TED Talks in Russian: An Inspirational Way to Learn Russian

“Ideas worth spreading” is the mantra of TED Talks, and believe it or not, those “ideas” can be a good—no, great—way to improve your Russian.

Yep, in this post, we’re exploring the world of TED Talks, по-русски (in Russian)!


So, What Are TED Talks, Anyway?

TED Talks started over ten years ago, growing out of a Technology, Entertainment and Design (hence, “TED”) conference in Monterey, California.

TED Talks are known for their pithy content and engaging style. They’re the perfect thing to watch on your lunch break, when you’re folding laundry or while talking to your mom on the phone. (Okay, maybe not the last one).

Given the crazy success of TED Talks in the United States, it’s no surprise that there have now been hundreds of TED and TEDx events across the world. Meaning that there are now literally thousands of TED Talks available, many of them in foreign languages. Which brings us to…

How Can Watching TED Talks Improve Your Russian?

Among those thousands of TED Talks are lots and lots in Russian. And because they focus on “ideas worth spreading,” Russian-language TED Talks provide a unique opportunity to practice and improve your Russian.

Specifically, Russian-language TED Talks will help with:

  • Listening comprehension: TED Talks are a great way to develop your listening comprehension, especially with native speakers. Use the tips below to check your comprehension and navigate trickier phrases or words.
  • Vocabulary: By virtue of focusing on different and unusual topics, TED Talks will introduce you to new vocabulary and phrases or sayings. Just don’t forget to write them down so you retain them!
  • Understanding Russian culture: What ideas do Russians think are worth spreading? Watch some TED Talks in Russian, and you’ll definitely find out.

How to Make the Most of TED Talks in Russian

Okay, so you’ve been convinced/browbeaten into giving Russian TED Talks a try. How do you make sure that you actually get something out of the experience?

  • Be discerning: If you’ve just started learning Russian or are at an early intermediate level, don’t try to understand every word of the TED Talk. Instead, listen (or watch, if you’re using subtitles) for unfamiliar words that are repeated 3-4 times in the first couple of minutes. Look up those words and focus on them as you listen to the talk.
  • Use context clues: Use the surroundings of the TED Talk and audience reaction to help you get the gist of sections you don’t understand. Pay attention to what the presenter has put on the screen behind him or her; the selected graphics or phrases are a good clue to what’s being discussed. Also pay attention to when the audience reacts, either laughing or nodding in agreement. That usually signals an important part of the talk, and their reaction may help you make sense of what’s being conveyed.
  • Be smart with subtitles: Most Russian-language TED Talks on YouTube have a closed caption option with a choice between English and Russian. If you’re a relative newbie, use the English subtitles to improve your understanding and reinforce new vocabulary. If your language skills are more advanced, use the Russian subtitles instead, as a way to check your listening comprehension.
  • Stick with what you know: Choose subject areas that you already know something about or are particularly interested in. Your familiarity with the subject will make the talk easier to understand, and you’ll learn new Russian vocabulary related to that subject matter.

Where Can You Find Russian TED Talks?

Russian language TED Talks are all over the interwebs!

Really. Here are a few places to start your search:

  • TED.com: The main TED site features tons of popular TED Talks translated into Russian. The site allows you to filter by language, making it super easy to find Russian-language options.
  • Russian TED events: There have been over 100 TEDx events in Russia. You can check out the list of past events, with links to the talks where available.

Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered.

TED Talks in Russian: An Inspirational Way to Learn Russian

With so many Russian TED Talks out there, the choices can be overwhelming. Below are a few to start with.

The speakers in each of these talks use fairly straightforward language and enunciate well, making them good places to start your Russian TED Talks journey.

Looking for something you can apply in your daily life? Try “Lie To Me” by Ilya Anishenko, from TEDx Yekaterinburg.


Ilya Anishenko is a profiler who studies how to detect when people are lying, and in his TED Talk, he discusses how you can tell when someone is lying based on his or her gestures.

To illustrate his point, he uses a video of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich at a press conference. Yes, the same Yanukovich who was kicked out of office in the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and whose corruption was exposed when regular Ukrainians famously busted into his compound shortly after he was removed from office.

(Side note: Yanukovich was supported by the Russian government while in office and is currently living in exile in Russia, making the speaker’s choice to highlight Yanukovich as a liar and the audience’s reaction… interesting, to say the least.)

To get the most out of this talk, you might want to brush up on modern Ukrainian history, and make a note of the following key vocabulary:

  • Жест — gesture
  • Счета за границей — overseas accounts (think Swiss bank accounts)
  • Владелец — owner (of property)
  • Размер — size
  • Признак лжи — signs of lying
  • Собственность — property

Looking to boost your originality factor? Check out “A Brand of Every Person,” by Marina Ochkovskaya, from TEDx Yauza River (Moscow).


Marina is a professor of marketing at Moscow State University, and she argues here that each and every one of us needs a personal brand.

Using the examples of Anna Netrebko (famous Russian opera singer) and Doctor Leonid Roshal (Russian pediatrician who, among other things, negotiated with terrorists during not one, but two hostage crises), Marina emphasizes the importance of having a personal brand.

Helpfully, she also gives a formula for developing a successful personal brand—a quality product with a distinctive feature that creates additional value. And she reminds us that one of the best ways to enhance your personal brand is to have hobbies outside your profession or job that add value to your life.

An advantage of this TED Talk is that a lot of the words are cognates (marketing, brand) or direct translations (quality good, added value), which makes it easier to understand.

Here are a few key vocabulary words that will help:

  • Преподавание — teaching
  • Валенки — thick felt boots for winter, generally regarded as pretty unattractive
  • Создание — creation
  • Ценности — values
  • Качественный товар — quality product or good
  • Отличительная особенность — distinctive or distinguishing feature
  • Добавленная ценность — added value

Looking to find yourself? Watch “How to Find Your Vocation,” by Olesya Novikova, TEDx Kaliningrad.

In this talk, Olesya Novikova discusses how she went from trying to discover her life’s work to creating it.

After years of traveling and constantly being told “I hope you find yourself one day” by fellow travelers, Olesya started asking herself “What is my life’s work?” At first, she thought it would be what made her happy, or amused her, or brought her pleasure.

But after a chance meeting with a Bollywood actor in Nepal, her perspective totally changed. The actor gave her an unusual interpretation of karma, namely, that today is what you did and thought yesterday, and tomorrow is what you do and think today.

As a result, Olesya realized that you don’t find yourself, you create yourself. Want to know how to go about creating yourself? You’ll have to watch all of her TED Talk to find that out.

Olesya’s talk uses more figurative language and metaphor than the previous two, so it may be a little harder to understand at first, but her overall message is worth the work. And here’s some vocabulary that will help you understand her better:

  • Деятельность — activity
  • Дело твоей жизни — your life’s work
  • Вопрос — question
  • Создать — create
  • Себя — yourself


Now that you’ve encountered all of these “ideas worth spreading” in Russian, what are you waiting for?

Go forth and spread some good—no, great—new ideas of your own—по-Русский of course! Which of these TED Talks in Russian will you watch first?

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Russian and want to immerse yourself with authentic materials from Russia, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

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FluentU has a very broad range of contemporary videos. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of Russian-language content available on FluentU:


FluentU makes these native Russian videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.


Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab. Easily review words and phrases with audio under Vocab.


All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Russian learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

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