Karaoke Movies: Dubbing Movies for Pronunciation

William Naoki Kumai, Nanzan Seirei Junior College, Seto City



  • Key Words: Pronunciation, Technology-assisted language learning
  • Learner English Level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: Sr. High School and above
  • Preparation Time: 2-3 weeks
  • Activity Time: one or two class periods

In dubbing movies, students substitute their voices for those of the actors in an English movie excerpt shown with the sound turned off. I have used this for three years in an English phonetics class. It raises students' awareness of native speaker rhythm (including weak forms and liaison/sandhi), intonation, emotion, and speed when speaking.

Besides providing paralinguistic information such as gestures, facial expression, and mouth shape, movies rather than audio tapes provide a timing framework for speaking. Karaoke songs provide a timing framework for singing: singers try to match a song from clues provided by the music and words on a monitor. English karaoke songs are good for students when they are asked to pay attention to breaking their syllable-timed katakana English as they aim for a stress-timed English. In dubbing movies, students get clues from the action and script. This technique can be called "karaoke movies."

The dramatic and emotional content of a movie coupled with the need to match the actor's rate of speaking naturally focus the students' attention on rhythm and intonation. According to Wong (1987:21), these two should receive higher priority over individual sounds because native English speakers rely on them more to understand speech. Without intonation students cannot match the emotional content of the lines; without weak forms students will tend to take too long in speaking.

Movie dubbing parallels oral interpretation, "... the art of communicating to an audience a work of literary art in its intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic entirety" (Lee and Gura, 1992:3; also see Omi, 1984:3 for the Japanese translation). In both techniques, the context, the emotions, and dramatic structures of a text must be understood before it can be successfully read aloud. But unlike oral interpretation, the hard work of analysis has been done by the movie actors and director, so the students can use them as models.



Students in small groups choose their own movies, preferably one with a script (otherwise they will have to create their own transcripts). Recently many screenplays of popular movies are sold, providing a wide range of choices. Movie videos can be rented, purchased, or recorded from television.

Students then choose a short, 10 minute section that they would like to dub. The sound is then recorded onto audio tapes, one for each group member. Usually there is only one video player in the classroom; while it is in use, other groups must use the audio tapes. If there are not enough tape players to go around, I have found that using inexpensive "Y" adapters allow two or more students to plug their earphones into one portable tape player (which most students have).

Students decide which parts they will speak, trying to give each member equal time. When practicing, I have students use the technique of shadowing, to "repeat as quickly as possible after hearing what has been said" (Cooper, et al., 1991:21-22).

Students practice both in and out of class for two or more weeks before the final presentation. During the course of practicing, many pronunciation questions will arise, thus becoming an inductive lesson on phonetics. Advanced students can begin to mimic gestures and facial expressions as well (Lonergan, 1984:41-45, and Cooper, et al., 1991:21-22). Just as in process writing, the teacher can intervene in students' efforts towards achieving a final product. In particular, the teacher can direct students' attention towards the difficult aspects of pronunciation, such as liaison, weak forms, and intonation. Finally, students present their dubbing live in front of the class (the movie excerpt is shown with the sound off).



Because students were allowed to choose their own movies, coupled with the novelty and public presentation, they were well motivated. Students gained a practical knowledge of phonetics concepts, and they experienced how it feels to approach native speaker-like fluency. It is also a technique useful for independent study.


Further reading

  • Cooper, R., M. Lavery, and M. Rinvolucri (1991). Video. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lee, C. I., and T. Gura (1992). Oral Interpretation,. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

  • Lonergan, J. (1984). Video in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Omi, M. (1984). Oraru Intapuriteishon Nyumon (Introduction to Oral Interpretation). Tokyo: Taishukan Shoten.

  • Wong, R. (1987). Teaching Pronunciation: Focus on English Rhythm and Intonation. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.