gold condenser microphone near laptop computer

When I started Thinking in English, my idea was to create a middle-ground between English textbooks and the Economist magazine. A show that looked at interesting, complex, and challenging topics, but made them accessible to non-native English speakers and learners.

I have covered historical issues, linguistic puzzles, political crises, and breaking current events and news.

As a result, some of my episodes have certainly been controversial.

Thinking in English now has a large audience. There are tens of thousands of people listening every day from every corner of the world. Within this audience there is an incredible variety and diversity of people.

Naturally, some of my topics have caused unease or even anger with certain groups. I always try my best to approach topics openly and with a critical perspective. Sometimes, even with my best efforts, I can be misunderstood or cause controversy.

Below are some of the most controversial topics I have covered. All of these episodes resulted in me receiving angry (even abusive) messages and losing followers.

Despite this, I still think they are important topics to discuss… and if people can’t accept controversial topics and discuss them like adults, that is their problem not mine.

Ready to discover the most controversial Thinking in English episodes?
Let’s get started!

Thinking in English Episodes That Caused Controversy and Debate!

251. Why Has Vietnam Banned the Barbie Movie? (English Vocabulary Lesson)

The Barbie Movie was released earlier this year, and became an instant blockbuster. It is not just one of the biggest movies of the year, but one of the most popular films in history.

In most countries around the world, the movie was seen by thousands and thousands of fans.

Most countries. Not all countries… most.

Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council, after reviewing the Barbie movie, found one scene so offensive and controversial that they banned the entire film!

Vietnam’s decision to ban the movie was the perfect opportunity to talk about a topic I had considered writing about for nearly 2 years – known in English as the South China Sea Dispute.

The South China Sea dispute is a complex and long-standing territorial disagreement involving multiple countries in Southeast Asia. The main disagreement is the sovereignty (or ownership) over various islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea. This dispute involves overlapping territorial claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

In the episode I took a look at the controversy behind the Barbie movie, how it relates to one of the world’s most contentious debates, and how Hollywood has tried to balance this difficult situation in recent history.

It is a controversial topic and stimulated some heated debates among the Thinking in English audience!

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My Opinion About the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant’s Release of Water!

On August 24th, Japan started to release treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

The power plant had been wrecked during the massive 2011 earthquake. The earthquake caused a tsunami which devastated the coast of Japan, wiping out entire communities, and killing thousands,

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant was flooded. Its cooling system was damaged, causing the core of the power plant to overheat, and contaminating massive amounts of water with radioactive material.

In order to cool down the overheated reactor safely, TEPCO (the operator of the power plant) has been pumping water into the system every day for the past 12 years.

The result is thousands of litres of contaminated water. This water is currently sitting in 1000 massive storage tanks close by to the damaged reactor.

Now Japan has decided they need to dispose of this water.

This was very controversial news, especially in China and South Korea. However, as someone who lives in Fukushima, I wanted to take a deeper look at the background, science, and politics behind Japan’s decisions.

This Bonus Episode was so controversial that I actually lost Patreon subscribers because of it!

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203. Why is Gibraltar British? (English Vocabulary Lesson)

At the very south of the Iberian Peninsula, just below the Spanish city of La Linea and only a few kilometres away from the coast of Africa, lies a 5km long and 1km wide piece of land. It has no rivers or natural springs, no agriculture or farms, a population of around 30,000 people, and is home to the only population of wild monkeys in Europe.

This tiny rock is known to the world as Gibraltar. At first, Gibraltar may seem insignificant to most people. But Gibraltar is a uniquely important and controversial piece of territory.

Although bordering Spain, Gibraltar has actually been a British territory for hundreds of years. The citizens of “the Rock” are British citizens and largely English speaking. In fact, the people of Gibraltar have been described as more British and more patriotic than people from Britain.

