I was recently fortunate enough to attend my first IH Portugal Training Day in Coimbra for which I was asked to run a session. English Voices was the result. By way of consolidating some of the ideas behind the session, the insightful contributions of people attending and, hopefully, a few comments on the areas I touched upon, I thought I’d write up a series of “summaries”/elaborations/rambling posts for this blog…
Here’s part 1. Hope you find some of it useful. Please feel free to add anything to the mix!
Course book voices
We started off the workshop listening to a mix of course book voices from various sources and a discussion about the types of voices that had been heard in teachers’ classrooms in the last month. Who did these voices belong to? What topics did they talk about?
We continued with a brief discussion on how course book audio has changed during our careers. The general consensus was that these days a wider range of voices are included in listening material – a better reflection of a world in which English is just as often used as a Lingua-Franca between L2 speakers as it is between L1 speakers. We then looked at some examples from one of the newest series of course books, Global (http://www.macmillanglobal.com/), which could be said to have raised the bar even higher in terms of its use of a broader sample of English voices…
The ‘Global Voices’ sections give students the opportunity to listen to a wide range of native and non-native speakers of English. These are all authentic and unscripted recordings, and expose students to real English as it is being used around the world today.
(Macmillan brochure for Global)
L2 speakers. “Authentic and unscripted recordings.” Quite a turnaround? In the “Awareness-raising activities” chapter of How to teach Speaking, Thornbury (2005), demonstrates how course book recordings and transcripts are often ‘tidied-up’ versions of more natural, unscripted speech. If our aim is to raise our learners’ awareness of what more proficient speakers do, clean, scripted recordings might be an unrealistic model. Exchanges or runs of monologue without pauses, fillers, hesitation and repetition might even lead learners to set unachievable high goals for speaking flawless English! The shortcomings of native-speaker models are also highlighted by Thornbury (2005) when he argues that it might be more ‘authentic’ and ‘realistic’ if learners ‘had access to recordings of communicatively successful exchanges between non-native speakers’ (p. 45).
From this in 2005, to a 2012 Teachers’ Book that states…
…the text has not been scripted or graded in any way. It’s what they would hear in ‘the real world’.
…in its recommendations for a listening activity involving a Dutch woman in conversation with an English man. The same material also offers the following advice for teachers when the follow-up listening text consists of a Kenyan and a Pole chatting about service in shops…
It may be tempting to hunt for specific pronunciation or language errors, but we recommend against this. In real world communication not everyone speaks perfect English all the time, not even native speakers.
Examples from L Clandfield and A Jeffries, Global Advanced (Macmillan, 2012) (Available as a sample from the Global website (http://www.macmillanglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/GlobalAdv_U6_082-097.pdf / http://www.macmillanglobal.com/try-global)
In short, it seems that a lot of contemporary course book audio and their transcripts show that Thornbury’s request for texts including more of the natural features of spoken discourse has been taken on board.
In the same chapter of How to teach Speaking, Thornbury (2005) looks at authentic material (such as soap opera or reality show extracts and vox-pops) as an alternative model to use with learners in awareness-raising activities. He lists important considerations for the use of such material. For example, is the text of interest to the learners? Does it contain culturally specific references that learners would need knowledge of in order to follow it? Is it so colloquial that it fails to meet the needs of learners needing International English?
Non-course book authentic voices
At the time of writing How to teach Speaking, Thornbury (2005) noted difficulties in getting hold of authentic spoken material of L1 speakers let alone L2 speakers. Is it any different today?
Youtube, podcasts from the radio and the Internet as a whole, open up a lot more possibilities for sourcing texts but it can still be a time-consuming process. At our International House in Santa Clara we recently prepared a student for an international medical conference. As part of the course the teacher decided to use some authentic video material to develop some top-down processing strategies that the learner could draw on during speeches at the conference. The teacher sourced both medical videos and presentation speeches for this (Apple conference, tedtalks etc.). Activities included predicting content based on titles, multiple-matching (match the title to the talk), identifying who the audience might be (who is the talk pitched to) and summarising the main points that were made. Activities like these can be planned fairly quickly but the time-consuming element comes in trawling through the youtube and google to find texts, and ensuring that they are neither too long nor too short, of suitable audio/visual quality and of suitable and accessible content.
