In today’s TED video lesson, we’re going to look at a talk by Elizabeth Dunn, who will explain why giving money away can make us happier. It’s an interesting idea and a fascinating talk. Let’s use it to learn some English, and look at some useful IELTS skills.


In the opening lines of her speech, Elizabeth says the word “frivolous.” What do you think that means? It is very important for IELTS that you can work out meaning from context. So listen to the first few seconds of the video and decide what “frivolous” means.

If you can’t work it out, take a look at this short passage, which is from the transcript:

So, I have a pretty fun job, which is to figure out what makes people happy. It’s so fun, it might almost seem a little frivolous, especially at a time where we’re being confronted with some pretty depressing headlines. But it turns out that studying happiness might provide a key to solving some of the toughest problems we’re facing.

What does “frivolous” mean?

Really fun and exciting.

a) Not having any purpose or value

b) Very important and serious

c) You can check your answer at the bottom of the page.


Now let’s do some active listening practice. Begin at 01:00 and watch until 02:00. Answer the following questions. Mark them as TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN.

  1. She often gave money to charity.
  2. Young children were happy about giving.
  3. She gave the toddlers a snack.
  4. The rules of the experiment were explained to the parents.

Now skip ahead to 05:15 and fill in the blanks for the following passage:

That’s when I learned about the ___5___. The Canadian government allows any five Canadians to privately ____6____ a family of refugees. You have to raise enough money to support the family for their first year in Canada, and then they literally get on a plane ____7____. One of the things that I think is so cool about this program is that no one is allowed to do it alone. And instead of a Group of Five, we ended up partnering with a ____8____ and forming a group of 25. After almost two years of ____9____ and waiting, we learned that our family would be arriving in Vancouver in less than six weeks. They had four sons and a daughter, so we raced to find them a place to live. We were very lucky to find them a house, but it needed quite a bit of work. So my friends came out on evenings and weekends and painted and cleaned and ____10____.


It is possible to encounter the topic of charities or volunteering in the IELTS speaking exam, and usually during part 3. This is because the topic is a little difficult to speak about, and part 3 is the hardest section. You would need to give pretty developed answers to this sort of question, and it requires a bit of knowledge. If you are unfamiliar with charities, this might prove challenging.

Here are some sample questions with possible answers:

  1. Do you think charities are important?
    1. Yes, I think that charities are important. Around the world, many people are in difficult situations and they cannot support themselves. I think it’s great that people in other places can help them through charitable donations or maybe through some sort of volunteering program. This allows the fortunate to help the unfortunate.
  2. Are there any drawbacks to international aid?
    1. Good question. Yes, I suppose there are some drawbacks. I’ve heard some people argue that by giving money or goods to poor people in another country, you are often not really helping them, and that it’s better to let people help themselves. They say that giving aid can result in dependency, and keeps people in a perpetual cycle of poverty.
  3. Which are more important: local charities or international ones?
    1. I think they serve different functions, so neither is necessarily more important. Local charities are best for taking immediate action over minor issues, and they can bring people together to solve problems effectively. International charities tend to be slower and are not so good at focused action, but they can gather vast resources to tackle major problems.



(b) – frivolous means “not having any purpose or value


  1. F
  2. T
  3. T
  4. NG
  5. Group of Five
  6. Sponsor
  7. to your city
  8. community organization
  9. paperwork
  10. assembled furniture