Where have all the non-native (and even native) authentic recordings gone?

20 Feb
old coursebook by Gabriela Sellart

Photo by Gabriela Sellart

If you’re my friend on Facebook (or in real life) and/or you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably already seen this message, my cry for help in putting together a collection of semi-authentic audio resources that include lots of non-native English speakers as well as natives talking the way they really do about a given topic.

Here’s the reason for the SOS: Recently, lots of business learners have been making specific requests for listening work with non-native accents. Some have even specifically requested to work on a specific accent in as many lessons as possible over the course of their program. For example, I recently worked with one group on presenting your company. They then asked to work on understanding people presenting their companies. Let me be more specific. They asked to work on understanding Greek, Slovenian, Chinese, and Indian people presenting their companies because this is part of their job.

So the greater part of my afternoon was spent trawling YouTube and course books for this elusive listening grail. And I’m still looking.

In fact, it seems very few of my learners have much contact at all with NS (native speakers). While it’s easy to fire away with “Coursebooks just don’t include NNS (non-native speakers)!” that’s not so true anymore. Although I couldn’t find evidence of exactly which course book first included NNS, just flip through some of the more recent copies in your staff room. International Express has’em. Market Leader has’em. Regrettably, they’ve often been made a bit sterile–scripted and scrubbed clean of many of the fascinating features of natural speech.

Fortunately, some truly enjoyable coursebooks like Lindsay Clandfield’s Global series and Ian Badger’s English for Business Listening have raised the bar mighty high in terms of authentic (or at least semi-authentic) discourse and variety of accents in our English-as-a-Lingua-Franca world. And of course the internet puts the world’s accents at our fingertips. If you can find what you’re looking for that is.

And so here’s what I’m thinking–would it be possible to create a bank of authentic and semi-authentic recordings of speakers with all sorts of accents? Could we categorize them by accent and function? And why not get voluntary learners involved? Wouldn’t this boost their confidence, knowing that other learners will be listening to them to learn English?

And in the end, wouldn’t we be doing our learners a great service by helping them practice the kind of Englishes they work with in the real world?

Any takers?


Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Random reflections


Tags: , ,

7 responses to “Where have all the non-native (and even native) authentic recordings gone?

  1. Federico Espinosa

    February 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    I’m game. With a few scripts I could easily get a handful of French speakers (duh) to make recordings. I could also get my family involved for a Mexican (Spanish, sorta) accent. Could make a “recording” a class project this summer and get a host of nationalities from my NYC students from all over. Keep me in the loop.

  2. RebuffetBroadus

    February 25, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Hi Federico! Glad to see you here! That would be great if you would be willing to help, especially with those NYC students. I’m sure you get a whole range of nationalities there! I’ll send you an email with more detailed information and we can talk about it! Thanks again for volunteering–very kind of you!

  3. Vicki Hollett

    April 13, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I’d be happy to help too Gabrielle. NNS accents have been commonplace in business English courses for many years – around half the recordings in Business Objectives (1991) were NNSs, so presumably this isn’t an issue of just accent? Is it about finding more ELF-like recordings. For authentic stuff, have you checked out VOICE or HKSCE? Or it it that you want the language graded somehow? And do you want video or audio?

  4. RebuffetBroadus

    April 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Hi Vicki, thanks for the comment. I agree that while we have seen more NNS accents in the past 20 years or so, often these recordings are no more authentic than the others in the coursebok. You’re right that it’s not just an issue of accent. The real issue is finding something that sounds authentic–more English as a Lingua Franca as you said. This means accepting the accent, the varying pronunciations and intonationan patterns, even the non-standard grammar and vocab that are the reality of English as a global language.

    I hadn’t heard of VOICE or HKSCE, so thanks for those. I’m going to look at them this week and see if they can be useful for my learners.

    The language wouldn’t necessarily have to be graded, as I suppose tasks could be created at different levels or the recordings could be worked with in shorter extracts. I attended a talk by Annie MacDonald on this at IATEFL Liverpool and she had a lot of relevant ideas for working with authentic texts, including shortening the extract rather than slowing it down.

    For now, I think it is easier to collect audio, as people can record themselves speaking and simply send me the file by email. Video files may be heavy (although they could be posted to YouTube and linked back to). Also, if video was to be used, it would be better if the visuals provided some clues to understanding the audio. Other than simply being able to see the speaker and maybe their lip movements, I don’t see much of an advantage to just recording a headshot of someone speaking.

    If you know of anyone who would like to contribute, please by all means send them my way. I’ve just added a contact page to this blog, so people can contact me in private.

    Thanks again,

    • Vicki Hollett

      April 15, 2013 at 5:30 am

      If it’s ELF audio you’re looking for and you’d like to grade the tasks rather than the language, I think you may find VOICE and HKSCE have what you need. There’s stacks of stuff there. Happy hunting!

  5. RebuffetBroadus

    April 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks a lot Vicki–you just decided what I’ll be doing with my weekend 🙂


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