15 TED Talks in Spanish You’ve Been Missing Out On
Are you stuck in the infamous “English bubble”?
Well, I’ve got a way for you to pop that bubble, expand your horizons and learn tons of cool stuff—all in Spanish.
TED Talks are their own unique format of delivering information, much like vlogs, Vines and Tweets.
Spanish TED Talks in particular are extremely abundant, so buckle up and get ready to explore the big, bright ideas floating around the internet in this format.
- Why Learn Spanish with TED Talks?
- How to Learn Spanish with TED Talks
- Where to Find the Right Spanish TED Talks
- 15 TED Talks in Spanish to Grow Your Knowlegd and Vocabulary
- 1. “Yo vivo en una isla” | Reyna Oleas | TEDxGalápagos
- 2. “Una respuesta ciudadana a la violencia” | Emiliano Salinas | TEDxSanMigueldeAllende
- 3. “Estromatolitos y el origen de la vida” | María Eugenia Farías | TEDxRiodelaPlata
- 4. “El futuro es utopia: 6 pistas para no perderse en el camino” | Cecilia Alemany | TEDxMontevideo
- 5. “Amo mi Celular y extraño mi Notebook” | Roberto Balaguer | TEDxMontevideo
- 6. “¿Cómo promover la felicidad de los peruanos?” | Jorge Yamamoto | TEDxTukuy
- 7. “Risaterapia. Una forma de dar.” | Andres Aguilar | TEDxBarriodelEncino
- 8. “Una nueva cultura del cuidado del medio ambiente” | Enriqueta Medellín | TEDxBarriodelEncino
- 9. “La robótica, un futuro cercano” | Pedro Sales | TEDxMontevideo
- 10. “El planeta es un aula” | Eleonora Badilla | TEDxPuraVida
- 11. “Es posible lo imposible” | Omar Villalobos | TEDxDF
- 12. “Los pilares de la confianza” | Alvaro Uribe | TEDxPuraVida
- 13. “El dulce egoísmo de ayudar” | Juan Rey | TEDxMarDelPlata
- 14. “La belleza del color de la piel humana” | TEDxMadrid | Angélica Dass
- 15. “Cómo aprender una lengua y contribuir a la sociedad” | Luis von Ahn | TED Español
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Why Learn Spanish with TED Talks?
- TED Talks are essentially their own type of media. You’ve got audiobooks, podcasts, apps and other media to learn from—but TED Talks are gathering and disseminating information in their own unique way.
Speakers must deliver talks on certain topics and are limited to only 18 minutes, which may just be the key to their clean, concise and impactful messages. There are even rules for organizing independent TED events, that keep gatherings in line with the high standards of the brand. All this ensures that TED stays TED.
- There’s a ton of diverse, high-quality content. When it comes to diversity here, you’ve got it made in the shade. The topics cover an enormous range of topics from the commonplace to the downright bizarre.
The only real requirement is that the speaker must be an expert in their field, whether their field be microbiology, relationships or underwater basket weaving.
- Put your finger on the pulse of companies, industries, research and more in Spanish-speaking countries. How well do you know what’s going on abroad in Spain and Latin America? This may give you a unique perspective on your career, personal interests and newsworthy topics that you’d miss by dwelling in the bubble of your home country.
- Learn more about what you love. Pick talks that hone in on your interests, hobbies and career. Want to learn more about building strong relationships? Building drones? Saving the rainforest? Moving up the career ladder? Curing cancer? It’s all in the TED Talks. You’ll learn more on these topics, and you’ll learn niche vocabulary specific to those topics.
- Stay inspired and motivated. TED Talks often discuss topics like personal motivation, achieving goals, believing in yourself, confidence, self-love, learning and more. You’ve probably already turned to TED Talks a time or two to get motivation and inspiration in your personal or professional life—now you can get that same boost while actively learning Spanish.
