IH Portugal Training Day Seminar – English voices Part 2 – Voxpops

In part 2 of this follow-up to the IH Portugal Training Day seminar, English Voices, we’ll look at a source for getting hold of some authentic audio/video and some suggested ideas for using them in class.

In Part 1 we looked at using L2 English speaker audio in class.  We looked at some audio/video that could be used as a model of an activity for learners and as language input/feedback for learners who have completed an activity.  It was also suggested that texts such as these could be used for raising-learner awareness of features of natural, unscripted, spoken English.


In the workshop, we looked briefly at some vox-pop videos from a market research company called Voxpops International.  This company goes out on the streets with its video cameras and asks questions to passers-by, it records and then collates the results and sells it on to companies who might value the insights they contain.  For us in ELT land, the results might also be useful.

Here are some samples of how…

Preparing to teach a lesson on technology/mobile phone use?  Need some extra audio to prompt/model discussion?  Need a text to mine for language related to the topic?  Need some questions that will help learners personalise this language or bring the topic alive?  How about showing them one or two of the video responses to the following questions?

There are 87 free videos on the subject of technology available on the site here:  http://www.voxpops.com/video/technology/

And it’s not just technology.  There are vox-pop interview compilations for more common course  topics such as spending, travel, welfare, media, leisure, health and beauty, lifestyle, government, environment, entertainment and brands.  You can see the menu of free videos here:  http://www.voxpops.com/free-videos/

A few suggestions for classroom use…

  • Videos like these might be particularly useful for Business English students – they could watch a video of people talking about their favourite brands and see why these brands appeal to that particular group.    Link:  Brand video.  E.g. Ls brainstorm brands they think will be mentioned and listen to check if they are mentioned (Brand bingo?) / What reasons do they give?  Language focus:  How do people talk about brands that appeal to them?  Expressing preferences etc.  Discussion:  What could a brand you know do to make it more popular according to the criteria mentioned in the videos?  Why are the brands they mention so successful?  What do they do to gain this positive reputation?  etc.  Perspectives:  How might the same question be answered if it were asked to people on a different street?  In a different country?
  • In more general adult or teen learner classrooms, the topics of the interviews seem to fit in with a lot of published material.  Watching people talk about these things might encourage more personalisation of what is important to them.   Video links:Free time / Environment
  • Focussing on attitudes and nuances rather than answering comprehension questions:  With a question like:  What are your thoughts on the London Olympic Games?  Learners could listen/watch and simply decide if the attitude is positive or negative before listening again and picking out reasons and evidence
  • Focus on paraphrasing – Some of the videos lend themselves to Cambridge exam multiple matching tasks – we could prepare slips of paper with ideas people express but use paraphrases of what is actually said.  These could be distributed amongst learners and they could then listen and watch.  Learners could then shout “PAUSE!” if they think the idea expressed matches their slip of paper

I’d love to hear of any other ideas for how these videos could be adapted for classroom use.

Another great thing about these vox-pop vids is that they come with ready-made transcriptions on PDF documents.  For example, the transcripts from the State of the Nation series can be found here:  http://www.voxpops.com/vpiresearch/sotn/

In the workshop at Training Day, we looked at one short transcript:

Manchester – Tape 11

Name: Ashley Warrington

Age: 22

Occupation: Student

“A BlackBerry. That’s what I’ve got at the moment.  I’ve got it, like… I’ve got internet on me constantly now, so I don’t have to, like, run home and check my emails or check if anyone’s left me a message or anything.  It’s always there, so I can check it, like, every couple of minutes or so.  So it’s very useful really.”


Transcripts:  http://www.voxpops.com/vpiresearch/sotn/

Which of the following features of spoken discourse are included in the 71 word text?

  • Lack of clearly defined sentences
  • Ellipsis
  • Vague language
  • Fillers
  • Clauses are not complex (“and,” “but,” “so” etc.)
  • Repetition
  • Hesitation and pauses
  • Grammatical inaccuracy
  • Signalling and signposting
  • Repair
  • Back-channelling (in conversation)
  • Fronting

How could a text like this be exploited in the classroom to raise learners’ awareness of these features?

  • In the seminar we ‘tidied-up’ Ashley’s speaking.  The activity was to keep the main ideas of Ashley’s text but in the fewest number of words.  Here is an example which gets it down from 71 to 31 words:

“I have got a Black Berry at the moment.  It’s very useful.  It means I’m constantly connected to the Internet wherever I am which is really convenient for checking messages.”


