IATEFL2015 | Sheila Thorn: Practical advice on creating authentic Medical English listening materials | Talk summary

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Conferences
Tags: , ,

Abstract. It is almost impossible to get permission to record medical interactions between patients and doctors. However, it is relatively easy to record interviews with ordinary people from all walks of life talking about their current or previous health conditions. I shall demonstrate how these authentic recordings can be used to create highly-motivating Medical English teaching and listening practice materials.

Site: http://www.thelisteningbusiness.com/
Slides: ask by email: sthorn@clara.net

The outline of the session:

  • The need for authentic ME listening materials
  • The logistics of making recordings
  • How to exploit recordings

Sheila’s experience as a L2 student of French and German taught her that when you go to the country where the language is spoken, classroom language doesn’t help listening. So when she became a teacher she wanted to make sure her students listening. The book she wrote (Real Lives Real Listening) is based entirely on authentic interviews with her friends.

Why authentic listening for Medical listening? 

Medical coursebooks: recordings are scripted, in a studio, limited grammar/vocabulary, speech far slower than in real live; no colloquial language that people use with their patients. Teachers can train medical professionals, but not the patients. So it’s vital to help learners to deal with authentic listening.

How to get authentic recording? 

You can’t record patients talking to doctors: this is unethical. Sheila tried to make recordings with her GP when she herself had to see her doctor. But that fell through for a number of reasons:

  • those recordings got awkward because doctors asks personal questions
  • you have to suppress yourself when you’re in pain
  • the institution might mind even if you, the patient, don’t!

Solution? Get people you know to talk about their medical conditions (previous or something they’re suffering from at the moment).


  • Marvelous colloquial language
  • Material that has  all the features of connected speech that students struggle with:

How to exploit those recording?

To focus on features of connected speech: 

  • focus on functional language rather than focusing on comprehension / content words, focus on functional language
  • activity types: gap-fills (functional words), dictation, stress marking

Follow-up activities:

  • Role-plays of the same interviews

I am a great fan of Sheila Thorn and her work: authentic listening is of huge priority for my students, so Sheila’s book was a life savior when I started out teaching a course in authentic listening, and her materials taught me an incredible lot. So I was thrilled when I realized I’d have a chance to attend her talk. I really enjoyed the session and this account of creating authentic materials for ESP. It was particularly useful to hear what things might not work and why. Having tried to create customized listening materials myself, I have experienced how many caveats there may be and how much time can be lost doing ostensibly sensible things. 


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

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