- Achieve immersion. You won’t be watching materials made for learners, you’ll be watching Spanish talks given by and to native Spanish speakers. Nothing here is simplified or sugarcoated. These are real professionals discussing the very real issues to which they’ve devoted their lives, careers and hearts.
How to Learn Spanish with TED Talks
Before we get started reaping all those cool benefits from TED talks in Spanish, it’s important to point out that there’s no one way to use TED Talks and the various websites they’re hosted on.
There are three main strategies you can employ once you’ve made it to the site. While we’ll be focusing on the third and final strategy in this post, it’s always wise to consider your options!
Put Spanish subtitles on your favorite TED talks.
This is the simplest way to add a dose of Spanish to those English TED Talks you were already planning on watching, or those favorites that you return to time and time again.
Simply pop on the Spanish-language subtitles, and you’ll be able to read the Spanish translation of every word uttered by the speaker. Expect nothing less from TED than precise, accurate subtitles that capture the complete meaning of each idea.
Look up and save new words.
Most TED Talks are focused on a particular topic and can often feature specialized words. As you watch these videos in Spanish or with subtitles, be sure to keep track of new words and look up definitions for them.
You can save new words to practice later using a flashcard app like Anki. A program like FluentU can also save multimedia flashcards. You’ll also be able to watch TED talks here (and other authentic Spanish videos), paired with interactive subtitles and personalized quizzes. Some of the videos in this list are available on FlunetU, so try doing a search for them there if you want to take advantage of the program’s learning tools.
Looking up new words as you watch videos can help you understand the information better while growing your vocabulary on specific topics.
Take advantage of interactive transcripts.
If you’re watching an English-language TED Talk and want to go one step further than subtitles alone, you’ll totally love the interactive transcripts. When you activate these, they sprawl out in neat paragraphs directly below the video.
While they have the same degree of precision and accuracy as the subtitles, this route is slightly less engaging since you can’t focus on the video and the speaker’s presentation. Instead, you’ll have to be scrolling down to follow along with the text while they speak. (Luckily, you don’t totally lose the video, as a small mini-video plays constantly on the top bar of the screen.)
The good news is that the transcript highlights the portion of text which is currently being spoken, so you’ll hear the speaker say something in English, and you’ll see the translated Spanish phrase underlined before your eyes.
Play some comprehension and translation games with this to test your skills. Listen to the speaker say something in English and try to mentally translate it into a nice Spanish sentence—or even write it down as they speak. Then pause, scroll down and see how close you came. Was the vocabulary chosen by English-Spanish translators more or less academic, technical or poignant? Or was it more straightforward and simple?
Think about how the message given by the presenter can be given most effectively—and it’s totally okay to disagree with the professional translation! In fact, it’s encouraged. That means you’re getting more creative with Spanish.
Track down the TED Talks that were originally given en español.
Okay, yes. We’ve reached the main event here. This is where the real Spanish-language TED experience is at. This is where you’ll hear the brilliance and innovative thinking of big wigs in the Spanish-speaking world. And this is also where you’ll get the most immersive Spanish TED experience.
Where to Find the Right Spanish TED Talks
Instead of sticking to the main TED page, you’ll need to go to the less strictly-curated TEDxTalks page to find talks originally given in Spanish.
These talks are quite a breath of fresh air, and don’t have that “elitist” vibe that many get from the main TED Talks, where only the tip-top experts and Silicon Valley success stories are invited to speak, or even just to have the honor of sitting in the room.
Instead, TEDxTalks are locally-organized talks, inspired by traditional TED topics and format, that are hosted in cities all around the world.
So, you can get exposed to a greater wealth of ideas and personalities. However, this also means that you’ll want to take talks with a grain of salt—more so than the more carefully curated TED Talks—and verify any information given before repeating it elsewhere.
One other small downside is that TEDxTalks do not have all the bells and whistles that TED Talks do—most of them lack interactive transcripts and subtitles, apart from the closed captioning that’s provided by YouTube (which is not reliably accurate). Some do have English subtitles, but it’s hit or miss.
