Language, Words, Writing: TED Talks for Your Writing Courses


Happy 2015! May this new year sparkles a renewed spirit in all your personal and professional endeavors. Since classes here at the U don’t start until the 20th of January, I am having the time of my life just reading and writing this winter break (spending most of my time at a Starbucks that’s located a few blocks from my apartment). Of course, as a teacher, I’m never really on full vacation — so I am still thinking about teaching from time to time.

As I am preparing for the first-year composition class I will be teaching in a few weeks, I turn to TED for inspirations and materials to use in introducing students to the idea of writing and communication, and more importantly, the power of language. To cut to the chase, here are five talks that I think are appropriate for writing classes:

1. Anne Curzan: What Makes a Word “Real”?

I think this is a great discussion starter, especially for teachers who want to start out with something that’s closer to home (for students, at least!) — taking a look at the invention of words, including slangs like “defriend,” “hangry,” and “adorkable.” By evaluating the process of dictionary editing, language historian Anne Curzan charmingly finds crucial meaning gaps in the English language in a world of constant evolvement.

2. Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares his theory of the social engineering functions of language. He suggests that language is a social technology/learning that allow humans to cooperate. This may sound a little removed from the humanities, but I always like spicing up the class with some social sciences, what more a biological take on language!

3. Alan Siegel: Let’s Simplify Legal Jargon!

In our complex world, simplicity is bliss. Alan Siegel calls for a simple, sensible design — and Plain English — to make legal documents intelligible to laypeople. This may be a gem for technical and professional writing/communication classes.

4.  Andrew Fitzgerald: Adventures in Twitter Fiction

Here’s one for digital storytellers and media scholars! Andrew Fitzgerald, who works for Twitter, goes back in time to look at the (short) history of creative experimentation of fiction and storytelling through new-age broadcast tools like the radio, television, and now, social media.

5. Andrew Stanton: The Clues to a Great Story

This one is my all-time favorite. I show this to my students every semester. (Warning: it contains explicit language.) Filmmaker Andrew Stanton shares what he’s learnt about storytelling (through visual communication), giving his audience an engaging presentation that starts at the end working back to the beginning.

There you have it — five TED Talks you may use to jumpstart a class this coming semester. Have other videos that you might suggest to add to the list? Comment below to let me know!

What is Love: The 3Cs to Lasting Relationships


It’s the morning post Valentine’s Day at U.S. central time, and the town is still rather sleepy. Regarded as the second most celebrated quasi-holiday after New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day has its way into plugging the heartstrings of many people – young and mature alike. It would be no surprise if many couples wake up today to a new commitment in their relationships. (In fact, many choose to propose on V-day to make remembering their anniversary easy.)

Humor aside, many people have different opinions on love and relationship. As a universal virtue, the notion of love is recently amplified by western cultures by associating it to romanticism and archetypal representations. TED-Ed has a great video on the historical development of marriage and it gives us a peek into the past on how relationships are perceived by our ancestors.

Whether or not you believe in marriage, the definitions of love and relationships vary from culture to culture, from people to people. What is love? What makes relationships work? What are the core elements that keep relationships going? Here are my takes:

Relationship is construction

Mainstream cultures have taught us that love could happen at first sight and that being in a relationship means constantly feeling “in love.” The moment that warm and fuzzy feeling inside us fades, we begin to feel detached and lost. A feeling-driven relationship makes us feel good; however, what makes most relationships work is trust and mutual attractions. For all of us who have been in a romantic relationship, we know that biological drive doesn’t drive our passion too far in a relationship. Bodily desire may bring us together, but it is the work we put into relationships that will keep things going. So, keep building, keep working in your relationship.

Relationship is communication

Communication is key in any relationship. Love is more than just a few touches and smiles and eye contact. Love languages come in many forms. Some people enjoy physical contact (cuddles, pets, hugs, etc.) while some appreciate verbal acknowledgment. Whatever it is, people in relationships need to get connected. Communication is key to many successful relationships as people are collectivist creatures. Stay open with the people you love and don’t discourage difficult conversations. Always try to put yourself into their shoes to understand where the people you love are coming from. Just remember, you can only benefit from communication if you appreciate them. The moment you turn your listening ears off, communication stops and negligence embarks.

Relationship is commitment

In the first point I mentioned work. Relationship means putting oneself into a committed context. Yet, commitment doesn’t mean all-time happiness. When you are committed into a relationship, you are opening possibilities for discouragement or disappointment. The fact is, we cannot avoid those aspects of an imperfect humanity. Since people have flaws, we are bound to making mistakes or what could be seen as wrong in our lovers’ eyes. Hence, staying committed in a relationship means being accepting and understanding. Staying committed also means that you train your mind to not give in to temptations and undesired confrontations. Know that it is normal for human to be allured by lust or temporal excitement, but we should make a conscious decision when faced with situations that are trying our commitment.

Dr. John Adams and Dr. Constance Avery-Clark of Coral Springs, Florida, say that there is “not just one right type of relationship.” There are multiple styles that associate with happiness and longevity. There is also no measurement for a good relationship.

Just remember that neither our momentous senses nor “feelings” are the best indication for a good relationship. From a constructivist perspective, I contend that we give life into love and relationship by making meanings out of what’s happening around us. So, buying a bouquet of roses for your lovers may mean “love,” but what it really is, is simply an act of giving.

The above are merely me two cents for those who are working out a relationship. Determine for yourself what works best and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, Dr. Phil is not going to sleep in between you and your lover to help solve your issues.

This article originally appeared in the University Chronicle on Feb. 3, 2013.
Image by Marcus Meisler

‘Don’t give them 4. Give them 2+2’

Effective storytelling is among the few units I teach in my first-year composition course. Every semester, I show Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk, “The Clues to a Great Story,” to the students and ask them to reflect on the traditional methods in storytelling and how they can tweak the ways to make their personal narratives interesting.

Following the steer to tell compelling stories, Entrepreneur publishes the following infographic to explain why “readers” today don’t have time to read anymore and how strategic communicators could cut through the digital noise to market to their audience. Essentially, the secrets are to:

  1. Show, not tell. The same-old advice from the ad folks – transform exposition into experience.
  2. Give bite-sized information. Follow Stanton’s strategy – no one has the time to digest huge chunk of text anymore.
  3. Write attention-grabbing headlines, copy. You have 3 seconds. Capture my attention!
  4. Use personal narratives. Audience wants real stories. The more dramatic the better.
  5. Give information in bulk. Avoid tediousness, save my time by giving me the package (information).