Smith’s School of English Ikoma Students Notice Effects of Shadowing
I often teach my students the great effect shadowing has on their English learning. In fact we often do shadowing right in class. I’m lucky because I have a big class downstairs and there’s a big room. I use it to teach kids a lot. There’s enough room to walk from one end of the room to the other. As we walk we can do shadowing and the students usually enjoy this.
I find my students benefit in five different ways of shadowing. Other studies also support good effects of shadowing. Their pronunciation gets better as they do lots and lots of shadowing. They tend to speak with a better rhythm when they do lots of shadowing. Their intonation also improves. They make their questions tone up and statements tone down much better after lots of practice. They also chunk the words and don’t stop in the middle of a natural chunk when they speak. Finally they are better at predicting what’s coming up next when they’re listening because this is very important in shadowing.
The First Effect of Shadowing is Pronunciation
The students who have been shadowing for a year or longer tend to sound more natural when they speak English. They haven’t mastered the l and the r difference but they have gotten closer to a natural pronunciation. They are more comfortable producing those sounds than students who don’t do shadowing. This makes their English much easier to listen to and understand. Because it’s easier to listen to and to understand as a teacher I can focus on more important mistakes. Examples include the tense of verbs or incomplete expressions. That means I can give them better feedback that is more directed and more focused.
Another effect of shadowing is on student’s speaking rhythm. English of course doesn’t have one rhythm. It has many, but the stressed and unstressed syllables in groups tend to have patterns. Students that don’t do shadowing tend to give equal stress to all the words. This sounds more machine-like in English and are a little bit more difficult to listen to. A lot of the meaning comes from the rhythm. With improved rhythm you get better communication and students who practice shadowing a lot have much better rhythm. It’s easiest to sense when they do listen and repeat. They’re already accustomed to the rhythms and they pick up the rhythms that they are repeating.
This is close but separate from rhythm. The intonation adds meaning to the sentence. An example is the sentence “the book is on the table”. The exact meaning can be altered by changing intonation or adding greater stress on some of the words. For instance you can put a rising tone on “book” with extra stress. Then it sounds more like we’re questioning whether it’s a book that is on the table or something else. On the other hand you can put the heavy down intonation on “is’. Then it sounds like a strong affirmative as to the location of the book. Once again, students who practice shadowing on a regular and sustained basis show much better intonation than those who don’t.
Chunking is referring to groups of words that are commonly together. When they’re spoken they come a little bit more rapidly with more joining between the words. An example is the sentence “I’m going to go to the store”. The words “going to go to the” form a natural chunk. They are pronounced quickly together and make a unit of meaning that is easy to understand for a native speaker. By doing large amounts of shadowing ,students start creating chunks on their own. The teacher does not need to teach those chunks explicitly. Teaching them explicitly turns into a memory game and makes speaking English much more difficult in the long run. So one effect of shadowing is the ability to chunk words.
Better Prediction is an Effect of Shadowing
As students do shadowing they are constantly trying to predict what the next word or sound will be. At the beginning of shadowing this tends to be very frustrating and difficult. That’s why I asked my students to start with one or two minutes for each practice session. My practice materials are all short. After students have accumulated lots of experience, shadowing in general becomes easier. They can predict the words better. Even if they make a mistake I say that’s good. They are using their experience to decide on the word. They don’t have to be perfect every time. This makes them feel more confident and relaxed about shadowing and with more experience their prediction rate goes up. Naturally, lots of this predicting is just using their experience of chunks. They’ve heard the chunks before and they can use those chunks in their free speech. This way, they end up speaking better after more than a year of shadowing.
The Biggest Result
There might be other effects of shadowing practice. These are the main ones students gain by doing their shadowing practice. Because we have only limited class time we don’t spend much time in class shadowing. In fact most of the shadowing practice we do is simply to show them how to do shadowing. After that I let them practice with my listening app in their free time outside of class. After several years, I find my students are doing more and more practice. I also find more and more of my students are practicing on a daily basis. As a teacher the biggest benefit is spending less time explaining things in the native language. I spend more time explaining things in English because they’re already more relaxed and comfortable listening in English.
Awesome write-up Les. I learned all the terminology for various concepts I have been teaching for years. Thanks for the nicely broken-down explanation.
Thanks for the kind comment Ed. Nice to hear we are on the same wavelength.
Les, thank you for the very informative article. Now I have to come up with some ways for my students to do it at home.