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Fun TOEFL Listening Practice: Online Comedy Videos

Announcement! As of August 1, 2019, the TOEFL Reading, Listening and Speaking sections will be shortened. The TOEFL will also make changes to its prep materials and scoring system. Because of this, some of the info in our blog posts may not yet reflect the new exam format. We cover all the changes here.

Learning English should be fun. No, really— it has to be fun, at least sometimes. Research has shown that it’s next to impossible to learn a second language unless some of your learning experiences are genuinely enjoyable. And everybody likes to laugh. This post will look at three Internet video series that are laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly useful for TOEFL practice.

Ze Frank’s True Facts About Animals

Ze Frank is an Internet Comedian who does strange, funny, and surprisingly educational videos about animals. Ze Frank’s factual animal videos are especially good for TOEFL practice. This is because—as  Lucas has explained before— the TOEFL loves animals. Readings and Listening tracks about animals are very common on the TOEFL, and the “True Facts” videos contain animal-related ideas and language that are very TOEFL-Like.

These animal videos also contain some silly comments that aren’t true at all. In one video, for example, Ze Frank jokes that clowns (the human circus performers) must have evolved from the mantis shrimp, because of that animal’s strange, colorful appearance.

The mixture of educational “science talk” and stand-up comedy is one of the things that makes these videos such great listening practice. The challenge here is try to figure out when ZeFrank is joking and when he’s serious.

“True Facts About…” is hosted on several different video websites, including YouTube. You can find all of the YouTube videos here. In addition, the video transcript website Lybio has transcripts for most of the series, along with the videos themselves. You can look up all the Lybio videos by custom Yahoo search or custom Google search.

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If you’re in a country that doesn’t have YouTube, fear not— these videos are posted to plenty of other video sites.

The Onion News Network

Don’t let the name of this website fool you. Nothing on The Onion is news. Or at least none of it is real news. It’s all fake news—designed to imitate and make fun of the things you’d see on real news websites such as BBC and CNN. Because The Onion closely imitates the style of real news sources, it’s easy to get fooled by the website. Other news websites and even entire governments have been fooled into thinking that The Onion’s “reporting” is real.

Because The Onion’s fake news is so realistic, it’s great TOEFL listening practice. You’ll get to see funny news-like videos in the style of other serious, TOEFL like news sites. Like the “True Facts” videos, The Onion’s videos allow you to challenge yourself by distinguishing the false information and the jokes from the more serious language.

You can watch most of the Onion’s videos on their homepage or on the Onion Studios video site. The selections include fake news reports, fake interviews, and even fake TED Talks. In addition, The Onion has a really funny nature animal/video series that is exclusive to YouTube. The nature videos are narrated in a British accent. This can be especially helpful, because the TOEFL has recently started featuring some British accents on their exam.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

Like the narrator of The Onion’s “Horrifying Planet” video series, John Oliver is also a British comedian who narrates informational videos. Unlike The Onion, John’s videos (which are taken from his television show on HBO) are meant to be genuinely educational. Last Week Tonight looks at American politics and culture from an outsider’s perspective. Because of this, these videos are very popular with both Americans and non-Americans.

John Oliver pokes fun at the US in a way that’s both informative and very funny. He mocks a lot of the sillier things about life in America. He also criticizes the things he feels the US is doing wrong. You can find hours and hours of his videos on the show’s official YouTube channel. The YouTube videos are also hosted with transcripts on Upworthy. And of course, there are also non-YouTube options for viewing Oliver’s talks.

In English, we have an expression that “laughter is the best medicine.” If you’re stressed out about TOEFL prep or English studies, these videos could be just what the doctor ordered. They can help you relax, smile, and laugh, while still continuing your studies. They’re just what the teacher ordered too. I’ve used these videos successfully with many of my ESL students.


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