English Fluency For Advanced English Speaker (2015)

Chapter 6: Shadowing



Pedro sat down for a cup of coffee with a friend. “I’ve hit a major snag in my ability to speak English,” he said. “I’ve hit this brick wall and can’t seem to breakthrough it. I’m not quite sure what to do.”


The English student made sure he was talking to his friend in English. He also was attentive when his friend answered in English. “I know you’re doing everything right,” his friend replied. “You’re being an active listener right now.”


“So what’s my problem?” Pedro asked.


“Perhaps you should try a technique called shadowing,”   his friend suggested. “Have you ever heard of it?”


Pedro shook his head no.


If, like Pedro, you don’t know about the technique of shadowing, you may be missing that piece of the language puzzle that will pull your entire learning experience together and have you speaking English like a native in no time.


Shadowing is at least what this method is referred to in academic circles. Many others know it as “parroting.” This learning method was originally developed in Germany and then later in Korea. It involves the awesome power of listening with the indispensable power of actually speaking the language.


It’s an easy method to implement. You simply listen to a person who has a basic grasp of the language and you repeat – to the best of your ability – what he’s saying. You do this immediately after the other individual (or recording) has spoken and  you do this whether you understood all of his sentence or not.


According to Dr. Alexander Arguelles, the developer of this method, it’s best to be repeating the words while you’re walking. In doing so, he said you’ll not only enhance your alertness but increase the oxygenation process of your body.


In fact, anyone; who has ever practiced this will testify that there is something – they aren’t               quite sure what – about the walking (preferably outdoors) while you repeat what you hear. In fact, many individuals who have successfully performed this method describe it as the closest thing to listening to music and singing along.


No doubt you’ve done this. Every time you hear your favorite song, you can’t help yourself, you end up singing along. If you pay close attention to what is occurring, you’ll notice you’re singing the words nearly at the same time as the musicians.


If you give this some thought it appears weird, especially because you probably couldn’t recall the words unless you hear the start of the song. Then all the words come flooding into your memory without much effort. It’s the same mechanism working when you shadow.


The peculiar aspect of learning a song is that you can go decades without hearing it or even thinking about it. The moment you hear even a portion of the tune, you’re singing along with it like you heard it yesterday. All the lyrics come flooding back to your memory.


There are actually courses available to get you started. But as you decide whether you want to use them, you may want to try this on your own. This technique isn’t that difficult with all the amazing technology that abounds. You can listen to almost anything on your cell phone, take a walk outside and parrot the words almost at the same time the recording is. You can do this with any material from recordings of speakers to audio books.


It’s easy enough to get started. Decide on the English audio you’d like to use. If at all possible, choose selections that have an accompanying transcript or at the very least subtitles. The nature of the material doesn’t matter. If you have a favorite movie, by all means choose that. You really couldn’t get bored when you’re watching and listening to something you enjoy.


Perhaps you have a favorite television show – either a crime drama or a situation comedy.  Some individuals recommend such sites as Power English Lessons. You may want to give that site a try.


Prior to actually shadowing this material, you’ll be wise to listen through it once without shadowing it to get acquainted with the content. This is especially true if you’ve never heard it before. It’s actually a bit easier to shadow if you have at least a passing familiarity with the piece.



The Process of Shadowing



Once you’ve initially reviewed the material, start listening to it again. This time your goal is to imitate or parrot the actors and narrator as precisely as possible. The ultimate goal is to repeat everything they’re saying.


Ideally, you’ll want to say everything they’re saying at precisely the same time as the recording. If at first you’re not that familiar with the content, you can wait until the sentence is complete before repeating it.


When parroting the words don’t just say them without any feeling. Imitate everything the native speaker is saying, down to the precise pronunciation, the inflection in the voices. If you try to be perfect in all of this, you’ll drive yourself stir crazy.


Your goal is to try to keep up. The more often you shadow this material, the better you’ll get. So instead of trying to perfect your presentation right from the start, just make up your mind you’re going to have fun with this.


Below is an alternative to this specific approach to shadowing which may be more suited to your needs.


