In this lesson we’re going to look at a video called “The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready” by Bill Gates. This video appeared one year ago, just shortly after the Ebola scare of 2014 began to fade away, and it concerns preparedness for future disease or virus outbreaks.


Bill Gates is a good public speaker, who consistently uses simple words and speaks at a slow, intelligible pace. This speech and others by him are great tools for practicing your listening skills. There are some challenging words of vocabulary, of course, so make a note of these words and look them up in your dictionary. Pay attention to his speech patterns and practice repeating after him to gain a more natural flow in your own speaking.


Let’s start by looking at some useful vocabulary from the video.

Epidemic n. – a widespread occurrence of a health problem such as a disease

(can also be an adjective, meaning to have the properties of an epidemic)

Eradication n. – the process of eradicating something, meaning to get rid of it

Catastrophe n. – a major disaster

R&D n. – stands for “research and development,” referring to the branch of a company

Infectious adj. – likely to spread or influence people, usually used in a medical sense

Logistics n. – the activity of organizing movement and distribution

Ebola n. – the name of a disease

Vaccine n. – a kind of medicine that will prevent you from getting a disease


Vocab Test

Use the above vocabulary to fill in the blanks. (Answers are at the bottom of this page.)

  1. The earthquake was a massive ___________, claiming thousands of lives.
  2. The new product was launched successfully, and the CEO new that he owed a debt of gratitude to the company’s ___________ department.
  3. To prevent the outbreak of another _____________ the United Nations sent millions of doses of the ___________ to Africa.
  4. We all agree that we need to solve the problem, but we just can’t decide on the ___________ of how to do so.
  5. Thanks to the tireless effort of scientists around the world, we have achieved the ___________ of many horrible diseases over the past hundred years.
  6. Some people say that laughter is __________________.
  7. People all around the world were terrified of catching ____________ but fortunately it didn’t claim as many lives as expected.

Listening Practice

Watch the following video and try to answer the comprehension questions, which focus on numbers. It is always important, in listening, to pay attention to numbers and you should be in the habit of quickly making notes of numbers while listening to lectures.



Comprehension Questions

  1. How many people died from Ebola?
  2. How many people died from Spanish flu?
  3. What are his 4 recommendations for preparing for the next epidemic? (He calls these “key pieces”)
  4. How much money does the World Bank estimate we’d lose if the world suffered a flu epidemic?


Watch the video again from 03:21 to 04:16 of the video again and fill in the blanks:

The failure to prepare could allow the next __________ to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola. Let’s look at the __________ of Ebola over this year. About 10,000 people died, and nearly all were in the three West African countries. There’s three reasons why it didn’t _____________. The first is that there was a lot of heroic work by the _____________. They found the people and they prevented more ___________. The second is the nature of the virus. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. Third, it didn’t ________________________. And that was just luck. If it had gotten into a lot more urban areas, the case numbers would have been much larger.

True or False?

Listen to the material again and answer true or false to the following statements:

  1. The barrel is filled with nuclear waste.
  2. War will kill 10 million people in the next few decades.
  3. There wasn’t a system in place to deal with Ebola.
  4. A large epidemic would require hundreds of thousands of volunteers.
  5. The 2014 Ebola deaths occurred in many countries around the world.
  6. We can use technology to prevent epidemics.
  7. The cost of implementing his suggestions is less than the potential cost of an outbreak.


The IELTS Writing Task 2 asks you to explain an argument or present an opinion, often on a “hot topic” like education, the environment, and so forth. Try to write an essay, in IELTS Writing Task 2 style, which outlines the extent to which you agree with Bill Gates’ presentation.

Model Answer:

In 2014 there was an Ebola outbreak in Western Africa which caught the attention of the global media, causing people around the world to panic over the possibility of a worldwide outbreak. In his TED talk, conducted after the epidemic had been contained, Bill Gates comments that Ebola was fortunately not as serious as it could have been, but warned that in future things might be much worse.

Bill Gates argues that we were lucky not to have been harmed more seriously by Ebola because humanity was not equipped to deal with the crisis fast enough. He says that our response was too slow, and that in future if a major epidemic was to threaten us – such as the Spanish Flu outbreak of the last century – we would need to respond swiftly and with far greater organization. I’m not a health expert but I can believe what he says because it seems to make sense. If there was a disease more infectious than Ebola, it would surely spread faster and we would need to react faster in order to contain it.

His suggested method for dealing with future outbreaks is the better equip and train our medical professionals. This involves firstly supplying them with better funding so that they can create vaccines, and then pairing them with the military in order to ensure a faster response time and better logistical training. I agree with the first point because we need to fund our health care systems better in all parts of the world. However, I disagree with the second. I can’t see why we should give more power to the world’s militaries, which already have too much power. Instead, perhaps the medical practitioners can simply learn from military tactics.

To conclude, I mostly agree with Bill Gates. Humanity needs to be prepared to face potential catastrophes, and giving power to our health care providers is an important step towards doing that. However, I don’t think that we should use the military to solve health issues.



Vocab test

  1. catastrophe
  2. R&D
  3. outbreak, vaccine
  4. logistics
  5. eradication
  6. infectious
  7. Ebola


  1. About 10,000 people.
  2. Over 30 million people.
  3. Strong health care in poor countries. 2. A medical reserve corps. 3. Pair medical corps with military. 4. Lots of advanced R&D in medicine.
  4. Over 3 trillion dollars.


  1. epidemic
  2. progression
  3. spread more
  4. health workers
  5. infections
  6. get into many urban areas

True or False

  1. F – it represents a survival barrel filled with food
  2. F – a virus might kill that many people
  3. T
  4. F – hundreds of thousands of workers
  5. F – only in three countries
  6. T
  7. T