The one thing that has consistently made me curious about ESL textbooks is the homogenized voice actors on so many English learning tools and textbook audio companions. I understand the need to establish “standardized” English vernacular to model for students just starting to learn the language, but the reality is Americans have all sorts of accents, including those from other nations. Essentially, I believe, making simulated conversations without any ethnicity other than Caucasian is truly an unrealistic representation of the American melting pot ELLs face in work and community interactions. For this reason, I have enlisted the help of people with various backgrounds to help with creating the simulated conversations that go with the I Want To Learn English textbook in development. And not only do they vary in ethnicities and accents, but also in age. Some very young voice-over actors (including my 7 year old daughter) and members of our senior citizen community participate in this project. I like the idea of using some of these dialogues for the swing differentiation conversations and listening activities because they present more challenges for those students in the upper proficiency levels.
What is truly useful about having different people participate in the simulated conversations is the sense of “real” people. The nuances in speech are difficult to master when your first language is not English. Americans take this for granted, of course. This is one of the principle reasons it is essential to have a myriad of voices simulating conversations: to give adult ELLs a sense of being in a authentic conversation. Or at least, listen to them for the purpose of deciphering meaning and recalling details about the subjects being discussed. Perhaps this will be realized as students progress, not only in their overall test scores, but in their confidence level and English proficiency. This will ultimately pay major dividends for students working through general comprehension activities to improve their hold on the language, as well as in their improve their articulation skills.