Reading Corpus

Brian Richards
Department of Arts and Humanities in Education
University of Reading


Participants: 68
Type of Study: interview
Location: UK
Media type: audio
DOI: doi:10.21415/T50P4G
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Citation information

Publications using these data should cite:
Chambers, F., & Richards, B. J. (1995). The “free conversation” and the assessment of oral proficiency. Language Learning, 11, 6–10.

In accordance with TalkBank rules, any use of data from this corpus must be accompanied by at least one of the above references.

Project Description

These data on French foreign language oral interviews were transcribed as part of a study of the reliability and validity of oral assessment in modern foreign languages in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). GCSE is a public examination normally taken by school children in the United Kingdom at the age of 16, i.e. after the 11 years of compulsory schooling. The 34 interviews constitute one part of the French oral examination: the so-called “free conversation.” Here, the French teacher interviews students about everyday topics such as school, home, family, holidays, future aspirations and hobbies, and interests. Other parts of the oral examination such as role-plays are not part of these data. The title of the project was “Oral Assessment in Modern Languages Project”, funded by the Research Endowment Trust Fund of the University of Reading.

Our analyses have compared lexical and grammatical features of the children’s language with teachers’ expectations of foreign language learners of this age, and with the language of French native speakers in a similar interview setting (Chambers & Richards, 1995). We have also compared teachers’ impressionistic assessments of the presence of qualities specified in the assessment criteria with our own objective counts using the CLAN software (Richards & Chambers, 1996). We are currently looking at teacher-student interaction, focusing on the teachers’ accommodation strategies.

Teachers conduct the oral examinations, including the interviews on set dates and on topics determined by the official examination board. Only one teacher and one student are present during each interview, the audio recording being made by the teacher. The teacher enters assessments on a mark sheet during the interview, and on completion of the examination the tapes and mark sheets are sent to the examination board. A sample of tapes is remarked by a moderator appointed by the examination board and the teachers’ assessments adjusted if necessary. The average length of the interviews is 5 minutes 30 seconds. They range from 3 minutes to 12 minutes.


All 34 participants come from the same all-ability secondary school (11-18 comprehensive school) in an English-speaking area of South Wales. They are 16 years old and are native speakers of English who have been learning French for 5 years. All have also spent at least one year learning Welsh and some have had the opportunity to learn German.

The school is situated in a predominantly working-class area, but the students selected here cover a wide range of social background. It should be noted that students with the weakest performance in French were excluded from this sample because the focus of our study was the Higher Level examination. This part of the examination, which is taken in addition to Basic Level, gives students access to the highest grades. Students in the sample obtained pass grades ranging from Grade A (the highest) to Grade E. No students with Grades F and G were included.

Two teachers, one female and one male, are involved in the conduct of the interviews. Neither are native speakers of French; both are native speakers of British English who have learned French as a foreign language and have a degree in Modern Languages.

As a condition of using the school’s tapes we promised that the identity of the school, teachers, and students would not be revealed. We have therefore used pseudonyms for these. In addition, we have changed the names of all locations mentioned on the tapes, as well as names of sports teams, and exchange schools in France and Germany. Francine Chambers who is a native speaker of French transcribed the recordings and subsequently checked the transcripts edited and coded by Brian Richards. Fiona Richards did the final checking.

The following points should be noted:

List of Files

In the table below, the fourth column shows the combined total of points obtained by each student for the tests in Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing in the GCSE examination. A maximum of 7 points is awarded for each of these 4 skills, giving a possible total of 28 points. The fifth column shows the score for the whole oral test, including the interview and role-plays.

File numberSexTeacher SexGCSE PointsOral Test