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Shadowing: a useful technique for autonomous practice of listening and speaking


Teen boy wearing headphonesIn this post, Arizio Sweeting, a Cambridge ESOL Oral Examiner, shares a simple learner training approach to listening and pronunciation development using a shadowing technique.

Start by selecting a short audio text for your learners to work with. You will find a wide range of Creative Commons audio materials which can be downloaded as an MP3 file for educational purposes at www.elllo.org. The following transcript accompanies an audio text about Australia and is a good example in terms of its delivery, content and length:

The Australian flag has the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner. The rest of the flag is dark blue and then it has six white stars on it. I think they represent six different states in Australia, but I’m not really sure. My favourite city in Australia is Sydney. I lived there for about 6 months and it’s a really lively city. There are lots of young people and lots of things to do. There are also lots of tourist sites to visit, for example, the Sydney Opera House. Most people when they think about Australia, they think about the Outback. Very few people in Australia live in the Outback really, which is why it is so empty. There are huge empty spaces, like deserts, sometimes, where you can go for hours without seeing even one other person. When I was in the Outback, the most amazing sight I saw was Ayers Rock, or Uluru as it’s called now, which is its Aboriginal name. So Uluru is the biggest rock in the world, and it really is amazing when you travel through the Outback and then suddenly, out of nowhere, you see a huge rock that looks like a mountain. It’s an amazing sight, one of the best I saw in Australia.

Downloaded from www.elllo.org on 14/01/13

Analyse the vocabulary in the transcript to identify which items you would need to clarify for your learners. For instance, the words in bold would be items I would clarify if I was using this audio material with a group of pre-intermediate learners, for example. I have chosen these words not for their linguistic complexity but for the fact that they may be too cultural for some learners. Prepare copies of the transcript for the class.

Get the learners to put the MP3 file onto a USB or iPod. Before the shadowing practice, encourage the learners to listen to the audio text as many times as possible to become familiar with the speaker’s pronunciation. Prompt the learners to listen to the audio text on the bus, train or when walking to school. Instruct them to also focus on particular nuances of the speaker’s speech, such as the way the person pronounces certain individual sounds, the rhythm and the pace of the person’s voice, and so on.

Allow the learners at least two days of listening practice before you take them to a computer lab for shadowing practice. If possible, conduct some whole-class discussion about the audio text and what the learners can or can’t hear.

In the computer lab, demonstrate to them how the technique works. To do this, play the audio text in segments and simultaneously repeat what the speaker says trying to copy the person’s pronunciation with as much precision as possible. It is important that the learners notice that the technique is not a listen-and-repeat exercise. Allow the learners time for individual practice, but make sure they have small breaks during the process so that learners don’t lose motivation or get too tired.

Finally, when the learners feel that their pronunciation matches the audio text naturally, get them to record themselves using an audio-recording editor, such as Audacity, which can be downloaded for free at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.

During the practice, get the learners to focus on the segments of the audio text which they are having problems with until they have fixed these problems. To do this, learners should listen back to the MP3 file as many times as necessary until they are satisfied with their pronunciation. Tell learners that they should continue the practice outside class for several weeks until they feel they have incorporated this pronunciation into their speech.

What do you think of this technique? Do you have any tips and tricks for teaching listening and pronunciation that you’d like to share?

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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26 thoughts on “Shadowing: a useful technique for autonomous practice of listening and speaking

  1. Reblogged this on TEFLvml.

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  3. It is great! that was how I was taught listening and pronunciation more than about thirty years ago at my Teacher´s training School, by excellent teachers. It gives excellent results!

    • Hi Claudia
      Thanks for your comment. As a strong advocate for voice training practice in the classroom, reading your comment only helps to confirm my beliefs.

      • It does seem to have value, but from a world Englishes or EIL perspective, I also think we should be aware that if we are having students mimic native speaker intonation and stress, this may not be the best place to put our emphasis. Other areas such as accomodation skills, awareness of cultural differences and varieties of English may be more important for the type of interolcutors students will face in the future. But pehaps we can also have students do Shadowing with some of the non-native varieties on ELLLO, as a way to increase comprehension of different phonologies of English?

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  8. Great ideas Arizio. What I really liked about this is that you were able to find a very useful way to leverage technology that enhances the student’s learning experience by making him a more active participant in the learning process. I’ve taught many TOEFL preparation classes and it can be all too easy to teach listening comprehension in a passive manner by just having the students listen to audios. This goes well beyond that. Thanks for sharing this with the ELT community.

  9. Thanks for your comments, Chris. Learners can do so much they are given autonomy and as teachers we should take advantage of this as much as possible. I’m always looking for different ways to empower my learners to take control of their own learning, and by forums like this where we can share our simple but effective ideas can only help us to make a difference. Don’t you think?

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  11. Arizio,

    I used to also do this low tech, basically sitting students back to back and having them “shadow” their partner who was producing speech based on a text dialogue. Good for pairing high and low level students together. There is a lot to be said for these kinds of activities practicing form.

    On EnglishCentral, we’ve set it up so it is easy to record. Everything is in place for the students to “shadow”. Teachers also in reports get full access to student recordings which is handy. Audacity is good but can be overwhelming for students and teachers alike. I really like the simple NCH tool – Record Pad. It’s free. Also, online services like audioboo or voicethread make recording really easy.


    • Hi David,
      Great to hear from you. I tend to agree that Audacity can be overwhelming for the learners but it has worked for me so far. I will certainly have a look at the other tools you’ve mentioned.

    • Hi David,
      Just had a look at audioboo and it looks awesome. Will definitely investigate its potential for pronunciation and listening skills development. Thanks for sharing.

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