TED has hours of interesting videos to watch on almost any subject matter. Here’s some of my favorite that deal with language.

I discovered TED talks roughly ten years ago, and promptly went on a borderline unhealthy binge of watching every one I came across. TED has since gone through a transformation, sprouting limbs such as TEDx, TEDactive, and TEDglobal, to name a few; and I haven’t adapted to their whole scheme, but they still produce some gems, and the classics are still as relevant as they ever were. I wanted to share with you some of the talks that have helped transform my own thinking about language and have contributed to my growth as an English teacher. I hope you Enjoy them!


1. Stephen Pinker: What our language habits reveal

Pinker is a personal hero of mine. Few people on this earth can match his level of erudition. He’s got his hands into all kinds of fields of study but he’s most famous as a linguist; and listening to him talk about language is mesmerizing. This TED video was later abridged by RSAnimate and given some nice visuals, and although RSAnimate’s video is a bit more entertaining, it cuts out some of Pinker’s examples and points. So I encourage watching the original first.

2. Anne Curzan: What makes a word “real”

A lexicographer, amongst other things, Curzan makes transparent the “authority” behind dictionaries: us. I was told that ‘ain’t’ wasn’t a word when I was growing up, which confused my young brain. If it wasn’t a word, then how did I say it? The fact of the matter is, all words aren’t words, until you say them. Just look at Shakespeare for example, he made up words all the time; whenever he found English unsuitable in describing something, he fixed it. Although I feel people went a bit overboard with this, making English the most verbose language on the planet (I mean, who really needs YOLO? we already have carpe diem), it’s one of the aspects of a living language that gives it the ability to adapt to global proportions.

3. Deb Roy: The birth of a word

The amount of effort that went into collecting the data used for Roy’s (et al.) research is mind staggering.  To codify sociolinguistic patterns of language use, as well as language development in a newborn is a remarkable achievement. Also his “space time worms” are the closest depiction of the 4th dimension I’ve ever seen. Although his contribution to linguistics isn’t game changing (yet) his big achievements here are in the developments and the advancements he and his team made in how to collect and represent linguistic data.

4. Patricia Ryan: Mind your words

English can be a golden ticket that whisks you right through the door of the chocolate factory, but it can also be the boot in your face that keeps you right where you don’t want to be. Having a global language which we can all learn and be able to communicate in is certainly invaluable, yet this unfortunately has lead to global language attrition, or language “death”. What do we lose when a language dies? More than we can know. A balance needs to be found between accessibility, necessity, and diversity.

5. Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies

Psycholinguistics and first language acquisition are two of my favorite fields of study. Kuhl gives us the best of both with her research on sound discrimination in newborns. We’ve probably all heard about the “critical period” on some level or other, but what does that period really entail? Little is new of what Kuhl tells us, and she also fails to make a distinction between the ability to learn a language being due to pronunciation issues (directly associated to infant sound discrimination) and vocabulary or grammar development. But to be honest, this is the first time I’ve seen all this information compiled in one place with contemporary research to back it all up, and explained so beautifully.