This doesn’t really have to be a downside, though, it’s just TED taking off the training wheels and encouraging you to listen up and improve your comprehension skills on the fly.
Here are few tips for finding what you’re looking for while using TEDx’s browsing tools:
- Browse by country. Keep in mind that all talks aren’t automatically in Spanish just because they were given in a Spanish-speaking country. You’ll occasionally find talks in other languages by expats living and working in those countries.
- Browse by language. Here you’re guaranteed all Spanish-language TEDxTalks. When you go to this browse page, the site usually posts the most popular, most recent and most highly-recommended Spanish talks on the main page, since the Spanish-language talks have such a huge international following.
- Browse language playlists. Looking for the cream of the crop? Some of TED’s favorite Spanish-language talks have been organized into playlists here.
With this resource in mind, let’s move right along to those TED Talks in Spanish!
15 TED Talks in Spanish to Grow Your Knowlegd and Vocabulary
1. “Yo vivo en una isla” | Reyna Oleas | TEDxGalápagos
English: “I Live on an Island”
This talk comes to you from a (nearly) lifelong resident of the famous ecological paradise, the Galápagos Islands. It remains a paradise because 97% is protected while 3% is inhabited, but living in this kind of territory comes with its own challenges.
When she moved to the islands with her family more than two decades ago, she began to notice all sorts of problems with the populated parts of the islands—water, electricity, garbage disposal and food were posing major issues for the people and fragile ecosystems alike.
What’s one single person to do?
Do you keep living on these precious islands and contributing to the problems? Or do you take action to enact positive change? Can it be done? Hear about one woman’s decades-long venture to use local resources responsibly, live in harmony with the environment and protect this national (and global) treasure.
This is a wonderful talk, given clearly and evenly-paced, and is perfect for learning Spanish vocabulary related to development, sustainability and education issues, particularly those that affect public health, wildlife and the environment.
2. “Una respuesta ciudadana a la violencia” | Emiliano Salinas | TEDxSanMigueldeAllende
English: “A Civil Response to Violence”
This one’s a politically- and emotionally-charged talk by the Harvard-educated son of a former Mexican president, Carlos Salinas.
This guy catches a lot of flack for the questionable actions of his corrupt uncle, Raul Salinas de Gortari, while somehow still basking in the light of his father’s legacy of economic success.
Summed up, it’s a passionate defense of the Mexican people and their culture, recognizing their struggles, triumphs and tragedies altogether. Mexico is an influential player in global politics and economy for numerous reasons, and it would behoove anyone to learn more about the experiences of Mexican citizens, but if you live in the United States you should feel even more compelled to understand what’s happening below the southern border.
This is an outstanding talk for learning vocabulary related to Mexican culture. For example, at one point he rattles off a bunch of key phrases:
“Todas las cosas que amamos de México—las ferias, los mercados, las fondas, las cantinas, el tequila, el mariachi, las serenatas, las posadas, El Grito, el Día de Muertos, San Miguel…”
(Everything we love about Mexico—the festivals, the markets, the restaurants, the cantinas, the tequila, the mariachi, the serenades, the posadas, El Grito, the Day of the Dead, San Miguel…)
You’ll also find yourself picking up some powerful, inspirational ideas and expressions, like:
“Debes ser el cambio que quieres ver en el mundo. En México hoy se buscan Gandhis. Necesitamos Gandhis.”
(You must be the change you wish to see in the world. In Mexico today we’re looking for Gandhis. We need Gandhis.)
3. “Estromatolitos y el origen de la vida” | María Eugenia Farías | TEDxRiodelaPlata
English: “Stromatolites and the Origin of Life”
Did you know that a place very similar to Mars exists on planet Earth? Allow this brilliant, ever-curious scientist to bring you on a journey from primitive Earth to Mars to modern Argentina.
You’re guaranteed to learn a bazillion Spanish words related to science and technology along the way. It may seem too advanced to some of you, but believe me, even at the intermediate level you’ll be shocked by how much you pick up just due to the nature of science nomenclature.
