Advanced English Listening
Codename: Madeleine

This advanced English listening is based on a BBC World Service documentary about Noor Inayat Khan, a French Indian spy who worked for the British in occupied France during the Second World War. This lesson has discussion topics, extensive vocabulary and a 26 minute listening with comprehension exercises.

For a printable pdf document of this lesson, you will find a download button at the bottom of this page.


Ask the students to discuss whether they know of any real-life spies.

Pre Teach Vocabulary

Ask the students to write down on flashcards 5 characteristics of a good spy, and on separate flashcards their opposites. Get the students to place them in 2 columns justifying their choices. Have your own set prepared, with the following characteristics, and get them to divide the characteristics along with the others:

timid, courageous

intuitive, calculated

adept, incompetent

diligent, careless

temperamental, reliable

unflinching, fearful

moral, immoral/amoral

resourceful, unimaginative


Write the following phrases onto flashcards. Each student needs to choose one, and tell the other students the phrase, but leaving out the underlined word. They then need to act out or draw the missing word for the other students to guess. Once they have the full phrase, explain the meaning if they do not already know.

didn’t have the foggiest idea

mock interrogation

the network was blown

learn the ropes

blew her cover

piece together

hold up very well

devastating blunder

hefty piece of kit

come up to scratch

to know something inside out


Get the students to listen to the following documentary and answer these questions:

  1. What were the main formative factors from her youth? Music, sufi, tolerance, grew up in France, she was taught not to lie, they had an open house, universal religion
  2. What was she like? dreamlike, imaginative, other wordly
  3. Who were the SOE (special operations executive) and why were they formed? Britain were standing alone, sabotage, subversion, facilitate armed resistance,
  4. What were the requirements of a recruit? Natural French, taking the job seriously, fit, courageous, committed, young, no fear at the implications of getting caught
  5. What was she trained to do? Find a source, finding a dead box, arms, forgery, getting into a building, skeleton keys, wireless work in secret, morse code, operating, maintaining and fixing a wireless
  6. Why did she get the job? There was a shortage of operators, she knew Paris well
  7. Why did the job become more dangerous? The network was blown, she had to find and do everything by herself (eg accommodation), the Germans knew about her existence, codename and appearance
  8. What devastating blunder did she make? She was caught carrying her codebook with codes, names and messages, and it cost other people their lives
  9. Do you think she should have had a memorial built to her?

Follow-on Discussion

  1. What makes people like Noor do what she did?
  2. What should the role of women be in war?
  3. Is torture ever justified?

Free Downloadable Lesson

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