Helping Your Students to Listen with Bilingual TV

Page No.: 
Bob Jones, REJ English House


  • Key Words:Video, Listening
  • Learner English Level: Lower Intermediate to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High School to Adult
  • Preparation Time: About an hour
  • Activity Time: 60 to 90 minutes

This classroom activity grew out of my own attempts to improve my Japanese listening ability. In the early days of my Japanese studies, I found I could follow the controlled dialogues on my course book tapes and could usually understand Japanese friends when they spoke to me directly. However, put me in a situation where I had to listen to Japanese conversing with each other, or sit me down in front of a Japanese TV program, and I'd be completely lost.

Somewhere along the way I acquired a bilingual VCR and one day, after listening to an American movie I had recorded, I decided to try listening to the Japanese version. Familiarity with the content enabled me to follow much of the dialogue and pick out a large number of utterances. From then on, this bilingual approach to Japanese listening became a regular part of my self-study program and, in time, I was able to wean myself away from the bilingual support and begin to enjoy many mainline Japanese programs.

The benefits I experienced from using bilingual TV were something I wanted to share with my students and, in order to introduce them to the idea, I developed the activity described below.


  1. Record a popular bilingual English TV drama on a bilingual video recorder and choose a five minute scene depicting some simple everyday activity such as a family sitting down to dinner or somebody shopping for clothes.
  2. Jot down 10 to 12 utterances from the English version of the chosen scene.
  3. Find the equivalent phrases in the Japanese version and jot these down too, enlisting the help of a Japanese colleague or friend if necessary.
  4. Make two columns on a sheet of A4 paper. Type the Japanese phrases in the left-hand column and leave the right-hand column blank.
  5. Write each of the utterances selected from the English version on a separate card.

The Activity

  1. Begin the activity by briefly introducing the main characters and giving any necessary background information.
  2. Write two or three very simple comprehension questions on the board and then show the English version of the scene.
  3. Check the comprehension questions and elicit any further details the students may have picked up.
  4. Unless the students are very advanced, they are likely to have experienced some comprehension difficulties. Tell them, jokingly, that you can guarantee 100% understanding on their second viewing and watch the smiles appear as you play the Japanese version.
  5. After they have heard the Japanese version, give each student one English sentence card and one copy of the A4 sheet with the Japanese phrases.
  6. Ask them to memorize their respective English sentences. As they do so, you should walk around checking understanding and pronunciation. In mixed ability classes, you can compensate for differing abilities by discreetly giving the more complicated utterances to the stronger students and the simpler ones to the weaker. In monitoring their pronunciation, you should also help them make adjustments so that their stress and and intonation patterns correspond to those on the video.
  7. When the sentences have been memorized, ask the students to walk around the room dictating their sentences to each other. Students write the sentences they hear in the right-hand column of their A4 sheets, next to the corresponding Japanese phrases.
  8. When students have completed the task, check the sentences with them, deal with any language points arising and play them the English version once more.


I have tried this activity with several different groups ranging from post-elementary to high school English teachers. It was a personal delight for me to watch the smiles on students' faces as their individual sentences came up, but more importantly, student feedback revealed a much fuller understanding of the English version as a result of the activity described. Even more satisfying, some students have taken the idea on board and started using bilingual videos in their own free time with a view to improving their listening skills. Of course, using bilingual videos should not be seen as an end in itself but as a support for learners as they attempt to bridge the wide gap between understanding course book tapes and being able to enjoy mainline English TV and film.