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)

Expressions to use in spoken production/interaction- C2 English

Click on the picture for a pdf version of the file:

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:

Tools to improve pronunciation and phonological control

ICT tools and apps to record/promote spoken production and co-production/interaction

Starting secondary school: icebreaker ideas

Starting secondary school can be a nerve-racking experience for students. These are some suggested activities you can use on the first day of your English/literacy classes with year 1 secondary students.

  • Shonny’s first day at secondary school: the day before (Newsround). This British girl describes her feelings when making the jump from primary to secondary school, something most of your students can relate to. You can download the worksheet with some questions based on the video, as well as the transcription.

As a follow-up, you can also use Shonny’s video describing her actual first day at school.

  • What to expect when you start high school (Newsround). Some year 7 students (11-12 year-olds) who have been in a secondary school in the UK for some weeks now are asked about how they feel now. Based on the questions the kids on the video are asked, you can ask these questions to your own students:

    • How do you feel on the first day of high school? (elicit adjectives from your students, and suggest synonyms using a thesaurus).
    • What is the hardest thing about starting school?

Further ideas: Secondary school struggles: captioned video and article

Screenshot 2019-09-04 at 16.18.16

  • Time-capsule: one of my favourite activities to start school. Ask students to answer these questions individually. Nobody else will read their answers unless they want to share anything with their classmates by reading them aloud. Then, a ‘digital time-capsule’ can be created, which can, in turn, become the first element in a digital portfolio. Their worksheets can be scanned and then uploaded, for example, to Seesaw. That way, they could also record their voice explaining some of their answers.

What I did back then was to scan all the answer sheets as pdf files that I have kept on my drive. The students I did this activity with are in their year 4 secondary this year: it would be a nice end-of-year giveaway to show them what their thoughts and hopes were on their first days at secondary school.

  • Finally, another possible nice activity is for students to write a letter to their future selves. The website https://www.futureme.org/ allows you to write text, and schedule it to be sent to your email inbox at a given point in the future. The letter can be scheduled, for example, for the last class of the year, and it can describe, for example, students’ expectations, hopes, fears, and/or resolutions. Then, by the end of the school year, they can check what they wrote in the letter against what actually happened.

My Favourite Things (from The Sound of Music) to tell the difference between /s/, /z/ and /ɪz/

This activity is aimed at helping students tell the difference between /s/, /z/ (and /ɪz/) in plural endings (the same as in 3rd person singular present simple endings and possessive ‘s). It uses the song “My Favourite Things” from the film The Sound of Music, which makes a long list of plural things the singer allegedly loves.

Students are provided with the phonemic transcription of the singular word. By applying the rule, they can guess what sound(s)/phoneme(s) would be used to pronounce them in the plural. Then, they can check their answers against Julie Andrews’s performance, by paying special attention to the way she pronounces either /s/ or /z/. Can they tell the difference?

  • Exercise- click here
  • Key to answers- click here