How Language Shapes the Way We Think

A lesson based on Lera Boroditsky’s TED talk (2017)

Before you watch

1  Discuss the following questions.

  1.  If English was your first language, do you think you would be a different person now? Why (not)?
  2. Do you think that learning English has influenced the way you think and see the world?
  3. You are going to listen to a linguist who specialises in cognitive linguistics. What kind of things do you think she studies? 

While watching

Part 1 (00:04 — 02:19)

2  Watch Part 1 of the video and answer the questions.

  1. What is so special about our ability to use language, according to the speaker?
  2. Whether or not languages shapes the way we think – has been an issue for centuries. What examples of two opposite opinions does the speaker give?

Part 2 (02:20 — 12:18)

3  Watch Part 2 of the video and make notes. What do we learn from this part of the talk about…

  1. different ways of talking about space and time (the language of the Kuuk Thaayorre people VS English)?
  2. number words in different languages?
  3. colour terms (Russian VS English)?
  4. the grammatical gender of nouns (German VS Spanish)?
  5. the grammatical structures which are used to describe accidents (Spanish VS English)?

4  What implications does each of these facts have? Watch this part of the video again and make notes.

Part 3 (12:27 — 14:08)

5  Watch the video up to the end and answer the questions.

  1. Why does the speaker believe that all languages on the planet should be preserved? What is so good about linguistic diversity?
  2. According to the speaker, what we learn about the human mind is very biased. What makes her think so?
  3. What do linguists and neuroscientists (the people who study the brain) have to do in order to get a better understanding of how it works?

After watching

6  Answer the questions.

  1. Go back to Task 1. Would you answer the same questions differently now?
  2. What is the most interesting fact you learnt from the video?
  3. Can you give some more examples to prove that speakers of different languages THINK differently?

This lesson was created by Tatiana Shustilova, an English teacher and materials writer.

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