If you want to work on your pronunciation, rhythm and intonation, here is a fun and engaging technique that can help you. This technique is called “shadowing” or “language parroting,” and it not only improves pronunciation, but can also help boost your confidence when talking with native speakers.
What is “shadowing”?
First developed by the American Professor Alexander Arguelles, “shadowing” is a technique that uses your listening and speaking skills. In this case, the goal is to practice speaking not by repeating after the speaker, but by following their speech at the same time. Thus, this is totally different from a simple listen and repeat exercise. To shadow a native speaker, you don't wait until the end of each sentence to repeat after them, you just do your best to speak at the same time as the speaker.
To do this, you may first need to listen to a particular audio or video two or three times in order to familiarize yourself with the context. You may also use transcripts as subtitles. This is because this is not a test of memory, but instead a way of practicing standard word stress, sentence stress, the natural ups and downs of intonation and all those short pauses that come after each meaningful phrase. After listening to the audio a few times, you can then begin shadowing. You should not just do it once, but as many times as you feel you need to master it.
Who should I shadow?
The person who you shadow can be your favorite actor/actress or your teacher. It can also be any teacher that has produced YouTube video lessons. If your chosen audio is a part of a dialogue, it’s perfectly OK to shadow just one of the speakers. When choosing a person to shadow, be sure to go for your target accent and be consistent. In the case of English, choose one option (American, British or Australian English) and stick with it. This advice is relevant for other languages as well.
Should I shadow different people?
It’s very useful to shadow different people in different contexts, ranging from teachers to TV show hosts. However, don’t forget to select all these people from the same accent group, which should be the one that you most want to master.
How often/long should I shadow?
Shadowing is most effective if you do it on a daily basis. Honestly, I can’t stress this enough. Spending ten to twelve minutes on shadowing every day is far more effective than doing it for two hours once a week. Doing it on a daily basis helps your mind to recall all the patterns regularly. This will definitely result in a noticeable difference in your pronunciation in a much shorter amount of time. Soon you will feel more confident than ever starting a conversation with native speakers.
What’s the outcome?
Once you start applying this technique and you allocate enough time to it, you will be able to develop a more native-like accent. It cannot be accomplished overnight, so do not rush. Give yourself enough time to get used to the way your chosen native speaker “model” talks. In order to ensure that you are doing it correctly, simply record yourself while shadowing. Then you can listen to it afterwards and see how well you did. You could also ask a friend, a language partner or a teacher to listen to you and check your performance.
To sum up, just follow these simple steps when attempting to shadow:
Determine which accent you would like to master.
Find a short, three to six minute audio or video in your target accent.
Listen to it two or three times. Be sure to pay attention to intonation, rhythm, rises, falls and pauses.
Start copying the speaker at the same time as they are speaking (it’s OK to use subtitles or the transcript for this).
Repeat the previous steps as many times as possible in order to master it.
A practical tip is to start with a slower-paced speaker (English teachers on YouTube) and then switch to a more natural pace over time (movies and TV shows).
Yes, it is time consuming, I understand! However, the value of shadowing should be fairly obvious to any foreign language learner. According to linguists, we can acquire second (or even third) languages very easily before adolescence. However, as adults we do have to spend more time and put more effort into mastering a second language, especially in the case of speaking and pronunciation. So, don’t waste a second! Go ahead and give it a shot.