Free English Lessons

A Phone-In About ID Cards – Listening Lesson (C1-C2)

Have you ever phoned a radio station? In the UK, the USA and other English-speaking countries, talk radio – where listeners can phone in and give their opinions – is very popular. Listen to a man calling a radio host to say what he thinks about ID cards. You will review the grammar of talking hypothetically, some idiomatic phrases for giving opinions and the pronunciation of function words. This free lesson from Oxford Online English is for advanced learners.

Listen to the full dialogue here:

If you find it hard to hear the caller, listen to this version where he is recorded in clearer quality:

Host: OK, let’s go to Derby1. Hello Alex.
Alex: Oh, hi Nick, yeah, it’s … I’m just calling about these … these bloody ID cards.
Host: Why?
Alex: Er … well, it’s that … that bloke half an hour ago – he was saying that ID cards would have prevented the, um, the Windrush scandal.
Host: Uh-huh.
Alex: I mean that’s … what … that’s a load of rubbish!
Host: Right, well, he was saying that if we’d all had ID cards in the 50s, when all those people came over from the Caribbean on the Windrush, they could all have been legally registered as resident in the UK, and their children wouldn’t have been deported. I think that was the gist of his argument. That’s what’s wound you up2, is it?
Alex: Er … well it’s … yeah, it’s not exactly that. It’s just that … you know, I don’t … I don’t deny anybody’s right to live in this country, you know, so long as they … they work and pay tax.
Host: Right, but …?
Alex: You know, but I, these … yeah … no, it’s these … these ID cards are ridiculous. They’re an infringement of our human rights.
Host: (laughs) Classic! It’s that old line! “An infringement of your human rights”. How does having a card with your name on it infringe your human rights?
Alex: Um, well, you know, we have … we’ve got these data protection laws for a reason. Um … you know, it’s … it’s immoral for an organisation to keep personal information about me and to use it for … you know, for, for … for whatever … whatever dodgy stuff3 they … they wanna use it for.
Host: Right, OK. Such as what?
Alex: Alright, er … well, let’s say, er … let’s say I’ve got a criminal record and it would be listed somewhere that I’ve been in prison and then … er, you know, if I’m travelling, I might … I might get to … get to the border … get to some country and they … they might not let me in.
Host: Yeah, well they wouldn’t let you in because of the crime you committed, not because it’s been entered into a computer somewhere. Let me read you this text that’s just come in from Simon: “Hi Nick, what’s this idiot on about? If you’ve got nothing to hide, there’s no reason not to have an ID card.” That’s a point that a lot of people make.
Alex: Alright, so … right, so, so … I mean, what are we gonna achieve with these ID cards? We’ve already got a way to identify ourselves and that’s the, er, the HMRC4; we’ve got a tax code, we’ve got a national insurance number; and, you know, if you’re going to the doctor’s, they’ve got your NHS4 number. So, what can other … what can countries with ID cards … what can they do that we can’t?
Host: Well, how about the track and trace system … that might have worked better for a start.
Alex: OK, and how would … how would that have worked?
Host: Well, an ID card is one number for everything – as you just said, we’ve got more than one number. So, if you tested positive for Covid5 and the NHS told you to self-isolate, then that information would be passed to all the other institutions that need it to implement the public health policy.
Alex: No, it’s … see, it’s all this sharing of information that I d-… I just think … I think it’s morally wrong.
Host: Yeah, you keep going on about morals and human rights. I’m still not clear what you’re trying to say though: how would an ID card inconvenience you personally in real terms Alex?
Alex: Well, it’s like, you know … the politicians, they’re talking now about these vaccine passports, and, you know, I just think … if you have to show a passport to get into a restaurant … you know, the next thing it’s like you have to show a passport to … you know, to buy a sandwich … and it’s … it’s a slippery slope. It’s … we’re going into, you know, it’s Big Brother6, it’s like a … we’re going into 19846 surveillance society. If … if, if we say that, for example, only people with ID cards can do this, and then other people can’t do it, then what’s to stop them next year saying, well “only people with ID cards and a clean bill of health and no criminal record can come into the pub” … you know, where’s it gonna end?
Host: Well if you think Big Brother is watching you, I’m sure he’s listening as well, and he’ll be round to cart you off any minute now. I’d better let you go. Thanks for the hypothesis … I’m still not sure you’ve mentioned a tangible way in which your human rights are infringed by having an ID card, but nice try, thanks for the call Alex. Would you like to join the discussion? 0845 300 1234 …

The exercises below are designed to help you understand the discussion in stages, including some of the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. These notes are about words not covered in the exercises.

1. Derby is a city in the East Midlands of England.
2. wind somebody up = make them angry
3. dodgy stuff = illegal or unofficial activity
4. The speaker uses two abbreviations for public authorities in the UK: ‘HMRC’ = Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the department that collects tax); ‘NHS’ = National Health Service, which is funded by taxes and free at the point of use.
5. ‘Covid’ is a very familiar word now, and many other languages also use the English term. ‘Covid-19’ is an abbreviation of ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’.
6. ‘Big Brother’ is a reference from the novel 1984, one of the best-known works of English literature. See exercise 1, question 4.

A Phone-In About ID Cards – exercise 1
Comprehension: understanding the gist

If you turn on a radio programme halfway through, the speakers might mention things that you haven’t heard. They may also make cultural references or comment on events that are assumed to be known by the average listener. It’s your job to work out what they mean!

Listen to the full conversation above and answer five multiple-choice questions about some of the things the speakers refer to.

A Phone-In About ID Cards – exercise 2
Grammar: hypothetical language

The conversation includes a number of examples of hypothesising, where the speaker imagines a situation and suggests the consequences of it. The grammar used indicates how realistic the speaker thinks the situation is.

Listen to five excerpts from the recording and decide what each hypothesis means.

A Phone-In About ID Cards – exercise 3
Pronunciation: hard-to-hear function words

In pronunciation, there are ‘content words’ and ‘function words’. Content words are the ones that put the meaning in a sentence – usually nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Function words are there to make the sentence grammatically correct – e.g. prepositions, pronouns, articles and modal or auxiliary verbs. These are often pronounced so unclearly that learners don’t realise they’re words they know well.

Listen to five clips from the conversation and tick all the words that are used in each clip.

A Phone-In About ID Cards – exercise 4
Vocabulary: idiomatic expressions

In a colloquial conversation like this one, you’ll hear a lot of expressions containing collocations (word combinations that are frequently used together) and metaphors (with a figurative rather than literal meaning).

Put the words of four such expressions in the right order. Then, match the four expressions with their meanings.

A Phone-In About ID Cards – exercise 5
Listening skill: writing words you hear

In many official English listening exams, there are exercises where you must write words exactly as they are used in the recording. They will normally be content words, not function words (see exercise 3), so you can usually expect them to be pronounced more clearly.

Look at five gaps and decide what sort of word is needed each time. If you can, try to predict exactly what the words are. Then, listen to the full conversation and write one word in each gap.

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