The cool thing to learn here is that most modern languages share scientific terms, as they’re all derived from Greek and Latin. Others are borrowed from English or another language of origin, if the names were bestowed after modern research findings. So, you’ll learn things like:
- los estromatolitos — the stromatolites
- los extremófilos — the extremophiles
- el espacio — space
- marte — Mars
- las moléculas — the molecules
- la microbiología — microbiology
- las bacterias — bacteria
- los microorganismos — microorganisms
Easy, right? It’s just a matter of adjusting your ears to Spanish sounds, and all these words can make sense without you ever having studied them.
4. “El futuro es utopia: 6 pistas para no perderse en el camino” | Cecilia Alemany | TEDxMontevideo
English: “The Future Is Utopia: 6 Paths to Avoid Getting Lost on the Way”
Want to change yourself or change the world?
Don’t we all.
This talk is all about avoiding the major pitfalls on the road to profound change on any level. The key is not to focus on the future, but instead to stay in the present in order to alter the future.
Beyond that, since our present affects our future, we also need to look to the guiding influence of the past, study history and understand the complex path that led us to where we currently are.
It may sound a bit convoluted, but that’s my fault—not Cecilia’s. Her talk must be watched if you truly want to grasp the oversimplified idea of causa (cause) → consecuencia (consequence), and finally discover why you should never enter any situation with some preconceived idea of how things will work out.
This talk is loaded with great Spanish vocabulary related to personal events, emotions and journeys of life and love.
5. “Amo mi Celular y extraño mi Notebook” | Roberto Balaguer | TEDxMontevideo
English: “I Love My Cell Phone and Miss My Notebook.”
How is it that Christopher Columbus journeyed around the world without a cell phone, yet we can’t even step out our front doors without one?
Have you heard of “ringxiety” or “no cell phobia”? I bet you’re familiar with it in some way. I mean, have you ever imagined that your phone is ringing or vibrating? Is it your worst nightmare to leave your cell phone at home? Do you pat down your pockets to feel that familiar rectangle before you leave any place?
This funny, interactive talk will help you reflect on your relationship with your technology in a friendly way. Plus, you’ll learn a nice blend of technology vocabulary, relationship vocabulary and psychology vocabulary.
6. “¿Cómo promover la felicidad de los peruanos?” | Jorge Yamamoto | TEDxTukuy
English: “How to Boost the Happiness of Peruvians?”
Latin America is the happiest place on Earth—at least according to one of this speaker’s opening graphics.
If that’s the case, then can we learn something from this region about how happiness is generated? What do stress and pressure have to do with unhappiness?
This talk nakedly lays out the truth, the good and the bad, from experiences living in Latin America. Not only will you learn about what feeds human happiness, but you’ll learn about what embitters it.
For example, you’ll learn about the vicious cycle taking place in many parts of Latin America, where egotism, opportunistic behavior and discrimination against indigenous and rural peoples hurt to the core of society. You’ll hear how exclusion and prejudice can leave a physical imprint on the pain center of the human brain, causing bad behavior and reduced empathy for others.
It’s not all bad though, as this speaker will give you plenty of hope for humanity as well. Not to mention, he’ll teach you Spanish words to describe feelings, immigration and the movement of people, plus slang, profanity and slurs—things you’ll probably never use yourself, but which are good to understand. Another awesome boost is that you’ll hear some cool Spanish words derived from Quechua, like chakra (farm).
7. “Risaterapia. Una forma de dar.” | Andres Aguilar | TEDxBarriodelEncino
English: “Laugh-therapy. A Way of Giving.”
Life isn’t always sunshine, rainbows and puppies.
When things go wrong, we don’t always stay smiling, laughing and happy.
And, you know what? That’s okay. Here, the founder of the Risaterapia foundation (and movement) makes a passionate, lively and humorous argument for the value of not taking yourself and your problems so damn seriously. See how this program has changed the lives of 8 million people in 31 cities, and let a goofball in a red clown nose inspire you.
