Getting Started with Shadowing

I read about Dr. Arguelles’ shadowing method long ago on the forums at howtolearnanylanguage.com, but I recently “rediscovered” the method when Geoff linked to Dr. Arguelles’ relatively new site.

Here’s a description of shadowing from Dr. Arguelles’ language study page:

This video [on the page linked above] demonstrates the proper form for using my technique of shadowing or listening to and simultaneously echoing a recording of a foreign language.

In order to shadow most effectively, it is important to observe three points:

1. Walk outdoors as swiftly as possible.
2. Maintain perfectly upright posture.
3. Articulate thoroughly in a loud, clear voice.

I’ve tried doing this with a few Assimil French lessons, and I was surprised by what I found. I did it with lessons I did quite some time ago, lessons which I felt I knew quite well. Simply reading the lessons out loud without shadowing, it felt easy. However, when I tried shadowing them, I discovered that it was far more difficult. I’d practically trip over my own tongue trying to keep up with the native speakers, struggling to say things that I thought I could say quite well.

I like the idea behind shadowing, which, if I understand Dr. Arguelles correctly, works a bit like learning to sing a song. As you listen to the audio and echo it, as long as you’re not tone deaf, you’ll automatically correct your pronunciation to match your speech with what you’re hearing. I’m well acquainted with this idea when it comes to music, as when I sing along with a song in which the singer has an accent, I copy that accent without really meaning to. Trying to force myself to sing without their accent actually feels rather weird, and I can’t do it for very long.

I’m going to keep trying the technique and see if it helps me any. Have you tried shadowing before, and if so, what were your experiences with it?

If you’re interested in the method, you might want to also check out a couple of threads at howtolearnanylanguage.com, in which Dr. Arguelles answers many questions about the method:

13 thoughts on “Getting Started with Shadowing”

  1. I have no experience shadowing, but it really seems like a great way to practice pronunciation, listening comprehension, and fluidity in the language. I have started learning some Spanish and Portuguese songs so that I can “sing along” once I am confident enough, and it really helps my pronunciation and articulation (not to mention building my vocabulary with some slang!).

    I’ll definitely have to try this some time soon, as I feel it would be a great tool for my language-learning.

    Thanks!

  2. Yes, I’ve tried it. But only for a short amount of time as I just couldn’t listen to the speaker and myself at the same time. Also, I feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that shadowing just doesn’t work.

    Why am I saying this? The same Dr. Arguelles you quote posted some videos on Youtube where he demonstrates Afrikaans, Dutch and Frisian. I’ve listened carefully and it seems that his accent and/or pronunciation is just messed up, at times I can’t even understand him well enough to know where he’s talking about. If that’s the result of shadowing I suggest you to stay away from it.

  3. I’ve tried shadowing with my Assimil Breton tapes. In this case, there’s the complication that two accents are modeled and depending on the dialect, the word for “is” is pronounced differently! What I’ve found is that if I doing shadowing as part of something else, like walking from work to a nearby restaurant for lunch, it doesn’t take me very far. There’s too much dodging traffic, lowering my voice as people approach (even in the San Francisco Bay Area, talking to yourself out loud in Breton can draw the odd look from passerby). But on the two or three occasions where I’ve been alone on a walking path, I’ve had a sense of both listening and speaking more easily when I’m done. I think there are two things in play: 1) Engaging the body turns off the brain a little bit so that you can go with the flow with the language without analyzing so much and 2) if you can make a real habit of this, you’ll have a lot of experience just letting language come out of your mouth automatically.

    As to Ramses’ comment, I’m skeptical this method will give you a perfect accent so that the first time you try out your language on a native they’ll be astonished. But I haven’t seen any other method that accomplishes this either. If this method gives you confidence and a facility for opening your mouth and speaking up until you’ve gotten enough feedback to make the necessary adjustment from imitating tapes to talking with people, that ain’t half bad.

  4. Well Geoff, often the method is presented as THE method for building your accent. But the results I’ve heard so far are really bad, and I mean REALLY. I’ve noticed that my accent has improved with Spanish by just watching loads of Spanish series and concentrating on my shortcomings (like my messed up rolled r in the past).

  5. Ramses, you’re right that this shouldn’t be presented as THE method for building your accent. And if you’re going to present something as THE method, then yes, you’d better look sharp in your presentation video. The thing is, just because these videos don’t make the case for going home and throwing away all your other materials to focus on shadowing doesn’t mean that some people won’t benefit from using this technique to get in the habit of speaking up and seriously practicing the language they’re learning.

    In short, if somebody tells you that for a low, low monthly fee of… they’ll solve all your problems, hang on to your wallet. But if somebody gives you a free outline for something that will be cheap and easy to try out and you’re not getting anywhere with what you’re doing now, why not give it a shot? If it works, great. If not, move on.

  6. But if somebody gives you a free outline for something that will be cheap and easy to try out and you’re not getting anywhere with what you’re doing now, why not give it a shot? If it works, great. If not, move on.

    Exactly. 🙂 Dr. Arguelles isn’t charging anything for sharing one of his methods, and neither am I. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay – move along. But I’ve read success stories from other folks using shadowing (as part of their studying!), so I figured I’d share the idea.

  7. That’s all fine, but I’m a bit worried about getting a bad pronunciation for life. There are tons of people who think their accent/pronunciation of their target language is great. But the reality is that they often suck, big time.

    So it’s good that it’s free and all, but if it messes up your progress I’d stay away from it. I know I’m staying away from it.

  8. Ramses: What bad pronunciation did you hear that has made you want to avoid the method? Are you a native speaker of Afrikaans, Dutch or Frisian?

    I’ve watched the German video he made, and his accent seems decent to me.

  9. I don’t know why there is discussion about whether or not shadowing improves your accent or results in a good accent. In all the stuff I’ve ever read by Dr Argüelles, I don’t recall once seeing him advocating that Shadowing is a sort of “accent” learning method. He advocates using shadowing to learn an entire language, meaning memorizing the vocab and grammar and everything… and as a means to maintain a language which you have already learned to a high degree. (Shadowing audio books of great literature.)

    So, no idea what you’all are going on and on about.

  10. Josh: yes, I’m a native speaker of Dutch, speak Afrikaans and can understand Frisian.

    Oh besides, sorry for the late reply ;-).

    @Justin; I do think he advocates shadowing for building a correct pronunciation. The fact is; I’ve heard him speaking some languages I know and it wasn’t that impressive. A friend of mine who never used techniques like shadowing but learned Dutch on his own speaks almost like a native when it comes to pronunciation. The ‘secret’? Just plain listening and speaking (with corrections).

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