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Learning Vocabulary Through TED Talks

TED Talks are always a great resource for those looking to expand their knowledge and vocabulary on any given topic! Below is a popular and inspirational TED Talk by Matt Cutt that is only three minutes and twenty-seven seconds in length, and chock-full of useful phrases, idioms, and vocabulary. Feel free to follow along by reading the subtitles or the transcript. At the end of this article, you will find additional resources to get you started on improving your English language skills through TED Talks on your own!

Try Something New for 30 Days


  1. Stuck in a rut (00:16) – This idiom refers to when one has been performing the same habit for so long that it is hard to change up their routines

  2. Follow in the footsteps of (00:18) – This idiom refers to when one pursues the same life path or career, or carries on the tradition or work of someone who came before or is older

  3. The months flying by (00:50) – This phrase comes from the more common saying, “time flies,” which refers to when time feels as though it’s passing by very quickly

  4. If you really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days (01:48) – This phrase stems from the idea found in a common saying, “if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen”

  5. Sleep-deprived (02:00) – A common pairing of words that refers to a lack of sleep

  6. The next great American novel (02:08) – This concept refers to an novel above all others that embodies American values and ideals of a particular era. While many American novels have been referred to as “Great American Novel,” this concept is usually an aspirational rather than attainable goal

  7. More/less likely to stick (02:38) – This phrasing stems from the common sayings “to make (something) stick” or “(something) that sticks,” which refer to having something be agreed to or accepted by others

  8. Ton of fun (02:43) – This popular idiom refers to something that or someone who is a lot of fun

  9. What are you waiting for? (02:58) – This phrase is used to rhetorically tell someone that they should be doing something sooner rather than later

  10. Give it a shot (03:08) – This phrase refers to trying your hardest or giving your best attempt at an activity you might not be good at doing

More Resources

TEDxESL: On this blog you can discover a number of educational TED Talks suitable for anyone learning English! Each post features a TED Talk complete with a lesson plan, transcript, and activities to complete. Additionally, each post is labeled with the appropriate skill level, themes, and vocabulary students will learn by watching that particular video. For ease of use, you can also search the website and sort by what skill level you’re at or what kind of vocabulary you’re looking for!

TED4ESL: This website features lesson plans and worksheets created by teachers. The lessons are aimed at adult English language learners, with many of the included TED Talks targeting those interested in business. However, you will also find sections on life, technology, global issues, and design & art. Even better, this resource includes versions for both students and teachers!

10 Ted Talks Every English Student Should Watch: This article presented by IELTS Advantage not only features the best TED Talks for English language learners to watch, but also contains many helpful tips for language teachers!

Below are just few of those 10 for you to get an idea. 

Nigel Marsh- How to Make Work Life Balance Work


David Christian - The History of the Word in 18 Minutes


Hans Rosling - The best stats you've ever seen


Feel free to share with us other TED Talks you think are worth watching in comments below. 

Anna Deen.png


Anna Deen is a student at Washington University in St. Louis studying English Literature, American Culture Studies, and Communication Design. In her free time, she enjoys hiking in the mountains, going to art museums, and eating ice cream.

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