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Three Reasons Why You Should Use TED Talks to Teach English

We all know that English has become the global lingua franca of international communication, primarily used by its ‘non-native speakers’.

Yet,

  • ‘native speakers’ are still commonly regarded  as the ideal language models our students should aspire to
  • they’re also seen as ideal teachers.

This idea which has been frequently referred to as native speakerism.

It leads to widespread discrimination in ELT recruitment with the vast majority of vacancies in the private sector being advertised for ‘native speakers’ only.

But, what you might not have realised, it also leads to a situation where we emphasise ‘native speaker’ pronunciation, language use and culture in our classes and materials. Inadvertently, this promotes the idea that ‘non-native speaker’ pronunciation, language use and culture might not be adequate enough.

This is despite the fact that research shows that ‘native speakers’ (especially monolingual ones) are frequently the least comprehensible English users in international contexts.

So on the one hand, we know that English is an international lingua francaUsed primarily for communication between ‘non-native speakers’.

On the other hand, we still teach it as if it was a foreign languageUsed primarily to communicate with its ‘native speakers’.

And to top it off, we have the problem of native speakerism.

I think one potential way to attempt to address these issues is to start teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a Foreign Language. I wrote more about it in this post, where I outlined 7 easy-to-follow steps you can take to start teaching English as a Lingua Franca.

One necessary step to a more lingua franca approach to teaching  is showcasing in your classes the incredible variety of Englishes spoken around the world. And TED talks are a fantastic free resource that allows you to do just that.

So, bearing all this in mind, in this post I want to look at three reasons why you should start using TED talks in your classes.

Benefit No. 1 of Using TED Talks and Teaching ELF: Promote Equality and Tackle Native Speakerism

The way I learned English and the way I was taught how to teach English planted and cultivated the idea that ‘native speakers’ perhaps indeed are not only better models of the language, but also better teachers:

  • Most listening materials in the books where by ‘native speakers’.
  • When we had to imitate language patterns, it would be based on recordings of ‘native speakers’.
  • When we practised pronunciation, it was based on recordings of ‘native speakers’.

Perhaps unwittingly such an approach promotes native speakerism. And especially as a ‘non-native speaker’ you might start to feel that ‘native speakers’:

  • have the right pronunciation
  • an intuitive feel for the language
  • know the culture.

And as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher, I don’t and can’t ever have any of that.

It does deep down make you feel inferior.

And worst of all, this emphasis on ‘native speaker’ models of the language in teaching and learning only further justifies the idea that ‘native speakers’ are entitled to better jobs. That what matters most in a teacher is not how well they can teach, but whether they are a ‘native speaker’.

So I would argue that the first benefit of using TED talks and teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a Foreign Language, would be to help address native speakerism.

Learn How to Teach English With TED Talks

Join this FREE course run by an award-winning materials writer Lewis Lansford, where you will learn how to quickly choose the right talk for your students. If you:

  • find searching for an appropriate TED talk time-consuming, 
  • don’t know which talk to choose for a particular level or group of students

Then this course is for you.

Benefit No. 2 of Using TED Talks and Teaching ELF: Help Your Students Become Successful Users of English

My experiences as a teacher and student of English also did not prepare me for the sheer variety of Englishes out there.

Learning and teaching English as a foreign language prepared me to interact with ‘native speakers’. To understand their pronunciation. The peculiarities of idioms and phrasal verbs. How their culture was reflected in the way they used English.

That would have been fine if I mainly interacted with ‘native speakers’.

But of course I didn’t.

I have used English mainly with other ‘non-native speakers’. So the EFL approach failed me in a way. It failed to show me how to interact in this highly multilingual English. How to navigate my way among a myriad of different cultures. How to understand countless different accents.

The second benefit of using TED talks and teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a foreign language, would be to better prepare our learners to be successful users of the language in international, lingua franca contexts.

Benefit No 3 of Using TED Talks and Teaching ELF: Engage and Motivate Your Students

When I learned English as a student, the aim (even if not expressed explicitly) was for us to speak English as closely as possible to how a ‘native speaker’ would.

When I studied to be a teacher in university, we quickly learned that there were only two correct types of pronunciation: standard British or general American English. Any deviation from the two was wrong. And meant a failed exam.

I also remember learning a lot (both as a students and a teacher) about the culture of English-speaking countries, primarily British and US culture.

Inevitably, it gave me the impression that in order to be a successful user of English, you had to imitate ‘native speakers’. The closer you got, the better. But of course you never quite get there.

So you continue worrying about having a foreign accent.

About misplacing the word stress.

About forgetting the third person ‘s.

This can be very demotivating for many students. And many ‘non-native speaker’ teachers for that matter. Constantly striving to achieve what they are constantly failing to achieve.

So the third benefit of using TED talks and adopting an English as a Lingua Franca approach to teaching would be motivating your students.

Showing them that similarly to those great TED speakers, for many of whom English is not their first language, they can succeed and become highly proficient multilingual users of English. Without having to worry about not speaking like a ‘native speaker’.

Learn How to Teach English With TED Talks

Join this FREE course run by an award-winning materials writer Lewis Lansford, where you will learn how to quickly choose the right talk for your students. If you:

  • find searching for an appropriate TED talk time-consuming, 
  • don’t know which talk to choose for a particular level or group of students

Then this course is for you.

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