The skill we will look at today is called shadowing and I think it is one of the most powerful ways you can practice and improve your English skills.
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How to Improve your English Speaking by Shadowing!
What is shadowing?
The shadowing technique is very simple. In fact, it is almost too simple.
Shadowing means to copy something. In English this means to listen to someone speaking and then try to copy the sounds they made.
This technique is so simple to use and can improve your speaking skills so much.
Some people will call it the listen and repeat method, but it is basically the same thing. You listen to the audio, then you repeat what you heard. This has a lot of benefits that we will talk about a little later.
I have been recommending shadowing practice to my students for years and it has always resulted in improved speaking skills. I don’t know why more language learners are not using this skill.
Why is shadowing good?
People often think that such a basic technique can’t really help them. Those people are wrong. There are a lot of benefits with the shadowing technique.
In English, there are probably some sounds that don’t exist in your native language. That means you need to move your face, lips and tongue in different ways to make this new sounds.
When you want your muscles to do something new, you need to train them.
The best way to do this is to practice moving the muscles in the correct way. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
This is exactly the same for when you want to make new sounds when speaking. If you want to make the sounds correctly, you need to practice moving your face, lips and tongue in the correct way. This will take time, but shadowing is perfect for practicing these skills!
English is a stress based language. This means that we put emphasis on certain sounds within a word, or certain words within a sentence. Not all languages are like this. Even other stress based languages do this differently.
Learning stress is really important if you want to be able to speak naturally in English.
However learning stress is very difficult. It is not like grammar or vocabulary. The only way to really learn this is through a lot of listening and a lot of practice.
Shadowing is the perfect method for learning and practicing stress patterns in English. Over time, you will naturally understand how to stress the words and sentences like a native speaker would because you are practicing making the same sounds.
Reduction of your natural accent:
Having a natural accent is not bad. However, if it is a very strong natural accent, it can make it very hard to understand what you are saying.
In Japan, I meet a lot of speakers who speak “Katakana English”. This is where the English words are pronounced using the Japanese language sounds. As the sounds are different, the words sound different too, which can make it very hard to understand.
If you want to have a more natural accent when you are speaking in English, which will also make you easier to understand for other English speakers, the shadowing technique is a great way to practice.
When copying a natural accent, you will practice and gain a natural accent of your own.
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How to get started with shadowing!
Now you know what shadowing is, and why it is good, you probably want to give it a go.
All you need to practice shadowing is:
- a quiet space where you can speak and not be disturbed
- A bit of free time
- Some audio that you can use for shadowing.
Some people ask me:
“What audio should I use for shadowing practice?”
and the answer is quite simple. Anything you like can be used for shadowing practice.
Why don’t you try:
- TV shows
- YouTube videos
Any of these things would be suitable for shadowing, so just choose the one you like the most. Just try to find some material that also has a transcript or subtitles so you can read the sentence you are trying to copy. It’s not essential, but it is very helpful.
All of my YouTube videos have subtitles available so you can read along with what I am saying. This makes them ideal for shadowing practice. If you want to see all my videos, check out my YouTube channel! Don’t forget to subscribe while you are there so you never miss a video!
Once you have found the audio that you want to use, it’s time to get started. Shadowing basically has 3 steps.
Listen to the audio you have chosen and read the transcript at the same time. Listen to the whole thing without stopping until the end. Don’t worry too much about understanding everything you hear. This is just to give you some time to hear the audio you will be copying.
Listen to the audio again, but this time, pause at the end of each sentence. Then try to repeat the sounds you just heard. You should practice each sentence 3-5 times before moving on to the next one. Try to pay close attention to the sounds of the words and the stress of the sounds.
When you get to the end of the audio. You are finished for today. Good work. All you need to do now, is repeat these 3 steps again next time you want to practice shadowing!
Tips for shadowing
Now you know what to do, I want to share some tips to help you get the most out of the shadowing technique.
Use Audio featuring native speakers
I always advise using audio that is made by native speakers. This is because they speak English naturally as it is their native language.
If you want to sound natural and speak like a native speaker, then you need to copy native speakers.
There are so many resources out there for you to find a native speaker that you like. YouTube is a great place to start. You don’t even need to find something that is designed for language learners. Anything is fine.
If you like fishing, listen to someone talking about fishing. Probably you will be more interested in the contents and will be more motivated to listen and shadow.
If you want to practice shadowing with me, check out my patreon page for weekly shadowing materials!
Don’t worry if you don’t understand
Shadowing is not designed to improve your vocabulary or grammar. If you want to work on those things, there are other techniques you can try. For example, you can use ANKI to learn new words quickly!
The goal of shadowing is to practice the sounds so don’t worry if you can’t understand the audio you are listening to. Shadowing is just a technique to improve your speaking skills and speaking technique.
Of course, you will naturally pick up some new words along the way, but this is not the goal of shadowing.
Don’t use shadowing too much
Shadowing is great, but don’t do it all the time. If you do it too much, you will start to find it boring. If it is boring, then you won’t enjoy it and you will quit using this technique.
I recommend doing shadowing for 10-15 minutes a day, 1-2 days a week.
This will be enough for you to see some good results and not too much to make it boring.
Just like anything in English, if you do it too much, you will get bored. Don’t forget to practice your other skills too!
Try recording yourself
Almost everyone has a smart phone these days.
These things have apps to record your voice. Recording yourself when you are shadowing is a good way to see how you actually sound when you are speaking English.
When you listen to yourself speak, at first it is embarrassing, but it is also a great way to see what your weak points are.
If you know what your weak points are, it is easy to work on them and make them better.
Try recording yourself during your shadowing and then listen back to it after a couple of days. It will help you improve!
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