Walking While Eating Noodles
Walking While Eating Noodles

Vung Tau Diary

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TED Talks: Bridging the Gap Between Classroom English and Real World English

According to Wikipedia, TED talks have been around since 1984 but came to life on-line in the form, which still exists today, in the summer of 2006.

 

From the first conference, which you can watch here, Al Gore speaks for Monterrey California in February of 2006 about how we can avert the climate crisis. Sadly, nearly a decade later, world leaders are still wringing their hands as they convene in Paris to discuss who is willing to do what in what given timeframe before this other country will agree to do ten percent of this other country’s goal by 2050.

 

Bringing the best minds in technology, entertainment, and development, TED has inspired, opened minds, and brought issues to wider audiences. Some of the talks are brilliant. Whether I am inspired by a pair of teenage girls who developed a plastic eating bacteria that can clean their local waterways or hear the touching personal story of an otherwise wonky social scientist, TED provides an antidote for a lot of the cynicism that prevents most people for searching out solutions for seemingly unsolvable global problems. Of course, history is full of examples of solutions to problems which previous generations thought to be outside of the rhelm of possibility.

 

As a teacher, I want my students to watch these presentations—presentations which I have no hope giving myself. Being inspired to change the world will receive a lot of snark. I want my student to dare to envision a better world and know that they are in impressive company f they do. I may have little control over what my students take away from the talks. But with so many talks and topics in the TED catalogue, I can be sure that they can find something to be inspired by.

 

My overall goal is to have my students be able to take the complex topics—intelligently presented—and talk about them, albeit with less nuance, but in English. 

A tool that has made that possible is TED’s Open Translation Project:

The OTP utilizes crowd-based subtitling platforms to translate the text of TED and TED-Ed videos, as well as to caption and translate videos created in the TEDx program (with its technology partner dotSUB until May 2012, and recently with open source translation tool Amara).

I want my students to experience real English but I understand that they are quickly overwhelmed by even a short topic spoken at a normal pace. Classroom English crawls at a snail’s pace. The textbook English is limited to graded language for pre-intermediate learners. No matter how successful a lesson feels, I know that students avoid seeking out English language entertainment, news articles, or other media. They don’t feel that they can handle real English.

For speaking practice I have introduced the “cocktail party,” activity. The students stand up and mingle with different classmates to practice talking about a topic. Having them switch partners requires making sure that they do not simply stick with their friends or ignore classmates of the opposite gender. The idea is to integrate and be comfortable socializing in English. There is a strange phenomena in ESL classes where students are able to speak unless they are called to speak aloud and alone. Partner work, groups, class reciting all produce lots of language. But individual speaking time is met with total silence. 

Maximizing the time for socializing in the ‘cocktail party’ gives students enough time to practice the language so that they can perhaps be able to speak out when called on. TED talks provide interesting content for students to connect with.