Practice Listening With Educational Videos

The Internet is full of educational videos that provide good academic listening practice. TED Talks and Khan Academy—both of which have been mentioned frequently on this blog—are two of the most popular sources of academic English speech. But these are just two of many video series that feature lectures in English. Let’s look at a few other good Web sources for academic listening practice.


Minute Earth

Minute Earth is a series of short science talks, between one and three minutes in length. Multiple subjects are covered with a focus on environmental science and biology. The speakers who narrate the videos talk fairly quickly, in typical English vlog style.

Minute Earth’s clips give you a good chance to learn to listen at a fast pace—the same fast pace of speech you may hear form enthusiastic professors once you start your studies abroad. With their short length, there’s plenty of time to rewind a video and catch anything you’ve missed. With practice, you can learn to watch Minute Earth videos with little or no replaying. And this series’ clever, simple images and animation can aid your memory as you learn new science vocabulary.

Minute Earth offers its videos through YouTube and Facebook. You can also download their educational audio clips for free through their iTunes podcast. Below, check out one of my favorite Minute Earth videos, a short lesson on fermented and aged foods:

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Like Minute Earth, RSA has lots of clever images and animation to help you remember the English you hear. The content of the videos themselves is very similar to TED Talks. The videos vary a lot in length, feature English speakers from all over the world, and can cover just about any subject.

RSA has a video channel on YouTube, and many of their videos have also been uploaded to DailyMotion and SchoolTube. RSA doesn’t offer transcripts for all of its videos, although some third party educational websites do transcript RSA talks. To see if a video has a transcript, Google some phrases you hear in an RSA video, along with the keywords “RSA” and “Transcript.” (Even when this doesn’t lead you to a transcript, it’s great English practice!)

One video I often use with my students is Steven Johnson’s RSA talk “Where Do Good Ideas Come From?” You can watch the video below, and you can download a transcript here. As an added bonus, Mr. Johnson gave a different version of this speech as a TED Talk. For extra listening practice, try listening to both speeches and noting the differences.


Have Fun With History (HFWH)

The HFWH website focuses on US History. For students preparing for the TOEFL, this is a good thing—the history of America is a common topic in TOEFL readings and lectures. Instead of creating original videos, HFWH provides an archive of old theater and television videos about historical events.

This includes news footage from important times in history. In many cases, the videos were actually made when a famous historical event was happening. For instance, this 1963 video records the thoughts of African American civil rights leaders during the historic civil rights struggles of the time. And this educational video was created during the bomb scares of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR.

The videos on the site feature a variety of speaking styles, and not all of them are TOEFL-like. But all of the videos can really help American history come alive. It’s a fun way to learn American history and culture, in preparation for the TOEFL and for life and study in the US.


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