  1. Start with finding a text at your spoken proficiency level in English.


  1. Listen to this once in order to gain a general understanding of it.


This is a great step that many students try to skip only to find they need to stop and perform this ritual from the start – and this time listening to it before you shadow it. First, you’ll know for certain if the chosen text really does match your proficiency level.


Secondly, you’ll discover if the topic holds your interest. There’s nothing worse than try to read something in a language that’s not your native language and find it’s . . . well, boring. If either of these is the case – too difficult or too boring – then go back and select another text.


  1. Listen to the piece a couple of more times.


When you do this, you’ll be sure to be confident in your ability to know what the text is talking about. You don’t have to fully understand everything before you shadow it, but at least you know you’ll eventually be able to figure it out.


  1. If there are any words you don’t know the meaning of look them up before going any farther.


That’s right! Before you start shadowing look up the words you aren’t positive you know. It may take a little more time, upfront before you shadow, but I promise you it’ll save you time later in the exercise.


  1. Listen to the text at least once a day.


Listen more than this if it’s at all possible.


  1. Pronounce the same piece until you can repeat it at the same speed as the recording.


  1. Move on to another piece in the English language.


Approach the second piece in the same manner as you did the first.



Why Walking and Talking?



While you’re shadowing remember that the ultimate way for this to work is by walking – preferably outside – while you’re repeating the language. Don’t overlook this seemingly inconspicuous aspect of this exercise. Why is this so important? According to some, and you probably have experienced this yourself, it’s actually quite difficult to have your brain focus on learning a language while your body is trying to walk.


Think back to when you were learning how to drive. If you were like most of us, the first several times you were behind the wheel of a car you didn’t talk much. You probably turned the radio or CD player down or even off as well. Once you conquered the act of driving, though, you felt much more comfortable listening to music or talking to your passengers.


There’s a very good reason for this. It’s difficult for the human mind to speak a language you’re unfamiliar with and perform another activity. While at first you’ll find this next to impossible (but don’t give up on it) as you continue, you’ll see improvement.


Shadowing while you’re walking is challenging your brain. It’s forcing your mind to understand new language skills and eventually train your body to accept speaking this language as an automated process. That in the end is exactly what you want: to speak English without giving it a second thought.



The Scriptorium Method



At about the same time Dr. Arguelles developed shadowing, he also created a related method for learning the spoken word. This technique, by contrast, combines the power of repeating words out loud with of the reinforcement of writing them on paper. It’s called the scriptorium method and you may already be unwittingly using it. It might even be a method you’ve used in your native language as a youngster learning spelling words.


Instead of just working with words, you’ll be working with sentences at least initially. Create a sentence or choose one you’ve already learned. Get a piece of lined notebook paper and begin writing the sentence. Instead of writing it all at once, however, write it deliberately. As you copy each word, pause momentarily and say the word out loud. Then – and only then – can you continue to the next word.


If, for example, you were using the first line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, you would use this sentence: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Now grab your pen and paper and begin. Write the word it, pause and then say it. Do the same for “was.” Write it down and pronounce it. Write and speak each word in the sentence until you’ve completed the each word. 


No, you aren’t quite done – not yet at least. Now that you’ve written it on the page say the entire sentence out loud. Pause for a moment. Do this again with the same sentence a minimum of ten to fifteen times. That purpose of this exercise isn’t simply to recognize the words when you see them, but to actively speak them.


If you want you can now move on to another sentence. Some individuals choose to work from the sentences of a novel like this (although A Tale of Two Cities would take quite a while). Another option would be to copy and recite sentences from any of your lessons.


This is a great secondary method of learning pronunciation, especially if the option of shadowing is unavailable to you. The aim of writing and pronouncing words, like in shadowing, uses more than one sensory organ of your body. By combining these organs, you’ll be increasing the chances that you’ll remember not only the structure of the sentences, but the pronunciation of the words.


Use this interactive approach to the English language as often as you can fit it into your allotted time to study. You’ll be amazed at how much faster you’ll learn how to speak the language simply by writing and pronouncing your words and phrases once a week.


In the next chapter you’ll learn one simple habit that just about all successful English students have used at one time in order to improve the ability to speak English and sound like a native.