Be Inspired while Learning a Language with Transcripts + Subtitles

A Hidden Gem for Language Lovers and Learners

This article presents a unique approach for intermediate to advanced (and beyond) learners of many languages to gain exposure to interesting material in their target language(s). It has to do with a very popular website that features short (usually less than ten minutes) presentations by some of the world's greatest and most famous minds (not always both ;) on their specific areas of expertise. It's called, simply, TED, and the presentations are called "TED Talks".

The TED website itself is not geared towards language learners or educators yet is useful for both. It is especially useful for English learners, as all the talks are in English. But it's also useful for anyone learning most of the world's most-spoken languages (as well as numerous lesser-spoken ones) who want to simultaneously watch inspiring, funny, courageous, fascinating, informative, persuasive, ingenious and often jaw-dropping presentations about technology, science, entertainment, design, business and global issues - all while gaining exposure to their target language. Here's how and why...

Learn Amazing Things While Gaining Exposure to Your Target Language(s)

The TED interface has two main apects of interest to language learners and teachers. First, each TED Talk video offers a surprisingly large number of translated subtitles. Second, each video that's been subtitled has an additional transcript dialogue which you can use to jump to any sentence in the video.

Take this talk called "3 Things I Learned While my Plane Crashed" by Ric Elias. It is a short, unassuming 5-minute video about Ric's experience surviving a plane crash on the Hudson River in New York City, and what he learned in the process. This talk has subtitles and transcripts in no fewer than 43 languages! We're talking everything from English (in which the presentation is given), Spanish, French, German, Chinese, etc, to Azerbaijani, Telugu and Catalan.

Note: The embed feature only allows for subtitles to be viewed. Transcripts are available on

In fact, there are currently over 80 languages represented on the TED website. This includes ones that you may have never even heard of such as Assamese, Kannada and Kirghiz. They also differentiate between French from Quebec and from France, as well as Portuguese from Brazil and from Portugal and two varieties of Norwegian (Bokmaal and Nynorsk). They even have translations available in Esperanto!

There are certain languages with subtitles and transcripts available for literally hundreds of videos. As this article goes to online press, there are nearly 1,000 videos available for Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), French (from France), Italian, Korean, Romanian and Spanish. Not too shabby runners-up include Polish, German, Portuguese (from Brazil) and Turkish with 800+, Russian and Dutch with 700+, Japanese with 600+, Croatian, Greek and Vietnamese with 500+, etc and so on.

How to Use This Effectively (Learners and Teachers)

One way to use this effectively is to choose a talk that interests you (or your students) and watch it in English while reading the subtitles in your target language below. Next study the transcript and learn the vocabulary you're not familiar with. Finally, view the short video again, this time looking only at the transcript and keeping up with what the speaker is saying (staying on the sentences as they are said).

If English is your target language, you can also view the subtitles and transcripts in English. You're actually the luckiest of all, especially if there is a transcript and subtitles in your native language!

One of the coolest features is the ability to click any sentence in the transcript and jump immediately to that line in the video. Go on, give it a try.

A Volunteer-Driven Language Treasure

All of this is possible thanks to volunteers involved in what's called the TED Open Translation Project. (In fact, if you are interested in getting involved with TED, you are welcome to become a TED translator.)

To immediately find all the talks available in your target language(s), just visit the translations section of the TED website.

Have fun and happy learning!

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