Using Japanese Comics to Create English Dialogues

Richard R.P. Gabbrielli, Yasuda Women's University, Hiroshima



  • Key Words: Writing, Learner-centredness
  • Learner English Level: Lower Intermediate to Advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: College/University
  • Preparation: little to none
  • Activity Time: one or two 90-minute classes.

This is an enjoyable, absorbing, creative activity, designed to get students working in small groups. It focuses primarily on the productive skills (speaking and writing) and can be completed in one or two ninety minute class sessions, depending on the level of the students. The objectives of the activity are:

  • To foster learner-centredness.
  • To stimulate interest, motivation and the imagination.
  • To give students practice in writing a dialogue (direct speech) in English.
  • To develop strategic competence by encouraging students to use classroom English (conversational gambits) with the teacher and other group members. Examples of these gambits are: (a) Excuse me. (b) How do you say . . . in English? (c) How do you spell . . . ? (d) Is this correct? (e) Can you help me please? (f) Could you write it for me please? (g) Can I borrow your dictionary/eraser please? (h) How do you pronounce this word? (i) Please speak more slowly. (j) Could you repeat that please?


Elicit from students the names of comic books (manga) that they like best. Then, ask them to select one title only and buy a copy each. Obtain a copy yourself and search for a story involving two or three people, choosing a suitable scene, perhaps 2-6 pages long. Alternately, you may prefer to let each group of students choose which scene is most appropriate. My students have much success with scenes centering around the romantic problems of male and female high school students. These often contain very intense arguments with a variety of emotions and ample examples of body language, such as serious eye-contact, wild hand gestures and a host of interesting facial expressions. I have found that using Japanese comic books in the classroom can be very effective because they are an important feature of Japanese culture, reflecting thought patterns and values that students can immediately relate to. In addition, students enjoy working with stories they know well, and appear genuinely interested in the challenge and the cross-cultural aspects of the task.

Ask the students to blank out the dialogue from your/their chosen scene and then inform them that they will be writing a dialogue in English. Next, get students to form groups (groups of four work particularly well).At this point I let them decide how they are going to approach the task. I explain that they may use dictionaries and other resources if they wish, but stress that they should talk as much as possible in English and use the conversational gambits whenever possible for smoother interactions.

Students typically begin the activity by scrutinizing each page intently and discussing the possible story line and the nature of the relationship(s) between the characters. When the groups are ready to start writing, some choose to take notes and write a draft version of their story in rough, while others like to write the dialogue directly into the speech bubbles and edit as they go along. Students find the writing stage quite absorbing, particularly when interpreting the meaning of socio-culturally specific Japanese gestures (e.g. declining an offer accompanied by waving a hand back and forth, putting hands together when imploring or asking for a favour, or staking a claim by licking a finger and touching something or someone) within the frame work of an English-speaking context. At all times, when students encounter any problems which cannot be resolved by other group members, they raise their hand and ask me for help.

When most groups have finished writing their dialogue, it is a good idea to have them practise and/or perform it orally in their groupsムwith dramatic effect if desired. This is not only fun, but also gives each member a chance to listen for errors as well as voice quality. In addition, this allows the slower groups a little more time to catch up if they haven't finished writing.

Finally, you could try one or more of the following suggestions in bringing the activity to a close:

  • Collect the completed task for correction.
  • Ask groups to peer-edit and correct each other's writing.
  • Have groups join together to read aloud their dialogue and then repeat with the other groups.
  • Ask groups to rehearse and then dramatise their story for the whole class.
  • Get each group to display its story on the desk and then ask them to wander around reading each group's story and giving comments. You could also ask them to write their comments which they then attach to each display.