If the aim of using authentic video/audio is to focus more on the discourse features of spoken English or phonology as part of an awareness-raising process, highlighting what speakers do, even more work might be required. Transcriptions might have to be made and the teacher might need to do some language analysis of the text so they can decide what to focus on. Furthermore, the video/audio might need to be downloaded in order for it to be used where an Internet connection is unavailable.
In light of these time consuming factors, it seems fair to draw the following conclusions…
- looking for an authentic text which contains a particular feature of speech that we want to focus on in class can be like looking for a needle in a haystack
- it’s always worth sharing information with other teachers if you find a good text, or worth letting people know good places to look
- shorter extracts might be more practical to work with – it’s worth thinking about how much can be squeezed out of one short text
- coming up with lots of multiple-choice questions of your own can be very time-consuming – what different kinds of activities could be set for learners to do with the texts?
- is the text worth the time that might be spent on it? Will it be of interest to the learners? Does it contain something that fits the learners’ needs?
The best country in Europe – an example of how an authentic non-course book audio could be used
In the workshop we watched some videos that I’d come across in preparing for Teachers’ Day 2012 and looked at a possible model for how they could be used in class.
One of the things I’ve been keeping my eyes open for in the last few years has been audio/video that can provide input as both a model for activities and as feedback on an activity. Following a more task-based lesson shape, learners might get some input/priming on a topic, listen to or watch a model of someone carrying out the task, prepare and perform it, and then get feedback on that, which might include listening to/watching a more proficient speaker doing the same thing.
The videos on The Guardian website might lend themselves to this.
The texts are submissions to the following invitation from the online newspaper in March 2011…
Pick the best country in Europe and film yourself explaining why (lifestyle, politics, climate, dress sense…). And while you’re at it, tell us a joke and what you had for dinner yesterday. Try to keep your film to a minute in length. You can submit using your webcam, by uploading a file, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
. And below you can watch the videos other people have sent us
While not all the videos submitted would be suitable for use in class, a few are of sufficient quality and length to be worth consideration. Additionally, the task itself (talk about why your country or a country in Europe is the best) lends itself quite nicely to most courses (localised content, not too much overload in terms of coming up with ideas, allows for plenty of creativity, reflects a real-world situation (talking about where you are from) etc.)
In the workshop, our way into the text was to predict content by brainstorming stereotypes about a country. We then listened to and watched Ambra talking about what makes Italy great and ticked off the stereotypes she mentions. Ambra’s text is especially suitable for this activity as she talks about how she doesn’t conform to most of the well-known Italian stereotypes.
This is a transcript of what Ambra said…
Hi, my name is Ambra, I’m 32 years-old and my favourite country in Europe is Italy…and, er, as you can see I’m not really short, I don’t have a moustache…I’m, er, speaking in my second language right now so sorry about that…and, er, I don’t eat pasta every day, sadly because I am on a diet, I don’t play mandolino, I don’t like soccer…er, unfortunately I don’t drive a Ferrari but in my wardrobe I’ve got the most amazing Italian shoes…and, what else? Oh yeah, I don’t participate in Bunga-Bunga parties with our Prime Minister and er, but nevertheless I consider myself 100% Italian.
And, er, I strongly believe my country is so unique because of the variety that you can find on each territory…In Italy, every region, every city, every small village, has a really strong identity. On the same territory you can find, er, different dialects sometimes even different languages…and, you can find different kinds of delicious foods, different landscapes, different architectures, different traditions, different style of music, different traditions and different style of music and different way of life…
And, er…it would be too easy to say that, er, Italy, it’s a nice country because of the good food, or because of the stunning Tuscany hills or because of the fashion design in Milano, erm, it’s not only about that, er, what really make Italy so unique and so fascinating, er, it’s the variety, it’s the richness…every region has to offer.
And, er, tomorrow, is our 150th anniversary so I just want to say…Happy happy birthday Italia.
