Published 15th May 2019


Teaching skills in the English as a Foreign Language classroom can be tricky. Teaching vocabulary and grammar, in contrast, is pretty straightforward if somewhat challenging at times, but teaching listening, reading, speaking and writing is a whole other ball game. Shadowing is one technique which can be used in the EFL classroom to help improve both reading and listening.

What is shadowing?

Shadowing is when learners read aloud to a text they are listening to. In other words, an audio text is played and the learners read a transcription of the text aloud at the same time as the recording. Essentially they are trying to speak at the same pace and with the same pronunciation, tone and rhythm as the audio.

The benefits of shadowing

Shadowing has many benefits for learners. Firstly, it has been shown to improve learners’ perception of phonemes. This means that learners become more aware of the differentiation between words. Ultimately this means they will improve their listening comprehension.

Secondly, shadowing can highlight issues of connected speech, such as elision and assimilation. By trying to mimic the recording, and by reading the text at the same time, learners will learn to utilise these techniques. In this way they will sound more natural when speaking English.

However, it must be noted that the best results have been seen in low level learners. While it can still be beneficial to more advanced learners it is not yet clear how useful it is to them.

How to use shadowing

There are a few different techniques to utilise shadowing. Here is just one example.

Play an audio recording for your learners. It should not be too long nor too complex. Once they have heard it once, discuss a few comprehension questions to check understanding.

Give the learners a written transcription of the recording. Play the recording again. This time let the learners read the transcription, without speaking. Afterwards, they can ask any questions they may have with regards to content and language.

This is a good time to focus on the effects of connected speech, so draw your students’ attention to these instances in the text and play those sections a few times to illustrate your point.

Once this has been done to your satisfaction, you are ready to begin shadowing.

Play the recording and let your learners read the transcription aloud. They must try to speak at the same pace as the audio, copying the pronunciation, rhythm and tone of the recording. This can be repeated a few times but not too many that it becomes boring!

A few notes on shadowing

Your students may not be familiar with this technique. They may feel shy in front of their peers and may be reluctant to read aloud in the class. Encourage your students by urging them to speak together. Once one student starts the rest usually follow. This is because as soon as more than one person is speaking, it is difficult to differentiate the voices so learners will feel more anonymous and more confident.

As students feel more comfortable with the technique they will forget the humour of the situation and focus more on the accuracy of their reading. They will grow in confidence the closer they get to the recording. In this way, shadowing helps build our students’ confidence as well as improve their listening skills.