TED Talks ("TED" stands for "Technology, Entertainment, and Design") are brief, entertaining lectures under 20 minutes in length, given by innovative thinkers from a variety of fields-- lab science, information technology, the arts, and business among them. Some of the lecturers speak at a blazingly fast rate; others lecture a bit more slowly and naturally.
Because the TOEFL exam involves a large, academically-themed listening component (even the Integrated Writing section involves listening), the importance of developing good listening skills cannot be stressed enough. The short TED Talks offer TOEFL students a marvelous opportunity to watch and listen to-- repeatedly if necessary-- the sorts of lectures that would occur on the TOEFL as a way of developing their note-taking and listening comprehension skills. But how? you ask. How can I use TED Talks to help me on the TOEFL? Here are several suggestions.
Method A: Note-taking
1. Watch a video. TED Talk videos are almost always less than 20 minutes long.
2. Wait a couple hours, then re-play the video, this time taking notes, BUT DO NOT WATCH: merely listen to the video (cover your monitor with something). On the TOEFL, as you know, you will hear extended lectures with no video; you should simulate those conditions at home.
3. From your notes, try to distill three or four main ideas from the presentation.
4. Write a paragraph that succinctly summarizes the talk you just heard.
Method B: Transcription
View the video once without doing anything else. Wait a few hours, then view it again, using one or both of the following tactics:
1. Try transcribing the first two minutes of the video you've selected. As accurately as possible, write down every word the speaker utters, adding appropriate punctuation. Ignore any stammering or random utterances (such as "uh..."). The result of your efforts should be a script. Or, alternatively:
2. If you feel you've caught a lot of information from your first viewing, find the most interesting part of the video, and try transcribing two minutes from that section. Check with me to verify the accuracy of your transcription. (Tutoring rates apply!)
The TOEFL exam's primary focus is on academic speaking and writing. TED Talks-- even the more artistic ones-- are all academic in nature, which makes the TED website a marvelous resource for TOEFL students. But keep in mind that the Net is large: TED is not the only website with material. YouTube is a perfectly good source as well; type a topic into YouTube's search window, and you'll find plenty of professorial lectures there, too.
There's no way to improve language skills except by using language. Practice speaking, reading, and writing, and be clever in finding ways to practice listening. Ask yourself the "Five W" questions as you listen: who, what, when, where, and why? Who is the lecturer?* Who is his/her audience? About whom is the lecturer speaking? What is the speaker lecturing about? What are three major points the lecturer makes in his/her presentation? As for when: is the lecturer talking about the present? The future? A moment in history that is somehow relevant to our present and/or future? As for where: what parts of the world does the lecturer reference? Does geography or environment play a role in the speaker's presentation? Does the speaker's talk have local or global or cosmic or even metaphysical implications? Why is this talk important? In what way is it relevant to the audience and/or humanity in general?
Listening is not merely a passive activity; you need to be engaged and questioning while you're listening, not merely nodding your head. Be proactive so that you can succeed on the TOEFL, and consider using TED Talks (or other online resources) as a way to study.
*You may have to do some outside research to figure this out.