My Real Lives, Real Listening books  
Introduction to the series


Current availability and prices
Comments from the back covers


Introduction to the series

Listening is the skill we use most in our daily lives, yet it is the skill which generally receives the least attention in the ELT classroom. This is partly due to the lack of authentic listening materials on the market, but it is also due to teachers’ lack of expertise and lack of time to create their own listening materials.

I have made it my mission to remedy this situation. 

The Real Lives, Real Listening series is an exciting new approach to training our students to listen more effectively.  It is designed to reflect the latest academic theories on the importance of authentic listening in language acquisition. The series also reflects our new awareness of the huge differences between spoken and written English raised by recent research on spoken English corpora.

Building on the work of author Mary Underwood and listening experts and researchers including Dr John Field, Professor Gillian Brown and Professor Ron Carter, and incorporating Professor Jennifer Jenkins’ recommendations on including non-native speakers in ELT materials, I have created a series of 100% unscripted listening books featuring a variety of native and non-native English speakers.

The books are available at three levels:

Elementary (CEF A2, Cambridge English KET/PET)

(CEF B1/B2, Cambridge English FCE/CAE)


(CEF B2/C1, Cambridge English CAE/CPE).

Each level features three sections: My Family, A Typical Day and A Place I Know Well. I deliberately chose themes which appear regularly in ELT coursebooks. 

Unlike the listening passages typically found in most ELT coursebooks, where scripted listening passages read out by actors in a recording studio are used to introduce new grammatical structures and lexis, each recording in the Real Lives, Real Listening books is 100% unscripted and recorded in a real-life situation with background noise. This means that students are exposed to the features of authentic spoken English which they encounter outside the classroom and generally find so daunting. These features include assimilation, elision, weak forms, hesitations, false starts, redundancy and, of course, colloquial expressions.

The first three listening passages in each section (My Family, A Typical Day and A Place I Know Well)  are accompanied by a large number of exercises which the teacher can select from, depending on their students’ needs. In addition to standard, non-threatening listening comprehension exercises, there are listening training exercises focusing on minimal pairs, weak forms, linking, sentence stress, intonation patterns, etc. These are followed by language development exercises which reinforce the lexis found in the passage.

The final two listening passages in each section for revision purposes. Here the speakers recycle naturally the lexis and grammar found in the previous three passages.

There is a full transcript at the end of each unit, together with a useful glossary which has been written especially to help inexperienced and non-native ELT teachers.

Students experience a huge sense of achievement when they find they can understand someone in the target language speaking at a natural speed. The aim of the Real Lives, Real Listening series is to provide busy teachers with ready-made listening materials which will effectively train, rather than just test, their students in listening.



Each Real Lives, Real Listening book contains three sections: My Family, A Typical Day and A Place I Know Well.  In each section there are five units featuring native and competent non-native speakers of English.

The first three units in each section are graded from easy to more challenging according to accent, speed of delivery and complexity of language. Each of these three units follows the same format:

Part 1 Pre-listening
This section gives students the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the speaker’s voice – a process known as ‘normalisation’.

Part 2 Listening comprehension
The main aim of this section is to increase students’ confidence in their listening ability. A variety of non-threatening exercise types are used to focus not just on what was said (i.e. the product of listening), but on how it was said (i.e. the process of listening).

Part 3 Interesting language points
Here attention is drawn to interesting grammatical, lexical and phonological points which have occurred in each passage. Great care has been taken to provide teachers and students with clear explanations and further examples of all the points raised.

Part 4 Further listening practice.
The focus of these exercises is on listening training. Exercises include phoneme discrimination, dictation of chunks of speech from the passage, identifying words pronounced less clearly because of because of assimilation and elision, marking sentence stress, etc.

Part 5 Language development practice
This section recycles useful lexis and grammar from the listening passage.

Part 6 Transcript and glossary
Each unit ends with a full transcript which includes every ‘um’, ‘er’ and pause. The transcript is followed by a glossary in which key lexical items are fully explained.

The final two units in each section are designed for revision. Here the speakers recycle naturally the lexis and grammar found in the previous three passages. These units all follow this format: Pre-listening, Listening comprehension, Further language development, Transcript and glossary.


Current availability and prices

For information on current availability and prices, please click on the following link which will take you to the Collins website:

For customers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, information on the current availability and prices of the Klett editions is available at:

Please note that I am donating 5% of my net earnings from sales of my Real Lives, Real Listening books to the MS Society in memory of my sister, Penny.

Comments from the back covers:

'Real Lives, Real Listening is outstanding. Unlike much so-called 'listening' material, it focuses systematically on the problems that really prevent learners from understanding natural speech, and does so through interesting and motivating activities. Highly recommended.' Michael Swan

'an innovative series that offers a fresh and practical approach to developing listening skills by means of authentic texts' Dr John Field

'Sheila Thorn's work leads the field in helping learners to engage with real speakers in real contexts. An outstanding resource for teachers and students alike.' Professor Ron Carter

'The author's wonderfully innovative approach to listening continues in the intermediate level books.  In particular, her choice of speakers takes into account the fact that the majority of learners will need to be able to understand the English accents of other non-native speakers, a crucial fact which is overlooked in most listening courses.' Professor Jennifer Jenkins

'Really lovely listening materials that not only give students practice with a range of accents, but also teach them the skills they need to become proficient listeners. The texts are varied and interesting and exploited in imaginative and very useful ways.' Dr Felicity O'Dell

  Richard Cauldwell of SpeechInAction shares my enthusiasm for using recordings of authentic speech:
  Meanwhile my good friends
Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald specialise in training students to analyse short segments of authentic speech: