Speaking voices in English I like

These are some of the speaking voices in English I like the most, and that I somehow consider ‘models’ of good pronunciation, stress, enunciation…At some points in life, when I have had to do public speaking, I have reminded myself of some of them, thinking, for example: ‘you should show the same poise as Audrey Hepburn when you’re speaking’.

To my mind, their voices are a delight to listen to and might prove a model to imitate when speaking English.

Audrey Hepburn:

Sabrina (1954)

Brian May:

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4)

Benedict Cumberbatch:

‘Sherlock’ (BBC 2010-2017)

The Imitation Game (2014):

Martin Freeman:

Jeremy Irons:

‘Brideshead Revisited’ (Granada TV 1981)

Emma Thompson

Much Ado About Nothing (1992)

Nicole Kidman:

The Others (2001)

Hugh Grant:

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Notting Hill (1999)

Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie

‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ (1987-1995)

Kate Winslet:

Downton Abbey cast:

Michael Sheen:

The Queen (2006)

‘Good Omens’ (Amazon Prime 2019)

Jack Davenport:

‘Coupling’ (BBC 2000-2004)

‘Next of Kin’ (ITV 2018)

TV shows and films about politics and the monarchy

The following TV shows and films deal with aspects of British and American politics, as well as general views on political systems. They can help you gain insight into the history and traditions of those countries, as well as increase your vocabulary on the subject.

UK politics: 

Yes, Minister (1980-1984)/Yes, Prime Minister (1986-1988)- (C2)

The Thick of It (2005-2012) [includes lots of profanity and swearwords]

Love Actually (2003)

One of the many subplots the film deals with involves the British Prime Minister:

The Iron Lady (2011):

Would you like to watch the sessions of the British Parliament live? Click here for BBC Parliament.

British Monarchy: 

The Queen (2006) [B2 and upwards, fairly clear British accents]

The King’s Speech (2010) [B2 and upwards, fairly clear British accents]

The Crown (2016-) [B2 and upwards, fairly clear British accents]

A Very English Scandal (2018) [B2 and upwards, fairly clear British accents]

Years and Years (2019) [show set in Manchester, some Northern accents are noticeable]

US politics: 

All the President’s Men (1976)

The West Wing (1999-2006)

(from 1’30”)

House of Cards (2013-2018)

Veep (2012-2019)

General views on politics: 

The Great Dictator (1940):

V for Vendetta (2005) [B2 and upwards- international cast, but most of them use British English RP pronunciations, regardless of their original accents]

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-)

Tools to check whether language sounds natural or not, and to improve the level of a production

  • Dictionaries: some of the dictionaries I tend to recommend at B2 level and upwards are the Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/) and the Oxford Thesaurus (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/, choose ‘Thesaurus’ in the dropdown menu). Ideas on how to use a dictionary here to improve writing tasks here: https://natalialzam.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/how-to-improve-your-writing-tasks-b2-c1/  
  • Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com):  Add-on which checks for spelling mistakes, and suggests possible grammar mistakes through Artificial Intelligence. Its suggestions tend to be accurate/useful. 
  • Fraze.it (https://fraze.it): A database of online newspapers and magazines which may come in handy when trying to make sure that a given collocation sounds natural. Type your collocation into the search box, and if it can find those words, it will yield real examples where this expression appears. Once there, you can also click for more context. If your collocation exists, you will find a list of examples; if it does not, or is not very frequent, no or very few examples will appear.
  • Flax (http://flax.nzdl.org/greenstone3/flax?a=fp&sa=collAbout&c=collocations): enter a word, and how words form into collocational patterns will be revealed by looking across different academic and social corpora.

The following links provide further ideas and resources on how to check whether the language produced sounds natural, or to widen the range of vocabulary used to meet the requirements of B2-C1-C2 levels:

Teacher tools for written reception and mediation activities

These websites might be useful when selecting a text to use in class, or designing an activity:

  • Text analyzer: http://www.roadtogrammar.com/textanalysis/: to determine the CEFR language level of a text, and its readability. Copy the text to be used with students, and paste it onto the box. A really useful tool to reinforce the teacher’s perception about the level of a text, by providing Artificial Intelligence (AI)  data to prove it.
  • Text inspector– English Vocabulary Profile Online (englishprofile.org/wordlists/evp): provides information on the CEFR level of words in the text, which in turn provides further information as to the readability of the text. It can also suggest words related to a given topic at a chosen CEFR level.
  • Rewordify: http://rewordify.com/ Enter English text or a web page to simplify it. It can be useful, for instance, when preparing written mediation tasks, as it uses one of the mediating strategies- simplify- to give possible ideas of how the text could be simplified.
  • I Lazy to Read (https://ilazytoread.herokuapp.com) or Smmry (https://smmry.com/): These websites use AI to summarise the text, by selecting the most relevant sentences.

Desert Island Discs as an ice-breaking/mediation activity

Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 show which has been on air since 1942. The premise behind the show is that the guest has been cast away on a desert island, and they are left with eight recordings, a luxury item and a book, all of their own choosing, together with the complete works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible or any other religious/philosophical book. During the show, the guest and host discuss the former’s life, while explaining the reasons why they decided on those particular tracks, book and item.

The guests tend to include world-class celebrities from the fields of culture, literature, Science, entertainment…You can access the archive on the BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs archive. You can find a selection of shows here (literature and music-related podcasts).

This same concept could also be used as a speaking activity for a unit on music/entertainment; to practise second conditionals; or as an ice-breaking activity on the first days of the school year, for students to get to know each other, or for teachers to get to know their students better.

  • What eight recordings would you take to a desert island? Why have you chosen every one of them? How relevant are they to your life? (If you are pressed for time, ask students to pick fewer recordings- it’s a rather time-consuming decision-making process).
  • What luxury item would you take and why?
  • What book would you take and why?

It could even be regarded as a mediation activity: in the Companion Volume to the CEFR, mediating a text includes descriptors for expressing a personal response to creative texts (including literature) [p. 116]. In a way, the student describing their choices (the ‘guest’) would actually be mediating those songs and their lyrics to their partner  (the ‘host’), as they…

  • may express his/her reactions to a work, reporting his/her feelings and ideas in simple language, and say in simple language which aspects of a work especially interested him/her  (A2)
  • might be relating emotions they have felt to those in the song, describe the emotions he/she experienced at a certain point in a story, or explain briefly the feelings and opinions that a work provoked in him/her (B1)
  • could describe his/her emotional response to a work and elaborate on the way in which it has evoked this response, or express in some detail his/her reactions to the form of expression, style and content of a work, explaining what he/she appreciated and why (B2)
  • could be asked to describe in detail his/her personal interpretation of a work, outlining his/her reactions to certain features and explaining their significance (C1/C2).

School refusers- listening comprehension

Listen to this clip from Woman’s Hour about children and teenagers who refuse to go to school. Then answer the questions on the google form below. You can listen to the clip twice:

 

 

Open form in a new tab

Pay attention to the feedback given to both right and wrong answers.

You can finally listen again and read the transcript:

Tips for listening comprehension tests

You can find below some tips on how to tackle listening comprehension tests:

Tips during the exam:

  1. Make good use of the time you’re given before listening to:
    • read and understand the questions and possible answers
    • highlight, circle…keywords
  2. Use the time you’re given between first and second listen (1 min):
    • re-read questions/answers
    • concentrate again on keywords
    • cross out wrong options/use brackets for headings you are not going to use

You may be faced with different types of tasks:

A. Match extracts to headings: you will listen to different short clips that you will have to match to a suitable heading. You are likely to be given more headings than needed. The headings might be either summarising the gist of the clip or rephrasing one specific part of the clip. 

B. Multiple choice questions: you will be asked to choose the best possible answer.

  • Choose the best answer- it may not necessarily be the only one: choose the most complete, the most accurate
  • Beware of distractors
  • Eliminate the options you know for sure are wrong- decide on the best
  • Take quick notes on the side to help you remember

C. Fill in the gaps:

  • Before you listen: try to anticipate the kind of information you’re going to need (noun, adjective, verb…)
  • By and large, you’re expected to give the exact word (s) you heard or a synonym. 
  • Sometimes, some word-building will be required. For example, if you hear  ‘I feel happy’, in your answer you will have to write:  The speaker talks about the happiness he’s experiencing.   
  • partial points may be awarded if the answer is not 100% correct, but somehow does provide some of the information. 

For most exams, the final tip would be to give an answer to every question, as no points are usually deduced for wrong answers. Check with your exam specifications, anyway. 

More resources for listening comprehension:

Last-minute resources for B2-C1 tests: