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TED2009

Jay Walker: The world's English mania

February 5, 2009

Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English -- "the world's second language" -- by the thousands.

Jay Walker - Entrepreneur
Jay Walker is fascinated by intellectual property in all its forms. His firm, Walker Digital, created Priceline and many other businesses that reframe old problems with new IT. In his private life, he's a bibliophile and collector on an epic scale. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Let's talk about manias.
00:18
Let's start with Beatle mania:
00:22
hysterical teenagers,
00:26
crying, screaming, pandemonium.
00:29
Sports mania:
00:34
deafening crowds,
00:37
all for one idea -- get the ball in the net.
00:40
Okay, religious mania:
00:46
there's rapture, there's weeping,
00:48
there's visions.
00:51
Manias can be good.
00:53
Manias can be alarming.
00:55
Or manias can be deadly.
00:57
The world has a new mania.
01:04
A mania for learning English.
01:06
Listen as Chinese students practice their English
01:08
by screaming it.
01:12
Teacher: ... change my life!
01:14
Students: I will change my life.
01:16
T: I don't want to let my parents down.
01:18
S: I don't want to let my parents down.
01:21
T: I don't ever want to let my country down.
01:25
S: I don't ever want to let my country down.
01:28
T: Most importantly ... S: Most importantly ...
01:32
T: I don't want to let myself down.
01:35
S: I don't want to let myself down.
01:38
Jay Walker: How many people are trying to learn English worldwide?
01:41
Two billion of them.
01:44
Students: A t-shirt. A dress.
01:46
JW: In Latin America,
01:50
in India, in Southeast Asia,
01:52
and most of all in China.
01:55
If you are a Chinese student
01:58
you start learning English in the third grade, by law.
02:00
That's why this year
02:05
China will become the world's largest English-speaking country.
02:07
(Laughter)
02:12
Why English? In a single word: Opportunity.
02:14
Opportunity for a better life, a job,
02:17
to be able to pay for school, or put better food on the table.
02:20
Imagine a student taking a giant test for three full days.
02:24
Her score on this one test
02:28
literally determines her future.
02:30
She studies 12 hours a day
02:33
for three years to prepare.
02:35
25 percent of her grade
02:38
is based on English.
02:41
It's called the Gaokao, and 80 million high school Chinese students
02:43
have already taken this grueling test.
02:47
The intensity to learn English
02:50
is almost unimaginable, unless you witness it.
02:52
Teacher: Perfect! Students: Perfect!
02:56
T: Perfect! S: Perfect!
02:58
T: I want to speak perfect English.
03:01
S: I want to speak perfect English.
03:03
T: I want to speak -- S: I want to speak --
03:06
T: perfect English. S: perfect English.
03:08
T: I want to change my life!
03:10
S: I want to change my life!
03:14
JW: So is English mania good or bad?
03:17
Is English a tsunami, washing away
03:21
other languages? Not likely.
03:23
English is the world's second language.
03:26
Your native language is your life.
03:29
But with English you can become part of a wider conversation:
03:31
a global conversation about global problems,
03:35
like climate change or poverty,
03:39
or hunger or disease.
03:42
The world has other universal languages.
03:45
Mathematics is the language of science.
03:48
Music is the language of emotions.
03:51
And now English is becoming the language of problem-solving.
03:54
Not because America is pushing it,
03:59
but because the world is pulling it.
04:01
So English mania is a turning point.
04:04
Like the harnessing of electricity in our cities
04:08
or the fall of the Berlin Wall,
04:10
English represents hope
04:13
for a better future --
04:15
a future where the world has a common language
04:17
to solve its common problems.
04:21
Thank you very much.
04:23
(Applause)
04:25

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Jay Walker - Entrepreneur
Jay Walker is fascinated by intellectual property in all its forms. His firm, Walker Digital, created Priceline and many other businesses that reframe old problems with new IT. In his private life, he's a bibliophile and collector on an epic scale.

Why you should listen

It's befitting that an entrepreneur and inventor so prolific and acclaimed would curate a library devoted, as he says, to the astonishing capabilities of the human imagination. TIME twice named him one of the "50 most influential business leaders in the digital age," and he holds more than 200 patents. Jay Walker's companies -- under Walker Digital -- have alone served tens of millions of people and amassed billions in value. 

A chunk of his net worth went into building this enchanting library space, whose exhibits (please touch!) go back, roughly, to the point our species learned to write, with a slight post-moveable type bias. Brimming with exquisitely illustrated books and artifacts (Enigma machine; velociraptor skeleton), the library itself is a marvel. Is it the glowing etched glass panels, or the Vivaldi piped from hidden speakers that gives it that je ne sais quoi? Maybe it's Walker himself, whose passion for the stuff just glows. It's apparent to those lucky enough to snag a tour.

At the 2008 TED Conference, Walker lent many of his priceless and geeky artifacts to decorate the stage -- including a real Sputnik artificial satellite, a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet and a Gutenberg bible. After you've watched his talk, the WIRED article is a must-read.

The original video is available on TED.com
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