Posted in Conversation Classes, Games

The Interpreter: Game to practice direct / indirect questions and reported speech.


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This is a game for upper intermediate students and upwards. The main focus is the differences in structure between direct and indirect questions, something even the highest level English speakers struggle with.

Arrange students into groups of 3. In each group you have 1 interviewer, 1 celebrity and 1 interpreter. Tell students that the interviewer and the celebrity don’t speak the same language (in fact they do, everyone must speak English during the exercise). The interviewer asks a question to the celebrity but for the celebrity to understand the question it must be “translated” into an indirect question by the interpreter. The celebrity can then answer the question but the interpreter must report his / her answer back to the interviewer in reported speech. It can get a little complicated, and careful monitoring is required but students tend to enjoy focusing on the specific grammar point in use. Here is an example of a typical exchange:

Interviewer: Where did you go to school?

Interpreter: He would like to know where you went to school.

Celebrity: I went to school in a big boarding school in the English countryside.

Interpreter: He says that he went to a big boarding school in the English countryside. OR He said that he had been to a big boarding school in the English countryside.

For lower levels encourage the interpreters to report in the present tense to make it easier. There is a lot of pressure on the interpreter, they’re basically doing all the hard grammar work, so make sure you switch roles often.

Other indirect question beginnings could be:

Could you tell us…………….

He /she is interested to know……………..

He / she was wondering……………

Remember the form for yes / no questions:

Direct: Did you like your school?

Indirect: She was wondering if you liked your school.

If students need subjects to ask and answer questions about you can use some of the following:

  1. your favourite film
  2. your first day at school
  3. what you did last weekend
  4. your favourite place in the whole world
  5. the best / worst thing about living where you live

The celebrity students can give true answers about themselves or they can invent fantastical lives for their celebrity persona.

Let me know how it goes in the comments.


Barcelona based English Teacher, blogger and sometime actor and director.

11 thoughts on “The Interpreter: Game to practice direct / indirect questions and reported speech.

  1. Great idea to practise indirect questions and it requires very little preparation. I´ll use it tomorrow with my FCE group. Thank you

  2. Hi Tim,
    Wasn’t sure what I was looking at here, at first. Now I see that your primary goal is to provide an interesting exercise for teaching English! As a professional legal interpreter, I would like to point out that in my industry it is actually poor form to use the indirect constructions you are recommending here. As professional interpreters we are tasked with making as few changes as possible to what is said, and must repeat questions and responses in the exact grammatical form in which they are given. However, there are quite a few untrained, semi-professionals who work in my field. This roundabout “Ask him….Tell him…” approach is their unfortunate hallmark.

  3. Nice exercise for language students, but be aware that for actual interpreters it’s incorrect to use the third person in reporting what someone has said. If you were a professional you would repeat all utterances in the target language without making any changes of this sort.

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