So, what does Ambra’s text give us? Unscripted, authentic L2 speaker English on a topic which is manageable for most learners. I think most of the learners I have taught would find this of interest and at 2 minutes, 34 seconds, it is also quite a manageable length.
In the workshop we followed Ambra’s text by watching some students in a classroom doing the same thing. The teacher submitted the video to The Guardian site and can be found there.
Here is a transcript of the Spanish students…
-Hello… I’m Isabel, I’m Irene and I’m Laura…and we love Spain!
-Because it has the best weather in Europe… It is hot and sunny almost all of the time. So we don’t…need us…need to use jumpers
-Which is more economical
-Besides, it allows us to enjoy the beaches, the nature and the seaside…Spain is the best country to live outdoors.
-People are very cheerful, noisy and funny and nobody but the Spanish know how to take advantage of a party.
-And we have an awful lot of them!
-Moreover, it’s not necessary a special time to celebrate…just meeting some friends in a bar…
-Spanish food is the tastiest and healthiest in Europe. El Buli is the best restuarant in the world and has a big waiting list of months.
-We have paella, vegetable soup with large amounts of tomatos, er…we love loud colours even in food.
-Finally we have a..con…a c..a contrast in our culture…an amazing amount of monuments, and history, and a never-ending…nightlife.
-And we discovered America so you should thank us….
Video: 1 min 48 secs
The final video we looked at in the collection was of a native speaker, Neil, talking about the U.K.
Here is his transcript:
Hi, I’d like to choose England as my favourite country in Europe ‘cos I don’t live there any more. Er, in case your wondering what that means, it means that I think people appreciate England a lot more when they move away from it…er, I notice that there are lots of people on your site that recommend France but none of them have lived in France…and believe me…holiday destination…is not the same as living in a country. Erm, maybe I can explain why…people are more..much more polite in England…I’ve come to really appreciate that. They don’t elbow their way to the front of the queue, they don’t act like they are more important than everyone else…they don’t try and drive you off the road. The English are much more aware of their space around them when they’re in crowds and it’s a real pleasure for me when I go back.
What else? Music. English music. Fantastic. Really come to appreciate it since moving away and hearing a whole load of dross to be honest… A lot of it influenced by English music and done badly. Er…dress sense…England’s much freer, creative…Europe tends to be very boring, formal dress code…
TV…even English TV I’ve started to enjoy a bit, erm, French TV by way of comparison is dreadful…the humour is still stuck in Benny Hill land… Erm…what else? Business…bureaucracy, French bureaucracy…awful …much easier to start a business in England…much easier to be creative with your business.
Erm, yes the weather is bad in England but, hey, that’s the pay off I guess…but I really think there are so many things that we should appreciate instead of just being English and moaning all the time…
If we decided to make a lesson: Describing the best country in Europe (or the world) and giving reasons to support this view; how could these texts be exploited? Here are a few ideas…
- One way would be to use Ambra’s text as a model. Learners could carry out the pre-listening prediction stage and then listen to her and check. Higher-level learners could then have a brief planning stage to draw up their ideas and then present their ideas to the rest of the group. After this performance stage, the teacher could look at language that emerged during the activity and provide feedback on that and show the video of the more proficient Neil as feedback/input for language features used in a presentation on why a particular country is the best.
- The video of the Spanish learners doesn’t have great sound quality but could, with a tapescript, be used to model the activity briefly to learners. The difference between this clip and Ambra’s is that the presentation is much more staged. They have clearly prepared and choreographed their presentation so that more natural features of spoken discourse are missing. We suggested in the session that the mere sight of some Spanish people praising their own country might just be useful as a motivation to Portuguese learners to go and do it better!
- Having completed the activity (without having seen a model for demonstration purposes), learners could analyse Ambra and Neils’ texts for useful language (lexical sets, signposting discourse markers, comparative forms, emphatic language) and content (setting up contrasts, providing lots of evidence, offering different examples to reinforce main points etc.). These could then be incorporated into a write-up of the learners’ presentations or a repeat performance.
L1 and L2 voices – comparison
In the workshop we also took a quick look at what features the texts share and how they are different.