  • Learners could listen to the original (read-aloud by the teacher or on the video) and compare it to the tidied up version.  What differences did they notice?
  • Learners could be given a cleaner version transcript and then hear the original and try to put the fillers back in
  • Learners could work with an original transcript and cross out all the redundant words
  • Learners could do their own transcribing from the audio or from the teacher – either using a “pause” button or as a dictogloss-grammar dictation/text reconstruction
  • Learners work with a transcript and mark stress patterns, intonation patterns first predicting and then based on what they heard
  • Learners could produce a mini-genre analysis of what’s said:
A BlackBerry. That’s what I’ve got at the moment…

(What the device is)

…I’ve got it, like… I’ve got internet on me constantly now, so I don’t have to, like, run home and check my emails or check if anyone’s left me a message or anything.  It’s always there, so I can check it, like, every couple of minutes or so…
(Why it’s useful)
…So it’s very useful really…
(Summing up – repeating the main point
(For more detail on these ideas and others like them:  Thornbury, How to teach speaking Ch. 4 – Awareness Raising Activities (Pearson, 2005)

Justifications and considerations:

Why these kind of activities might be useful to learners/what things should we consider:

  • They can lead to learners noticing new features of the language
  • They can help listening skills – learners might be less likely to overload on trying to understand every word if they are more aware of the redundant features of spoken English
  • Showing how L1 speakers make adjustments and recast their language in real-time and what techniques they use to do this might reduce learner expectations of producing flawless English
  • In Portugal where learners are exposed to lots of TV series / film English or (tidied-up) course book (especially exam course book) English, these kind of recordings might be valuable in order to show that in more spontaneous situations, what speakers say is more untidy than in more scripted situations like drama
  • They might be more useful for learners who use English with L1 speakers than L2 speakers
  • The focus might perhaps be more useful for developing receptive skills rather than production (e.g. raising-awareness of the ‘messy’ elements of spontaneous L1 speaker English in order to lead learners away from trying to distinguish every word that is spoken).  This is a point that was raised in the workshop.  How would Cambridge examiners react if their candidates were dropping “like” here, there and everywhere in their speaking test…?

It’s like two totally different situations.  In the first one they’re like having a picnic whereas in the other one they are er, they’re like in a restaurant…

Should we be regulating the kind of language that teenagers use?   A lot of the language I hear them produce is picked up from American TV shows…”awesome,” “LOL,” etc.  Perhaps the key is more awareness-raising with a focus on register and appropriacy and providing them with the repair tools to get through breakdowns

  • Level.  We should pay close attention to whether the texts are too colloquial / fast for learners.  Similarly, are they too culturally specific to be accessible and of interest to learners?

What other things need to be considered?  Any other advantages for using these kinds of recordings?  I’d be great to hear some thoughts on using these.

Just one more thing…

One more idea with the Voxpop International recordings.  One of the things the company does is to gauge public opinion of advertising campaigns.  Again, this could lend itself to classroom purposes.  For example…

  1. Play learners an advert asking them to decide if they like it or not – compare opinion in groups
  2. Play learners a Voxpop video of people talking about the same advert – who do they agree more closely with?
  3. Analyse language used for evaluating ads
  4. Play learners some more ads asking them to incorporate some of this new language

Voxpop International interviews about adverts (‘Ad testing’):  http://www.voxpops.com/video/adtesting/  There are usually links to the adverts on the page with the videos.

Even better might be to have adverts on a similar theme.  For example, health and beauty adverts.  Learners could then discuss the common features that these ads share, what values underpin them and what kind of promises they make.  If one of the videos were a spoof, it might help the discussion even further…

Fotoshop by Adobe by Jesse Rosten

Fotoshop by Adobé by Jesse Rosten

This idea of questioning the values that underpin ideas will be looked at further in parts 3 and 4 where we’ll look at some ideas associated with Critical Thinking and Critical Literacy in order to help learners identify voices within texts and to help them find their own voice by assuming the voice of others.


Thornbury, S How to teach speaking (Pearson, 2005)

Gude, K, Preparing for those “Umm” moments in a speaking testhttp://oupeltglobalblog.com/2010/11/12/preparing-for-those-umm-moments-in-a-speaking-test/#more-1830


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