This talk is not only great for your own happiness, giving you a boost of humor and cheer, but it’s also great for picking up Spanish. The speaker is highly entertaining to watch while also speaking clearly and professionally, so you’ll learn vocabulary related to happiness, sadness, mental/emotional health and the medical professions.
You’ll also be exposed to silly sound effects, hand gestures and other useful joke-telling elements that you can use when telling your own stories in Spanish.
8. “Una nueva cultura del cuidado del medio ambiente” | Enriqueta Medellín | TEDxBarriodelEncino
English: “A New Culture of Caring for the Environment”
Where is humanity heading?
Are we all moving towards going green, or is our rampant consumption of products driving our planet towards terrible problems?
Well, according to this speaker, perhaps it’s a little of both. Listen to this powerful talk about consumerism, carelessness and the hopeful rise of a new culture that breaks the bounds of countries and cultures—one that discourages wastefulness and encourages resourcefulness. What can save the pale blue dot we live on? What does technology have to do with it all?
You’ll gain a modern perspective on a problem that’s been around since the Industrial Revolution, and you’ll get exposed to fantastic Spanish vocabulary on all the above topics in a gentle way. You’ll also get a splash of Spanish humor, as the speaker uses funny cartoons (one featuring the beloved character Mafalda!) to illustrate her thoughts.
9. “La robótica, un futuro cercano” | Pedro Sales | TEDxMontevideo
English: “Robotics, a Near Future”
This lifelong robot aficionado is on the stage with a mission: He wants to inform us that a robot-filled future is on the horizon.
This goes way beyond science fiction, and robots are soon about to be accessible to people of a wide variety of economic classes, not just the wealthy and elites. Robots could very soon be for everyone.
This talk is more than innovative, it’s pretty fun to listen to. This guy’s full of stories of his childhood and adolescent experiences toying around with dreams of robots. Watch to learn how he explored his interests in building and programming the things, from household experiments to fighting valiantly in a big Robot Sumo competition.
Enjoy his adventures in robot construction and operation, and muse on what the future might soon hold. What lessons can humanity learn from working with robots? And, more importantly, what Spanish lessons can you learn from robots?
10. “El planeta es un aula” | Eleonora Badilla | TEDxPuraVida
English: “The Planet Is a Classroom”
What do hospitals, jails and schools have in common?
Watch to find out the answer to this little infrastructure riddle, as well as learn more about our modern relationship with technology, knowledge and the world around us.
This talk is fantastic for learning language related to social trends, education and especially technology, as it examines the intersection (or, rather, the collision) of all three.
You’ll also gain some invaluable perspective on how we learn, both via screens and from our communities and outside experiences—all undeniably good information to have tucked away during your Spanish studies. You’ll also learn vocabulary and expressions for discussing and debating pressing political and social issues.
You can watch this TED talk on FluentU with interactive subtitles:
As Badilla uses some specialized vocabulary, it can be extremely helpful to have the English translation under the Spanish subtitles. You could also turn the English version off completely and instead check the subtitles whenever you come across an unfamiliar word. Hover over a word to see a quick definition or click on it for an in-depth flashcard with example sentences and videos.
There are other TED talks in the program’s Spanish media library, along with other authentic Spanish content like movie clips, music videos, interviews and more.
FluentU also lets you add words to flashcard decks for later review through adaptive quizzes. And, if you’re on the iOS or Android app, you can take your learning on the go.
11. “Es posible lo imposible” | Omar Villalobos | TEDxDF
English: “The Impossible Is Possible”
What defines a genius?
Once we put this issue to rest, there’s a good chance we Spanish learners can use that information to tap into the potential of our own brains and bodies.
That’s right—watch this awesome, energetic talk spattered with a generous portion of Mexican slang, and you may well discover the keys to becoming a genius of your own kind.
It’s highly entertaining while being remarkably persuasive. Like, this guy has the power to make you believe in yourself and your abilities. There’s even a cool exercise he’ll have you do which involves sniffing imaginary fruit, and somehow ends up with you thinking your brain is a magical machine (all while learning the imperative form for Spanish commands).
