Getting smart with speaking: voice recording in language learning

Richard Whiteside

Richard Whiteside is a freelance editor, writer, materials developer and online tutor. He has an MA in Educational Technology and TESOL from the University of Manchester and is particularly interested in how teachers and students can get creative with technology. Richard has written a blog on using voice recording for language learning.

Voice recording in language learning is nothing new, but it has become a lot easier. Once upon a time, the audio-lingual method was very popular and language labs contained what was then cutting edge technology. Teachers have also been able to record students using tape recorders or dictaphones. Nowadays, using smartphones, students can easily record themselves speaking and share it instantly. The ideas presented here are aimed at teens and adults but voice recording can be done with younger learners too.

Why voice recording?

For many teachers, it is speaking and pronunciation that students want and need most help with. It can be difficult to find enough time in the classroom to listen carefully to every student. It is also easier for classroom speaking activities, particularly pair or group work, to focus on fluency rather than accuracy. All in all, it is a challenge to provide the guidance and feedback students need to improve their speaking.

How can using voice recording help?

Firstly, voice recording might be new and different for your students and it is usually motivating to try something new. Also, recording a speaking activity adds an extra level of intensity. It will be saved and shared, so it is more like a performance. Additionally, by setting voice recording as homework, students can practice and record in private, which may help them overcome issues with confidence.

Voice recording can encourage a focus on accuracy. Especially if students are encouraged and guided to prepare, practice, record, listen and check, and re-record until they are happy with their finished product. Explain the benefits of this to students and give them a model to follow (download Richard’s example model activity plan). This is intended to help them reflect on their speaking and develop a ‘critical ear’, so they can evaluate their performance more effectively.

For feedback, teachers can provide personalised responses to each student by email or one to one in class. Alternatively, record a reformulated and corrected version of the same task and send it to the student. Furthermore, listening to the recordings will make it easy to notice common issues across a group of students and plan an activity to focus on typical errors or areas of weakness. On top of this, having a record of each student’s speaking means that you can listen back to their work while preparing assessment.

Potential challenges

As with many activities using technology there may be challenges to overcome. In general, however, I think the options available are so varied that most problems have solutions. Recordings can take place almost anywhere and at any time. Voice recording apps are available for all mobile devices and audio files can be shared by email. For a computer-based option, consider using the online voice recording tool Vocaroo.

Making a start

There are many things that can be done with voice recording. Any speaking task can be recorded! Recordings can be done individually or in pairs or groups, inside or outside the classroom.

To make a start, set a short speaking activity for students to do in pairs. They can do the task once to practise and then repeat the same task for the recording. Either ask one student in each pair to use their smartphone for the recording, and email it to you, or record each pair, one by one, using your own device. If the classroom is too noisy, each pair can go outside the door, or to an empty room. Alternatively, set a short task for students to record individually at home and share it with you by email.

Carrying on

Once you’ve made a start, keep going! Try to incorporate voice recording on a regular basis. Gradually, students will build up a portfolio of recordings. After some time, encourage them to listen to them; hopefully they will notice some improvement!

Over to you

If you have never tried voice recording with your students, I hope this will inspire you to have a go! If you have tried already and have ideas to share, please let me know in the comments section below.

For more tips on using mobile devices for language learning, read Nik Peachey’s blog on Classroom management for the connected classroom.

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