to learn some great English phrases, but you are also going to learn how to live over 100 years.

The way we are going to do this is by looking at a  Ted Talk video called, “How to live to be 100+” by Dan Buettner. The video is real English so those below an intermediate level may struggle with it a little. My advice with these videos is to listen and enjoy without worrying too much about the language.

The Clip

Analysis

Dan starts by telling us about a study that shows that the most important thing that dictates how long we live is dictated by our lifestyle and that there is a lot of confusion about what we need to do to live longer:

(1:03) Should you be running marathons or doing yoga? Should you eat organic meats or should you be eating tofu? When it comes to supplements, should you be taking them? How about these hormones or resveratrol? And does purpose play into it? Spirituality? And how about how we socialize?

After talking about some of the myths of aging he goes on to talk about how Americans aren’t currently living to their potential age of around 90 years old.

(4:08) So, if there is nothing you can do to slow your aging or stop your aging, what am I doing here? Well, the fact of the matter is the best science tells us that the capacity of the human body, my body, your body, is about 90 years, a little bit more for women. But life expectancy in this country is only 78. So somewhere along the line, we’re leaving about 12 good years on the table. These are years that we could get. And research shows that they would be years largely free of chronic disease, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

To find out how to live to over 100 years the team behind this talk went to some ‘blue zones’ which are areas where there is a high life expectancy.

Sardinia

The first blue zone was in the highlands of Sardinia near Italy where there are ten times more centenarians than in America. Their diet is mostly plant based but it seems that most important thing is the organization of their society.

(6:28) But the real secret I think lies more in the way that they organize their society. And one of the most salient elements of the Sardinian society is how they treat older people. You ever notice here in America, social equity seems to peak at about age 24? Just look at the advertisements. Here in Sardinia, the older you get the more equity you have, the more wisdom you’re celebrated for. You go into the bars in Sardinia, instead of seeing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar, you see the centenarian of the month calendar.

Okinawa

In the northern part of the main island of Okinawa lies another blue zone. This area again has a high level of centenarians and also has the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Disease is low and as like Sardinia their diet is plant based with lots of colorful vegetables. They eat 8 times the amount of tofu as Americans.

(8:26) More significant than what they eat is how they eat it. They have all kinds of little strategies to keep from overeating, which, as you know, is a big problem here in America. A few of the strategies we observed: they eat off of smaller plates, so they tend to eat fewer calories at every sitting. Instead of serving family style, where you can sort of mindlessly eat as you’re talking, they serve at the counter, put the food away, and then bring it to the table.

He again stresses the importance of social structures.

(9:28) Fifteen years ago, the average American had three good friends. We’re down to one and half right now. If you were lucky enough to be born in Okinawa, you were born into a system where you automatically have a half a dozen friends with whom you travel through life.

He then makes the observation that Americans go through two stages in their adult life: A productive working life and then retirement. This group of people go by the word ikigai, which roughly translates to “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” It seems that each person has their reason and continue to do for their entire lives, whether this is being a fisherman, being in involved in martial arts or being a great grandmother.

Loma Linda, California

The next blue zone takes us to California where a community of Seventh-Day Adventists (a religious community) live in and near to Loma Linda. They have five habits that explains their longevity, including their diet which is taken straight from the Bible. What’s also important is a period of 24 hours where they get away from everything.

(13:21) For 24 hours every week, no matter how busy they are, how stressed out they are at work,where the kids need to be driven, they stop everything and they focus on their God, their social network, and then, hardwired right in the religion, are nature walks.

The Common Features of the Blue Zones

  • Exercise is built into their lives and not something that should be done in addition to their daily routine.
    • (16:03) Instead, they set up their lives so that they are constantly nudged into physical activity. These 100-year-old Okinawan women are getting up and down off the ground, they sit on the floor, 30 or 40 times a day
  • Each community takes time out of their day to slow down and get away from any type of stress.
  • They all have a sense of purpose, something that gives them meaning in their lives.
  • They tend to eat a plant based diet, but there is drinking and meat involved. Overeating is avoided.
  • They live in communities.
    • (17:58) And then the foundation of all this is how they connect.They put their families first,take care of their children and their aging parents.

The talk is concluded by saying that there is no short-term answer to living longer. It is all about the communities in which we live, which he argues is the most important thing that we can do to live longer.

Discussion

Living the western world it is sometimes difficult to think about how best to live our lives as we are dictated by the need to be more and more educated and to be successful in our careers. If you are working in an office for eight hours a day or more then you aren’t getting the constant exercise that Dan talks about as being so important.

Many of us have started to introduce different techniques to try and help us balance out our lives including practicing yoga, eating a plant based diet, living in areas which have good communities etc.

But it seems that to really live a disease free life that potentially can last over 100 hundred years it is really important to be born into one of these communities so that your lives are set up in such away.

I think it tells a lot about our society that we aren’t living as long as we should, or that we aren’t as disease free as we should be. A lot can be learned from these blue zones and we can definitely take a lot in terms about how we can make changes in our lives.

Other Resources

Here are some tips about how to learn as much English as you can from the video:

  • Listen to it several times over. Try not to focus on grammatical structures, instead just listen and make images from what he is saying, or look at the images shown in the presentation.
  • Read the transcript while listening. Look up some words that confuse you, or better still, learn them from the context.
  • Read more about the topic on different websites. The repetition of vocabulary will help your learning.
Here are some more articles that talk about the topic: