TED Talks changed the way I study languages.
But I wasn’t always such a TED fan.
For a long time, I thought they were just those interesting, brainy videos that go viral sometimes. I’d never considered using them for my language studies.
Until one day, I stumbled across a TED Talk not given in English while researching an essay for a foreign language class.
My mind was blown. Of course TED conferences weren’t solely confined to the English-speaking world. Of course there are foreign-language TED Talks! Why was this not more obvious to me?
I immediately watched the talk. I couldn’t believe this bite-sized resource had been available to me for years and I’d never used it to get better at listening to native speakers.
What amazed me was the perfect marriage of length and content. The talk was short enough to watch over lunch or listen to at the gym, but the presenter was clear and the vocabulary was simple enough that I could focus on understanding the language and not struggle with new vocabulary.
Now, I recommend TED Talks to everyone who’s studying a foreign language. And I’ve got five fascinating ones for you in Portuguese!
Why TED Talks?
TED Talks cover academic subject matter for the general population. This means the language and content of a TED Talk are going to be clear and simple because the talk is meant to be understood by everybody.
Here are some more reasons why TED Talks are such useful tools for the Portuguese language student:
- Professional language: TED Talks are rehearsed and polished. The choice of language is deliberate and intended to maximize clarity. A rehearsed performance and a polished speaking style mean you can focus on understanding the speaker’s words and spend less time wrestling with rapid speech or dissecting slang and cultural references.
- Intended for the general public: TED presenters speak to be understood in real time, so their talks are often delivered slowly and with multiple pauses for the audience to process. Since much of the material that inspired a TED Talk can be technical, presenters focus on explaining concepts in layman’s terms and telling relatable stories.
- Politically and culturally salient: TED Talks cover some of the challenges that societies face. As such, after watching a couple of TED Talks from Brazil or Portugal, you’ll have a better understanding of the challenges those countries and communities are facing.
Not only does this demonstrate a seriousness in the country’s culture to any natives you meet, but you’ll also learn who today’s Portuguese-speaking thought leaders are.
- Length: TED Talks are shorter than other media like books, TV shows and movies, so they’re more manageable to study when you don’t have tons of time to spare. They typically run from 15 to 25 minutes (with some as short as six minutes).
If you enjoy learning Portuguese with TED Talks, you can get the same benefits from all types of videos with FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. (Note: Portuguese program is still in development!)
Each video comes with interactive captions. Just click any word you don’t recognize for an instant definition and native pronunciation. There are also flashcards and exercises for each video to make sure you remember new words once you’re done watching.
It’s an entertaining but effective way to build your vocabulary, while also absorbing Portuguese the way native speakers really use it. Check out the free trial for a fun supplement to your TED Talk viewing.
How to Use “Chunking” to Get the Most out of TED Talks
Chunking is a divide-and-conquer approach to studying a foreign language text, video or audio source. The basic strategy is to:
- Divide the material into small, easily manageable pieces.
- Study those pieces until you understand them.
- Rejoin the pieces.
- Understand the text/video/audio as a whole.
You likely practiced a form of chunking when you were first learning to read. Does this sound familiar?
- Break a paragraph into sentences.
- Break the sentences into words.
- Make sure you understand the meaning of each word.
- Put the words back into the sentence. Do you understand the meaning of the whole sentence?
- Now stitch those two sentences together. Do you understand these sentences together?
- Now read through the entire paragraph. Do you understand all of it?
As foreign language learners, it’s useful to return to this process. Chunking is especially ideal for shorter forms of content like TED Talks, because you can complete the process for the whole talk in a reasonable amount of time. While it might take you weeks to finish studying a two-hour movie via chunking, you can study a 15-minute TED Talk in a day’s study session.
Here’s how to adapt the process of chunking specifically to Portuguese TED Talks:
- Watch the entire video. Try watching it without the subtitles, but don’t be ashamed to turn them on if you’re struggling (we were all there once!). At the end of the video, summarize the talk’s main ideas in two or three sentences, in Portuguese, if you can.
- Break the video into short segments. You want to focus on 30 seconds at a time, at most. If there’s a transcript, even better: focus on the sentence level. Pause to take down any words or expressions you don’t know. I keep a spreadsheet like this:
Word/expression | Containing sentence (context) | Timestamp
- Understand the first chunk. Since TED Talks build on themselves, you’ll be sabotaging your success if you study out of order. It’s important that you understand—at least generally—the preceding sections before continuing. It helps to write out a brief sentence or two that summarizes the content of this chunk.
