June 2017
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Amira Desouky Ali, Sadat Academy for Management Sciences, Tanta, Egypt

In this article, I reflect on two techniques I used with my English as a Foreign Language students to develop their listening and speaking skills: shadowing and video voiceovers, which were inspired by two sessions I attended at the 2017 annual TESOL convention.


The first session was “A Computer-Mediated Shadowing Activity and ESL Speaking Development”, in which the presenters: Masakazu Mishima and Lixia Cheng, described their experience of using shadowing with Japanese adult students to develop their fluency. According to Tamai (1997), shadowing is a listening task in which learners track and then vocalize a heard speech clearly while attentively listening to the oral input. Shiki et al. (2010) distinguish shadowing from repeating. In repeating, learners listen to a model conversation sentence by sentence with a pause to enable them to repeat what they have just heard. However, when shadowing an input, learners vocalize and mimic the sentences while still listening. Repeating takes more time because learners wait to vocalize until the sentence has ended.

Tamai (1997) also notes that shadowing improves learners' listening comprehension because it activates bottom-up processing, which allows information to be passed on for macro-level analysis, and consequently top-down processing is activated. Then, echoic memory is activated to retain heard speech more accurately. I used this technique with intermediate students to improve their listening and fluency. I started by assessing their listening as well as speaking skills using a pre-test. The material to be shadowed can be an audio file or book; audio material like a podcast or radio; or audio-visuals such as videos, television shows, movies, or any authentic recorded input. I chose some videos from Randall’s Video Snapshots that met my students’ interests, namely; “Good Neighbors,” “Identity Theft,” “Fighting a Cold,” and “Sports and Recreation.”

First, I asked my students to listen and then answer some comprehension questions. To facilitate shadowing and overcome the difficulty and sometimes the frustration of shadowing a text without seeing it, it is helpful to provide students with scaffolds. Providing shadowers with a transcript of a video recording or subtitles to ease the emulation of the text can be beneficial (Manseur, 2015). My students started shadowing transcripts and once they became accustomed to the material, they practiced shadowing without the transcripts. Moreover, I advised students to use a dictionary to check the meaning of unknown words to expand their vocabulary stock. I followed Kurata’s (2007) steps for shadowing:

  1. Full shadowing: The students watch the video and listen to the input then repeat it verbatim as soon as it is heard. In my class, students read the transcript with highlighted target prosodic features of the input: the sound, intonation, and stress patterns. They did this once in class and continued at home at their own pace. To help students apply the features correctly, I gave them some notes and rules for each feature prior to listening.

  2. Slash shadowing: The input said with pauses to allow the students more time to recognize the words and focus on meaning.

  3. Silent shadowing: This is done in the students’ heads.

  4. Part shadowing: Also known as echoing, in part shadowing students focus on shadowing certain prosodic features in the input and just shadow these features. The mental load in part shadowing is much lighter than in full shadowing.

  5. Part shadowing + comment: This type of shadowing resembles part shadowing but the students add their own opinions and explanations. In this phase of shadowing, the students shadow part of the input and comment on this part.

  6. Part shadowing+ question: In this type of shadowing, in addition to emulating part of the speech, students ask a question related to the content, which requires full comprehension of the heard input. Students can use different kinds of questions related to the input.

For me, the last two types of shadowing were integrated into one step in which students completed an oral activity related to the video, such as discussions, debates, or role-plays. Then, they answered some reflective questions on each shadowing experience. Students recorded their shadowing after practicing several times and submitted the recordings via Edmodo. I listened to the audio recordings and sent students feedback to be considered next time. When assessing students’ performance after few weeks, it is noteworthy that students’ fluency and use of suprasegmentals improved, and the number of times they took to listen and submit a final audio recording decreased from 20 times to 4 or 5. Students’ confidence when speaking also increased pointedly.

Video Voiceovers

The second technique, video voiceovers, I learned about by attending a teaching tip entitled “Video Voiceovers for Fun, Helpful Pronunciation Practice,” by Lynn Henrichsen. Video voiceovers are effective in developing students’ accuracy and fluency, overcoming the boredom of repetitive activities, and enhancing their motivation in pronunciation classes. This technique can be used to help students use authentic materials in an entertaining way. Students perceive video voiceovers as motivating, entertaining, and beneficial. Like shadowing, students in video voiceovers need a lot of time to practice and produce; for this reason, students should rehearse and prepare at home.

I used this technique with my students in the Access Microscholarship Program (students aged 14_18 years old) to improve their pronunciation and fluency. I went through the following steps (Henrichsen, 2015):

  1. Choose a clip: Provide students with a list of video samples from TV programs, commercials, cartoons, or films and ask them to work in pairs or small groups to choose segments that appeal to their interests. With advanced levels, students can also choose a short video clip of their own. For my students, I chose short segments (3_4 minutes) from cartoons like The Lion King, Tangled, Toy Story, Kung Fu Panda, and Mulan.

  2. Students prepare: After downloading scripts of the videos, students prepare either in class or at home by synchronizing the speech of the characters with a focus on segmentals and suprasegmentals features. It is helpful to provide students with the rules of these features before rehearsals.

  3. Students present: When delivering their presentations, students mute the videos and speak aloud with appropriate body language. Other pairs/teams watch and rate the performance against a rubric to vote for the best video voiceovers.

After evaluating students’ use of segmentals and suprasegmentals features, I noticed development in these features. Moreover, students’ body language (gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice) improved, particularly shy students. Students were excited and thrilled to deliver their presentations.

Challenges and Concluding Thoughts

In practicing shadowing or video voiceovers, students might face some challenges. First, students should have the necessary technology (computers/tablets and Internet access) and be able to use it. The classroom should also have the necessary equipment to display the videos while presenting. Second, students might find it difficult in their initial trials to keep up with the speed of the native speakers or imitate suprasegmentals and other difficult words. A lot of practice can overcome this problem. Third, these techniques are best used with students who are, at minimum, at an intermediate level of listening and speaking.

In conclusion, shadowing and video voiceovers are two useful and motivating techniques that are worth trying to improve intermediate students’ listening as well as speaking skills.


Henrichsen, L. (2015). Video voiceovers for helpful, enjoyable pronunciation practice. In J. Levis, R. Mohammed, M. Qian & Z. Zhou (Eds), Proceedings of the 6th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 270_276). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Kurata, K. (2007). A basic research on cognitive mechanism of shadowing. Bulletin of the Graduate School of Education, Hiroshima University, 56(2), 259_265.

Manseur, R. (2015). Exploring the role of shadowing in the development of EFL learners' speaking skills (Unpublished master’s thesis). Faculty of Letters and Foreign Languages, Algeria.

Shiki, O., Mori, Y., Kadota, S., & Yoshida, S. (2010). Exploring differences between shadowing and repeating practices: An analysis of reproduction rate and types of reproduced words. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 21, 81_90.

Tamai, K. (1997). The effectiveness of shadowing and listening process. Current English Studies, 36, 105_116.

Amira Ali is a lecturer in the English Department at Sadat Academy for Management Sciences in Egypt and a certified teacher trainer for the British Council, NileTESOL and RELO, and the Professional Academy for Teachers in Egypt. She is a holder of PhD in TEFL. Her interests include teaching writing and reading and integrating technology in EFL contexts.

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