Professional Development

About Language activity #4: Spoken interaction

Scott Thornbury

As part of our new Teacher Development series (#TDwednesday) we’ll be sharing the fourth and final activity from Scott Thornbury’s new title, About Language Second Edition!

This week saw the launch of the Spoken BNC2014, the largest ever public collection of transcribed British conversations, totalling 11.5 million words. This incredible corpus, built over the past three years by the Language Research Team at Cambridge University Press along with linguists at Lancaster University, offers us a rich source of information concerning language change. It also provides us with ideas as to what kinds of things we should highlight to our learners when teaching spoken English in order to help them navigate real-life situations more fluently and effectively. To learn more about this, read Dr Claire Dembry’s article Spoken English – what do we know? How do we know it? And do check out the SpokenBNC2014 – it’s a rich and fascinating resource!

In this week’s extract from About Language, we’re continuing the theme of spoken interaction as Scott encourages us to consider some typical features of spoken grammar. As you work through the task, you’ll probably start to realise just how many of these features you use without even thinking!


The conversation extract in the previous task was mainly monologue, but, of course, most spoken language is more interactive than that. Hence spoken grammar includes a number of features that result from its interactional nature. In the following extract from the Cambridge English Corpus, can you identify the purpose of the underlined elements?

<S1> I told you about this job right?

<S2> I think so.

<S1> This tutoring online tutoring job yeah okay. Cool.

<S2> Yeah yeah yeah yeah. That seems like a positive thing.

<S1> Yeah I’ve done all my training.

<S2> Mm-hmm.

<S1> And I think it will be bearable.

<S2> Great.

<S1> Possible. I was kinda worried that it wouldn’t be possible at first because they have these like time limit things …

<S2> Okay.

<S1> … where you have to y’know you know. Stay within their time limit.

<S2> Right.

<S1> Oh my gosh. I would spend like an hour and a half on something that eventually I was supposed to

spend half an hour on.

<S2> Yeah.

<S1> Because we’re supposed to spend half an hour on each essay no matter how long it is.

<S2> Wow. Phew.

<S1> And I mean

<S2> That’s crazy.

<S1> … it’s …

<S2> But.

<S1> … it’s structured in a way that is possible because you’re only supposed to do a certain amount of


<S2> Good training. Mm-hmm. Right.


Now you’ve worked through the activity, here’s the answer key. You might also want to think about the following questions:

What features of spoken grammar have you learnt from doing this task?

Are there any features which you feel you could try to use more or differently in your own interactions?

How could analysing interactions in this way help you to get more from coursebook speaking activities?


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading through the activities from Scott’s new title, About Language. If you’s missed any of the sample content, why not start back at the very beginning of this series and learn all about corpus data?

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