12. “Los pilares de la confianza” | Alvaro Uribe | TEDxPuraVida
English: “The Pillars of Trust”
Oh boy, this one’s a doozy—there’s really no simple way to discuss the complex nature of drugs and legalizing them.
Here, you’ll hear the uniquely well-informed perspective of a Colombian ex-president, who has witnessed the horrors of the drug trade from every possible angle.
However, this talk goes leagues beyond the drug trade alone. It starts by introducing the “three pillars” that will inspire more faith, security and confidence in Colombia.
The fundamental ideas behind the pillars are to create stability in the economy, democratic government and the very fabric of society. It’s a fascinating listen that will expand your worldview, as Uribe discusses the successes, failures and role models Colombian officials have looked to in other Latin American nations which have fought and begun to overcome similar difficulties.
Towards the end, the talk caps off with a few minutes that give you a real taste of the endless frustration caused by the drug trade in Colombia.
Watching the full talk without subtitles or transcripts is recommendable only for upper-intermediate and advanced learners, especially those eager to hear a more formal discourse using specialized language, such as:
- seguridad jurídica — legal certainty
- leyes — laws
- legalización — legalization
- estabilidad política — political stability
- pobreza — poverty
- inversiones — investments
13. “El dulce egoísmo de ayudar” | Juan Rey | TEDxMarDelPlata
English: “The Sweet Selfishness of Helping”
Listen to this Argentinian esponja robadora (thieving sponge) quote clever lines, get gravely personal and spin folkloric tales to discuss the journey of life and the true meaning of happiness for human beings.
There are tons of great descriptive, literary, emotive vocabulary and whimsical turns of phrase to be drawn from this talk.
You’ll also learn words related to la amistad (friendship), la familia (family) and la vida (life). Overall, the language used is relatively simple and is approachable for most levels of learners.
14. “La belleza del color de la piel humana” | TEDxMadrid | Angélica Dass
English: “The Beauty of Human Skin Color”
Angélica Dass, a highly talented and empathetic photographer from Brazil, is an artistic gift to the world—and given the hotbed of political angst we currently live in, she’s exactly what we need. Let’s hope there’s enough to go around.
This talk is particularly lovely, weaving together her poignant human portraits with our weird necessity to categorize human beings in drab, distinct boxes like “white,” “black,” “brown” and “yellow.” However, as an artist of color, she’s seen that we’re much more vibrant, blended and colorful than all that.
She digs into her personal life and international photography projects, as well as the mathematic, physiological and artistic projects of other interested researchers and teachers. She has a noticeable Brazilian Portuguese accent but takes great care with her pronunciation and is easy enough to understand. Her friendly talk is given with some nice poetic language, such as procedencia (origin), realidad social (social reality) and me he planteado (I have asked myself).
You can also watch her give yet another talk on this topic at the big English-language TED conference, here—pop on subtitles to keep practicing your Spanish, though!
15. “Cómo aprender una lengua y contribuir a la sociedad” | Luis von Ahn | TED Español
English: “How to Learn a Language and Contribute to Society”
This one’s right up your alley, focusing on the process of learning a language and how that process has recently been revolutionized.
This speaker dives into the creation, development and instant popularity of Duolingo—the free app that became the great equalizer. This app meant that you didn’t have to be rich to learn. You didn’t have to pay through the nose for expensive courses, brand name textbooks or expert tutors. People in Latin America lacking funds now had access to a very helpful educational tool.
While the speaker moves through his ideas at a fast pace, his accent is neutral and easily understandable. Plus, you’ll hear the same vocabulary related to education—aprendizaje (learning), maestros (teachers), cursos (courses), alumnos (students) and idiomas (languages)—repeated numerous times until you understand it perfectly.
Well, you’ve got your talks to start with.
Get out there and start watching!
There’s a whole, wide world of ideas to discover—en español.
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