Using a digital voice recorder

Tip: If you don’t own one, buy a digital voice recorder right now. Then use it.


If you teach 1:1 you really do need a small hand-held digital voice recorder. When I taught in-company in Portugal in the early nineties my Sony Walkman cassette recorder went everywhere with me. These days they are digital, half the size, and extremely easy to use. Playback quality from the speaker at the front of the unit is not as good as I remember from my old Sony (much smaller sized speaker) but still quite acceptable.

In my own 1:1 teaching, the recorder is just on most of the time. On Day One I ask the student if it’s okay to record the lesson as it’s a good way for me to give them language feedback. They always say yes. Then I turn it on and leave it on. Every lesson. I don’t try to second-guess when the student is going to speak about something interesting. If you teach 1:1 you know that you can’t. The student starts, you listen, the conversation gets interesting, and whoops – you notice that you’re not recording.

Okay, now it’s recorded and it’s time for feedback. You’re going to need to practice with the ‘review’ button here, because a lot of the time you’ll be listening and then want to go back a few sentences to the start of something that the student said. This is so important that I suggest you experiment in the shop with this function to check that it’s easy to do.

You listen back together. Pause often to review what the student said on the recording: praise language, develop language, correct language, ask them what they meant by that, ask them to explain that in a little more detail. All the usual things. The student will often ask you to stop the playback so that they can find out how to say something that they couldn’t express properly at the time. Leave time for them to make notes.

It’s the bread-and-butter of 1:1. I don’t see how you can do without it.



I think a digital voice recorder is an effective tool in 121 teaching. It facilitates the task and helps a lot.


Good point – I remember in the ’90s at the language school where I worked all 1:1 students got a blank cassette with their name on it as part of their welcome pack. We teachers slowly filled it with their output – ie if they spoke well about something or gave a presentation, we gave language feedback and then asked them to repeat, this time recording them. They took the cassette away at the end of the course – the idea being to listen to it in the car etc. I know it’s possible to do that now by giving them a collection of mp3 files via a USB stick, but somehow without a physical cassette it just isn’t as easy, and I’m sure it’s done far less. And yes, getting the mp3 file off a digital recorder after the lesson, ready for copying to the student later, requires a cable + your own laptop to store the file + time and effort. Simpler to just record directly onto your laptop.
Looking around the staffroom of the school where I currently work, most 1:1 teachers use their own small digital recorders (most favour Sony for the recording quality) as I suggest in the post, and don’t give the student a copy at the end. It’s what I do too, I have to admit.


I notice you make no mention of the student having a copy of their own; is this something you ever do? It was easier, in a way, with old-style audio cassettes. When recording a student these days – which I don’t automatically do, I admit – I use a laptop, as it saves having another piece of hardware around.

Comments are closed.