- Repeat for subsequent sections. Now that you understand the first bit of the talk, repeat this chunking, sentence-processing and summarizing strategy for the next segment.
- Stitch the chunks together. Can you understand the first two minutes of the talk? The first 10 minutes?
- Summarize the entire talk. Once you’ve made it through the entire video, you can write a more comprehensive summary. What’s the problem this speaker wanted to solve? What’s their suggested solution? Did it work?
At this point in your TED Talk studying process, you should be wrestling with the concepts in Portuguese. Challenge yourself to write your summary in Portuguese, using the language of the talk.
How to Find TED Talks in Portuguese
I recommend this study method for everyone, but especially for intermediate or advanced learners. If you’ve been studying Portuguese for at least a couple months, you’re ready for this. Promise.
You have a couple of options to find TED Talks with Portuguese audio. You can head to this TEDx São Paulo YouTube playlist, this TEDx Rio playlist or the TEDx Lisbon official website.
From there, you can click on a talk and begin watching. If there are subtitles, change those to Portuguese. If you want a real challenge, remove the subtitles entirely.
Not sure which talks to watch? We have some recommendations for you below.
If you’re a very early beginner, you might be overwhelmed by Portuguese-language TED Talks. You can get your feet wet with English-language TED Talks that have Portuguese subtitles. Head to the TED Talks homepage, where you can filter the talks by language. When you open a talk after applying the Portuguese filter, it should play with English audio and Portuguese subtitles.
Want a challenge? Try turning off the volume and just reading Portuguese. Ultimately, try to graduate to Portuguese-language talks as soon as you can to start giving your comprehension skills a real workout.
5 TED Talks in Portuguese for Brainy Language Learning
Marina Silva at TEDx Rio: “Everyone Can Do It”
Silva is a two-time candidate for the Brazilian presidency, winning around 20 percent of the popular vote in both elections, and another election coming down the line.
In this speech, she uses her personal narrative—of how a girl who was illiterate for the first 16 years of her life became a candidate in the country’s presidential race—to highlight the possibilities of a life in Brazil.
The message she tells her listeners is: you can do anything. Not a bad takeaway for people trying to learn a new language, huh?
She speaks slowly and emphatically, with easy-to-understand language. Silva also tells many stories in this talk—can you summarize them after you’ve watched it?
Ricardo Henriques at TEDx Rio: “Development Is Not Improvised”
Henriques is an economist who talks about the need for sustainable development in the state of Rio de Janeiro, one of the country’s most densely populated states.
His major question is: how can Rio continue to develop in such a way that reduces inequality and allows the population to thrive?
Unlike Silva, Henriques’s speech resembles the natural speech patterns of a Brazilian, so this is a more challenging listen.
Ana and Pedro Avzaradel at TEDx Rio: “Climate + Mobility + Waste + Consumption = ‘What’s It to Me?'”
Ana and Pedro talk about four important challenges facing cities: climate change, city transportation, trash disposal and consumer-conscious consumption.
Ana is an economist and the project and content manager for the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development. Pedro is a lawyer dedicated to questions of climate change, deforestation and how to protect the at-risk Brazilian society.
This is a universally applicable subject, and the talk itself is filled with sustainability-related vocabulary.
João Cavalcanti at TEDx São Paulo: “What Is the Brazilian Dream?”
Despite being several years old, the question this talk asks (“what is the Brazilian dream?”) still faces Brazil as a nation.
Researcher João Cavalcanti looks at the concept of the mythical American Dream—the promise of social mobility in the U.S.—and wonders if Brazil has a similar promise. If so, what is it and how can Brazil use it to affirm its place in the world? If not, what could it be?
Cavalcanti’s talk is heavy on visual aids and his vocabulary is beginner-friendly, but he speaks quickly. Can you hear how his accent is different from some of the other speakers we’ve recommended?
Carla Fernandes at TEDx Lisbon: “Being a Black Woman in Lisbon”
Fernandes talks about the experience and challenges of being black in the predominantly white Lisbon. If you’re interested in questions of race and identity, especially in Portugal, where the population is more homogenous than in Brazil, this is the talk for you.
Fernandes’s European accent is different from the Brazilian accents we’ve been hearing, but you should get familiar with it!
Are you ready to watch some TED Talks and practice chunking? With these new tools, you’ll understand some of the most important issues facing Brazil and Portugal today.
And your language learning will take off, too!
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