Using voice recordings to simulate telephone interaction

Matthew W. Turner, Tokyo Kasei University


Quick guide
  • Key words: Telephone conversation, listening comprehension, turn-taking, fluency
  • Learner English level: Upper beginner to advanced 
  • Learner maturity level: University
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes 
  • Activity time: 45-60 minutes 
  • Materials: Smart phone with a voice recorder, handouts containing pre-prepared transcripts
Have you ever made a phone call to a friend and been led to believe that they answered, only to find that it was a recorded voice message made to sound like they had? If your answer was yes, then you’ll appreciate how frustrated it left you feeling. But what if this same idea could be used effectively in the language classroom? This activity is aimed at improving students’ telephone conversation fluency by making use of the voice recording function on smart phones, whilst allowing students to practice various conversations in a controlled manner.
Step 1: Before the lesson, consult your class to see how many students have the necessary smart phones for this task, enough for pairwork or small groups will be adequate.
Step 2: Prepare a series of conversations lasting no longer than a minute each by scripting one side of the conversation. This could take the shape of the phone call initiator or the respondent (refer to Appendix for example).
Step 3: Once you have scripted the dialogues, record them onto your smart phone and present them on a class handout.
Step 1: Start your class but make sure your phone is in full view of your students. Signal that you are receiving a call and need to answer it. When you have the students attention, press the play button of the first prepared voice recording and begin the false conversation. When the conversation has ended, involve the students in a brief discussion about the call. This could include asking the students who was calling, what they wanted to find out, and what was unusual about it. At this point, you may wish to elect a stronger member of the class to play the receiver role and try the conversation again.
Step 2: Hand out a copy of the transcripts and guide them towards the opening dialogue on the sheet. Start the same conversation again and have the students respond with the opposite half of the conversation. Have the entire class act as the second speaker and/or respondents. Practice this a few times until the students can keep up with your recorded telephone call and comfortably complete their turn-taking. 
Step 3: Tell the students that you need to call back the same person and that they should be prepared to listen to the call. Direct the students to the next transcript on the worksheet and help them realise that there may be a number of possible responses. After a few minutes, start the phone call and allow them time to work on achieving appropriate responses.
Step 4: For the next dialogue, the students are not given a written transcript to work from, but should create their own responses independently. Allow the students ample listening opportunities before encouraging them to write up the receiver’s part of the telephone conversation and practice.
Step 5: For the final part of the lesson, allow the students to script their own dialogues before recording one side of the conversation as you did before the lesson. Then, allow students to exchange phones and speak to each other’s messages. Depending on class size, this may be better organised into smaller groups.
Follow-up activity
Ask your learners to go home and practice speaking to themselves for homework. You may wish to set a theme or a focus for their conversations, for example making arrangements with friends or confirming a hotel reservation. Conversations could then be brought to the following lesson and performed.
This lesson can be extremely fun and stimulating for the students and has the potential to facilitate meaningful autonomous learning. Such voice recordings can be used to improve student turn-taking competency and listening comprehension whilst improving all-round telephone interaction fluency with native speakers, or to simply highlight elements of their own speech that could be improved.
The appendix is available below.