7 steps to successful shadow readings

Apr 28, 2017 | 0 comments

Learners often ask me (well, mostly on social media): how can I improve my speaking?


If you hadn’t noticed, my website is called Leo Listening. And all the blog posts are about understanding conversational English.


Speaking isn’t my zone of genius.


But, there is one activity that helps not only your listening skills, but also your speaking and pronunciation.


You can do it all by yourself. All you need is a recording suitable for your level. And some kind of text:


  • A transcript
  • The blog post of a blogcast
  • Subtitles


What is this mysterious activity?


A shadow reading.


The name is a little weird. In fact, the activity is a little weird at first.


But by “shadowing” a native speaker i.e following along with their voice and trying to keep up, you develop your awareness of the rhythm and stress of English.


I’ve already talked about the concept in my last couple of posts. But today, I’m showing you how to do one by embarrassing myself.


Watch me attempt (and quite frankly fail) to do a shadow reading in Spanish. I make myself vulnerable like this because I know shadow readings are difficult. I know you’ll find it hard the first time you do one. Maybe you’ll even hate me a little bit for asking you to try.


Just listening is easy. Taking a video or podcast you’ve listened to and trying to shadow one of the speakers is tough. But it’s effective. Like me, I encourage you to overcome your fears, embrace imperfection and try something a bit different.

Let me guide you in the video. Then grab one of the resources below that I recommend and get out there and try a shadow reading for yourself. Let me know in the comments how you get on.

7 Steps to Successful Shadow Readings

Tip number 0: I say this as someone who’s a perfectionist (and whose perfectionism is stopping her from learning more foreign languages): relax, have fun, don’t worry about perfectionism.

  1. Find material that’s suitable for your current level: this could be a podcast, a YouTube video or material designed for learners.
  2. Make sure you have an accurate text of some kind: a transcript, subtitles, an interactive transcript, or the blog post if it’s a blogcast.
  3. Work to understand the recording in the normal way: you can use my guide if you need a structure. If you choose a recording on an English-learning site, there should already be some activities to help you.
  4. Choose a short section for your shadow reading. It’s easier if there’s just one speaker too. If you’re new to this, just try to do 10 seconds.
  5. Practise your shadow reading several times – it’s not easy! Embrace your imperfections, treat it as a game and have fun with it.
  6. Once you’re happy with it, you can record yourself and send the recording for feedback to a teacher or a podcast partner if you have one.
  7. If you do this and record yourself regularly you’ll soon start noticing a difference in your pronunciation and listening


Recommended Resources for Shadow Readings

Resources for English learners

Britsh Council Learn English

6-minute English podcast from the BBC

English Listening Library Online (ELLLO) 


You can use any YouTube video you want, but you need to make sure the subtitles are human-generated, not automatic. If you need help with that (how to search for and find that type of video) then make sure you take a look at my blog post and video (includes a cheat sheet).

In the meantime, why not use theseYouTube channels? The subtitles are human-generated (not automatic). And you can listen to authentic, spontaneous, conversational English. NB these are more challenging than the resources for learners above.

Talks at Google


The Ellen Show


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