Statistically, the two texts are pretty similar in terms of content / function words and frequency:
• Percentage of text made up of words in the top 1000 most frequent English words: Ambra: 77%, Neil: 80%
• Function/content %: Ambra: 48%/28% Neil: 50%/29%
For both Ambra and Neil, a little can go quite a long way to producing a coherent spoken presentation.
What Ambra and Neil also share is sufficient ‘flow’ to not put a strain on the listener. There are ‘runs’ of language separated by pauses…
Run 1: Hi, my name is Ambra
Run 2: I’m 32 years-old and my favourite country in Europe is Italy
Run 3: as you can see I’m not really short
Run 4: I don’t have a moustache…
Run 5: speaking in my second language right now so sorry about that
Run 6: I don’t eat pasta every day
Run 7: sadly because I am on a diet
Thornbury (2005b), analysing some learner English in ETP, says that the ‘capacity to produce long runs…conveys an impression of fluency…Fluency is not so much speaking fast as pausing less.’ Ambra’s text highlights the use of chunks of language which Thornbury (2005b) describes as ”islands of reliability’ on which the speaker can rest while planning the next run.’ Furthermore, when Ambra’s flow breaks down, she draws on “and, what else? Oh yeah…” to fill in the pause between the run. Again, this is something that Thornbury (2005b) says ‘gives the illusion of fluency.’ These are illusions in a positive sense. The listener does not strain to understand or follow Ambra’s presentation.
It might be useful to hold Ambra up as an example to our learners. The lack of complex words in the text and accessibility of the topic should mean that her video is not beyond many learners’ level. For Intermediate learners, struggling to get over the hump of activating all that knowledge into spoken English, Ambra illustrates just what can be achieved, especially if they look at the transcript and see how she uses a core range of structures/functions that are usually studied at A1/A2 levels…
- My name is… I’m…years-old.
- My favourite x is…
- I’m not really…
- I don’t have a…
- I’m speaking…
- …sorry about that…
- I don’t…every day
- I don’t like (noun)
- Every city has…
- You can find…
- I just want to say…
What other advantages might there be of using L2 voices in the classroom? These were some we looked at in the workshop:
- Reflects English as a global language
- Encourages comparison between what learner and speaker can do
- Shows what is achievable – motivating?
- Can provide a more achievable target model (input + 1)
- Can provide a suitably graded model (possibly more naturally graded than L1 actors)
- Exposure to a wider range of accents
- Different voices – different cultural perspectives?
- Shows English as a neutral medium not bound by exclusive L1 speaker “ownership”
And disadvantages / considerations?
- Student expectations – L1 model?
- May contain inaccuracies – setting a bad model or a realistic one? How might some learners feel about being presented with something they identify as ‘wrong’?
- Harder to find suitable material
- May contain fewer (or a narrower range of) discourse features of L1 spoken English for analysis in class
Other sources of L2 English
It would be great to hear of any other sources of L2 English speakers that could be adapted for class. Here are a few other sources I came across / thought about when preparing the session…
- Podcasts – BBC Radio / Guardian etc. Interviews, phone ins etc.
- Video news / travel websites / newspaper sites
- Voxopops – recordings left by learners in response to teacher prompts – great for using in class if the topics you are studying match things people talk about: http://www.voxopop.com/topic/0ef5c163-8f60-4397-8fa4-796ce94eaf3f (Link to Costa Rican students talking about telling lies)
- Live voices – invite a more proficient L2 speaker to class for learners to interview
- Conversation clubs – opening the way for learners from different levels to mix in their L2
- Recordings of learners from different levels in the same school doing tasks learners at lower levels could do e.g. Upper-Intermediate Professional English learners do a case study and then watch a video of Advanced learners doing the same or similar
- Recordings of well-known people from the learners’ country speaking English – e.g. a comparison of Villas-Boas and Mourinho speaking English – Listen and decide which speaks better English? Might lead to some work on pronunciation areas where Portuguese speakers have difficulties.
Any other ideas?
Part 2 will cover vox-pops as a means for raising learner awareness of spoken English. It’ll be shorter!
References / reading:
Mascull, Key choices for business English materials (same issue of ETP) – contains a useful overview of the decisions that go into using L1 or L2 speaker audio in published materials.