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?


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.


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 ___________.

Name: Email:
  • Mirjana

    Before I die I want to travel to UK and Ireland.

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      Great! Are you planning a trip there in the near future?

  • keremcan063

    Before I die I would like to meet Jack Askew 😉

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      Love it!

  • keremcan063

    I have a question for everybody here . Well in Turkey we write last name with capital letters. such as My first name = Mehmet , my lastname = TEK?N. Mehmet TEK?N
    What about you ? How do you write your last name with capital letters or lowercase letters

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      In English speaking countries (as far as I know) it is like this: Jack Askew. I never knew you did that in Turkey.

  • Estela

    I lost my father last year so before I die I want to learn how to deal with the pain I feel in my heart. Before I die I want to finish my book; before I die I want to fall in love again; Before I die I want to adopt a child; Before I die I want to be a gospel singer. Thank you for the lesson.

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      Great answers Estela. I hope you are able to achieve these goals.

  • Stan

    Before I die I would like to find a remedy for death and become immortal :)

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      That’s quite ambitious Stan! Are you working on this at the moment?

      • Stan

        Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do in a rainy Sunday afternoon )))

  • Júlio César Sanfelice

    Before I die I would like see my daughters growing and spare more time together them.

    • http://www.jdaenglish.com/ Jack Askew

      Great answer! “… would like to see my daughters grow up and spend more time together/with them.”

  • Giuseppe, from Italy

    Before I die I want to be confident with the English language

  • Ildar

    Wow! It’s a very interesting topic to discuss about. And very difficult to answer this question.
    One of my answers would be like that – before I die I want to fly into space.

    How would you answer, Jack?