Today’s TED talk is called “ET is (Probably) Out There – Get Ready,” by Seth Shostak. It is a rather long TED talk, at almost 20 minutes, so we’ll take a different approach. In previous lessons I have recommended watching the talk two or three times, but in this case, unless you have a lot of free time, it may not be practical.

You may also be asking, “Hey! Aliens aren’t an IELTS topic!” That’s true, but Mr. Shostak’s talk is academic and educational. It is interesting enough to hold our attention, while providing useful opportunities for listening practice and IELTS vocabulary.

Here are some of the more difficult words:


Extraterrestrial adj./n. – From another planet, ie not from earth

Incredulous adj. – Disbelieving, shocked

Tedious adj. – Really, really boring

Porous adj. – Containing many holes; usually referring to rock through which water can move, but also refers to a poor memory

Exponential adj. – A rate of increase that just keeps growing and growing

Bottom line – A phrase meaning the most basic or important part of something

Literacy n. – The ability to read

Anecdotal adj. – Not necessarily true because it is based upon personal experience more than evidence


Insert the above words of vocabulary into the following sentences (The answers are at the bottom of the page):

  1. Jaimie had enjoyed the director’s three previous movies, but found this latest release to be ____________.
  2. The rate of growth in computing power has been ____________ until now but it is expected to slow down.
  3. Some people are absolutely convinced of the existence of _____________ life, whereas others remain skeptical.
  4. The professor seemed ___________ at the suggestion his latest work was plagiarized.
  5. The water level dropped because the rock was ___________.
  6. We aren’t convinced of his claims because his evidence appears to be ___________, rather than being back-up by hard evidence.
  7. The __________ rate in most developed countries is equal for men and women.
  8. Listen, the ___________ is this: We just can’t keep losing money.



Listening Practice


Watch the video and make notes about the meaning of the following numbers. This exercise will help you listen for numbers and their meanings, which is a vital listening skill.



30 miles


20 years later


100 trillion

18 months

100 billion

At least a billion

Two dozen years


One third

18th century




Skip through the video to 14:26 and listen, filling in the blanks as you go. Stop at 15:47.

So that’s one thing. The other thing is, it’s _______1________. It’s exciting because we’re naturally interested in other intelligent beings, and I think that’s part of our hardwiring. I mean, we’re hardwired to be interested in beings that might be, if you will, ______2_______, or if you’re the romantic sort, possibly even mates. Okay? I mean, this is analogous to our interest in things that have big teeth. Right? We’re interested in things that have big teeth, and you can see the ________3________ of that, and you can also see the practical consequences by watching Animal Planet. You notice they make very few programs about gerbils. It’s mostly about things that have big teeth. Okay, so we’re interested in these sorts of things. And not just us. It’s also kids. This allows you to _______4________ by using this subject as a hook to science, because SETI involves all kinds of science, obviously biology, obviously astronomy, but also geology, also chemistry, various _______5________ all can be presented in the guise of, “We’re looking for E.T.” So to me this is interesting and important, and in fact, it’s my policy, even though I give a lot of talks to adults, you give talks to adults, and two days later they’re back where they were. But if you give talks to kids, you know, _______6________, some light bulb goes off, and they think, “Gee, I’d never thought of that,” and then they go, you know, read a book or a magazine or whatever. They get interested in something.


Read the following excerpt from Seth Shostak’s speech and consider how it could be applied to the IELTS speaking exam. How can it help you answer questions better? What sort of question might someone have asked him, if he gave this during a speaking exam?

Now it’s my theory, supported only by anecdotal, personal anecdotal evidence, but nonetheless, that kids get interested in something between the ages of eight and 11. You’ve got to get them there. So, all right, I give talks to adults, that’s fine, but I try and make 10 percent of the talks that I give, I try and make those for kids. I remember when a guy came to our high school, actually, it was actually my junior high school. I was in sixth grade. And he gave some talk. All I remember from it was one word: electronics. It was like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” right, when he said “plastics,” whatever that means, plastics. All right, so the guy said electronics. I don’t remember anything else. In fact, I don’t remember anything that my sixth grade teacher said all year, but I remember electronics. And so I got interested in electronics, and you know, I studied to get my ham license. I was wiring up stuff. Here I am at about 15 or something, doing that sort of stuff. Okay? That had a big effect on me. So that’s my point, that you can have a big effect on these kids.


It sounds like he is answering a question on the topic of education. Notice the use of opinion (“It’s my theory”; “personal anecdotal evidence”) and personal experience (“I was in sixth grade”; “I don’t remember anything.”)

There are numerous possible questions relating to education for parts one, two, and three of the IELTS speaking test. However, this sounds like the sort of answer you might give to a part three question.

Part 3 sample questions include:

  • What qualities do you think a good teacher has?
  • What are the advantages of studying online?
  • What are some problems with distance learning courses?
  • Do all children get equal opportunities in education?
  • Do you think that school adequately prepares people for adult life?
  • Have there been significant changes in teaching methods in your country in recent years?
  • Some people claim exams should be replaced by continuous assessment. Do you agree?

And so on…



Vocab sample sentences

  1. Tedious
  2. Exponential
  3. Extraterrestrial
  4. Incredulous
  5. Porous
  6. Anecdotal
  7. Literacy
  8. Bottom line

Listening for numbers

1968 – He was working at Owens Valley Radio Observatory

30 miles – The distance he was from the nearest hominid (meaning “human”)

3am – He was reading a book by Carl Sagan

20 years later – He took a job at SETI

1960 – Frank Drake first used the antenna

100 trillion – The number of times better today’s experiments are than in 1960

18 months – How long it takes for experiment power to double

100 billion – Number of visible galaxies

At least a billion – Planets similar to earth in our own galaxy

Two dozen years – Time before he estimates we’ll hear a message from space

9:30am – The New York Times calls him

One third – Fraction of public who thinks aliens are on earth already

18th century – Could easily become an expert by going to the library

10% – Percentage of talks he devotes to kids



  1. exciting science
  2. competitors
  3. evolutionary value
  4. pay it forward
  5. scientific disciplines
  6. one in 50 of them