Guide to using Audacity for sound editing in aural skill teaching and testing

Thứ năm - 07/08/2014 11:11
  1. Why Audacity?
Editing audio files for various aural skill teaching and testing purposes has always been a challenge for many language teachers, particularly those lacking IT skills. Besides obstacles in se-lecting appropriate sources, sound editing is often troublesome and time-consuming. With a view to helping address the above-mentioned problems, this article seeks to provide several practical guidelines to facilitate fellow teachers’ use of the audio-editing software Audacity.

Thanks to rapid development in the IT sector over the past decade or so, multiple high-quality sound editors are now available for language teachers to use in processing audio files for aural skill teaching and testing, examples of which include Adobe Audition, GoldWave, Magix Music Maker, WavePad, Dexster, FX Audio Editor, Diamond Cut, and Sony Sound Forge, just to name a few. So what makes Audacity a priority?

To begin with, despite their satisfactory performance, most of the aforementioned are commercial software packages, for which users have to pay in order to be able to fully utilize their features. Meanwhile, Audacity is free open source software with millions of users worldwide, many of whom are experienced and knowledgeable about its features and functions. Thus, advice and instructions are virtually just a click away should there be any problems in the process of using Audacity. Moreover, this software is very user-friendly and provides cross-platform stability (i.e., it can work well on various operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS and Linux). It is also safe to say that the features of Audacity are equal, sometimes even superior, to those of commercial software. With Audacity, one can readily record and edit sound (e.g., changing speed, amplifying, removing noise, cutting and pasting sound parts, etc.), open and export audio files in various formats (such as mp3, wma, wav), all of which are essential for processing and fine-tuning sound files for manifold purposes in aural skill teaching and testing.
  1. Guide to using Audacity for sound editing in aural skill teaching and testing
Following is a brief practical guide to installation and use of Audacity for sound editing on Windows computers. Much of the same procedure is applicable on other operating systems as well.
  1. Installing and using Audacity on Windows computers
Step 1: Download the Audacity installer f-rom

Step 2: Double click on the downloaded installer and follow the on-screen instructions for installation.

Step 3: To enable audio file export in MP3 format, it is crucial that the LAME plugin be downloaded and installed f-rom (Remember to download the .exe file for installation on Windows computers).
  1. Opening sound files in Audacity
Sound files can be opened in various ways in Audacity. Following are two easiest methods.

Method 1: Drag the appropriate sound file and d-rop it into the Audacity window.

Method 2: Click File -> Open, then browse to the appropriate file and click Open.

  1. Opening multiple sound files in one single Audacity window
To open multiple sound files at the same time in one Audacity window (for the purpose of equalizing pitches or merging these files, etc.), just drag and d-rop the files one by one into the Audacity window. These files will then be arranged vertically.

  1. Saving sound files after editing
There are two different options for saving Audacity sound files.

Option 1 - Saving for future editing: Click File -> Save Project As, and then name the file in the .aup format (only readable in Audacity).
Option 2 – Saving for later listening or disc burning: Click File -> Export. Name the file in the format of personal preference (mp3, wma, wav, ogg, flac, etc.), then click Save.
  1. Se-lecting sound files/parts for editing
Sound parts can be se-lected by simply highlighting the corresponding parts. Editing can then take place normally. To edit a whole sound file in Audacity, just highlight that whole file (which can be done with steps similarly to those in MS Word).

  1. Some useful features of Audacity
6.1. Amplification

Highlight the sound part to be edited, then click Effect -> Amplify. Move the sliding bar to the right to make the sound louder and to the left to make it softer. Click Preview to check if the volume of the sound part is satisfactory. If yes, tick the “Allow clipping” box and click OK to complete.  

6.2. Copying, cutting, pasting and deleting a sound part

Highlight the sound part to be edited, then
  • click Edit -> Copy to copy the part
  • click Edit -> Cut to cut the part
  • click Edit -> Paste to paste the part that has just been cut or copied
  • click Edit -> De-lete to de-lete the part

6.3. Changing the speed of a sound part

Highlight the sound part to be edited, then click Effect -> Change Speed. Move the sliding bar to the right to make the speed faster and to the left to make it slower. Click Preview to check if the speed of the sound part is satisfactory. If yes, click OK to complete. 

6.4. Some other sound effects
  • To cre-ate a silent part (silence) within an audio file, move the cursor to the position whe-re the silence will be cre-ated, then click Generate -> Silence. Fill in the Duration box with the amount of time for the silent part (e.g., 10 seconds), then click OK to complete.

  • To increase/decrease the bass level, click Effect -> BassBoost.
  • To reduce noise/disturbance within the sound file, click Effect -> Noise Removal.
  • To de-lete silent parts within the sound file, click Effect -> Truncate Silence.

  1. Merging multiple sound files into one
Step 1: To merge sound files, it is first of all necessary to open all those files in the same Audacity window, which can be done by dragging and d-ropping them one by one in the correct order.

Step 2: After all the files to be merged have been opened in the same window, click the Time Shift Tool so that individual sound files can be moved to the right positions.

Step 3: Point the cursor to each sound file; keep pressing the left side of the mouse and move that sound file to the desired position. Repeat this step with the rest of the files in the Audacity window. Once merged, the positions of the original sound files will remain exactly as arranged.

Step 4: Save the new single sound file in the .aup format for later editing if necessary, or export it to MP3/WAV/WMA formats for storage on the hard drive or CD.
  1. Conclusion
As mentioned earlier, Audacity has many features that are appropriate for language teachers’ use in processing audio files for the purpose of aural skill teaching and testing. This article, however, has only been able to touch upon a small portion of those features. For instance, one can use Audacity for voice recording, creating background music or ringtones, separating vocals f-rom music, mixing audio files, creating fade-in, fade-out effects, etc.
Due to the constraint of a short article, there are certainly limitations in the tips provided and a lack of details of other useful features of Audacity. Comments and feedback are therefore welcome at
  1. Barad, D. P. (2009). Pedagogical Issues Related to Speaking and Listening Skills and Sound Editing Software: Audacity. ELT Weekly, 1, 27.
  2. Döpel, M. G. (2007). Review of “Audacity” and “Propaganda”: Two applications for podcasting. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 4(1), 159-164.
  3. Farnell, A. (2010). Designing sound (pp. 310-312). Cambridge: MIT Press.
  4. Li, B., Burgoyne, J. A., & Fujinaga, I. (2006). Extending Audacity for Audio Annotation. In ISMIR (pp. 379-380).
  5. Mazzoni, D., & Granneman, S. (2007). Podcasting with Audacity: Creating a Podcast With Free Audio Software (Digital Short Cut). Pearson Education.
  6. Team, A. D. (2007). Audacity: The free, cross-platform sound editor.

Tác giả bài viết: Nguyen Van Ky (English Department, Hanoi University)

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