However, not everything is simple. The status of Gibraltar is disputed by Spain and the Spanish government who claim the land as part of Spain. And Brexit (or Britain exiting the EU) has made things even more complicated, leaving the British Overseas Territory in an uncomfortable situation.

In this episode, I wanted to investigate the case of Gibraltar. Why is it not a part of Spain? And how did it become a British Overseas Territory? I looked at the political identity of Gibraltar, its history and how it became British, the current situation, and the future of “the Rock.”

The reaction to this episode was mixed. Most people loved learning about an interesting and controversial territorial dispute… but I also received some very hateful messages!

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192. Should the UK Return Stolen Historical Artefacts?: The Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, and Benin Bronzes! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

The British Museum has one of the greatest collections of historical artefacts in the world. From ancient Greek statues, Egyptian Mummies, and African sculptures to an Easter Island head, Native American totem poles, and Chinese pottery.

Visiting the British Museum is one of the major reasons I became interested in history and cultures from around the globe, and even as I’m writing this episode now there is a book from the British Museum on the bookcase behind me.

You may have noticed something when I was listing the objects in the museum. They came from Greece, Egypt, Africa, China, the Pacific islands, and the Americas…. But not the UK. While there are some exhibits from Britain, the vast majority of artefacts displayed in the British Museum come from other countries.

The British Museum is a leftover from the British empire and Britain’s history of colonialism. The origins of some of the collection is highly controversial. Some items were fairly purchased or donated to the museum. Others were purchased and gathered in mysterious or unknown circumstances. Some objects had been traded for centuries and eventually found their way into the museum. And some artefacts were found by British sponsored archaeologists and historians.

However, some of the objects in the British Museum were illegally stolen or taken against the will of the original owners. The Gweagal Shield from Australia, the Akan Drum from Ghana, items from China’s Summer Palace, the Ashurbanipal reliefs from Iraq, and the Moai from Rapa Nui are just some of the disputed artefacts that countries have requested to be repatriated.

These items are some of the most historically and culturally important items in the world – irreplaceable and unique treasures that tell stories about life in the past. Of course, the countries they were taken from want them back.

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182. Bolsonaro vs Lula: The Brazilian Election Explained! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

In 2021, Brazil held a highly contested national election.

On one side was the incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro – a politician with a passionate fanbase of right-wing Brazilians. Bolsonaro had pushed Brazil into cutting down the Amazon rainforest, had repeated many conspiracy theories, and had a highly controversial approach to government. ‘

On the other side was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silve (or Lula for short) – a left wing politician who was Brazilian president from 2003 until 2010. Lula was incredibly popular during his first terms as president – with an 80% approval rating. But he spent a year and a half in prison over a massive corruption scandal which damaged his reputation.  

Thinking in English has a lot of Brazilian listeners… and I received so many requests and messages to do an episode on Brazilian politics. Interestingly, my audience was also incredibly divided – there were a lot of Lula supports and a lot of Bolsonaro supporters among the people listening to the episode at the time!

This episode, recorded before the election, aimed to introduce the Brazilian election. I talked about some useful political vocabulary, practiced talking about elections, and tried to develop our understandings of Brazil!

Why was the episode controversial? Because it was political… and at the time caused me to lose Instagram followers!


152. Why are the Falkland Islands so Controversial? (English Vocabulary Lesson)

40 years ago, on April 2nd 1982, Argentina invaded a remote British colony known as the Falkland Islands. A short but bitter war quickly followed which made headlines around the world and left hundreds dead.

40 years on the Falkland Islands remain a highly controversial part of the world, particularly in Argentina who maintain the islands should be part of the South American country.

What and where are the Falkland Islands? Why was there a war over the remote territory? And who should control the islands?

This episode tried to answer some of these questions and look at the debate from 3 different sides: the Argentinian side, the British side, and the side of people living on the Falkland Islands!

It was a very controversial episode…

Final Thought

What do you think? Have you listened to all of these episodes already? Or will you listen now?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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