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Studying Japanese through TED Talks (1): Why TED?

text: Yoshinaga Mioko

Many of you may have heard of TED talks before. They are a series of video presentations made by experts at the forefront of their fields. Those in English are the best known, but there are Japanese TED talks too. In this article, I will explain why I recommend using TED talks for Japanese study.

What are TED talks in Japanese?

TED was established in 1984, centered on the yearly TED Conference held in Vancouver, Canada. There are also programs called TEDx held all over the world, inviting locally active people as speakers.

Many of the TED talks are in English, but the TEDx held in Japan, such as TEDxTokyo and TEDxKyoto, include speeches in Japanese.

What’s good about TED?

Japanese study using TED talks has the following benefits.

  1. Encountering the ideas of various people active in Japan
  2. Encountering natural Japanese
  3. Studying any time and anywhere

1. Encountering the ideas of people active in Japan

In TED talks, people active in various fields of culture, business, social activism, research, and so on present their experiences and ideas in 15-minute speeches. Because the talks are so short, the speakers focus on what they most want to convey; another benefit of TED is that it’s possible to try out talks on various topics without getting tired or bored. You can also learn more about Japan as it is today through talks by many unique speakers.

2. Encountering natural Japanese

TED talks are given in entirely natural Japanese. They offer various styles of Japanese--some people speak fast, others speak slowly, some use regional dialects. Moreover, because the TED talks are available as videos, you can also observe the speakers’ overall communication, including non-linguistic elements like their gaze, body language, and facial expressions.

Are you thinking that natural Japanese might be too hard to understand? No worries! You can adjust the videos to your level of comprehension by using subtitles, changing the speed, and so on.

3. Studying any time and anywhere

TED talks are freely available online on the TEDx websites and on YouTube. So, if you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can watch them and study any time and anywhere according to your convenience--on the train, while biking at the gym, while eating, whenever. If you think of it not so much as studying but as enjoying an interesting video in your spare time, your Japanese ability is likely to improve.

In the next article, I will introduce specific study methods using TED talks.

Yoshinaga Mioko

Professor at Osaka University Center for International Education and Exchange. My research fields include Japanese pedagogy and applied linguistics. As I haven’t been able to travel the way I like to recently, I am enjoying myself reading travel blogs.