Speech shadowing started as an experimental technique used by linguists to measure the reaction time between hearing a word and pronouncing it.

It was soon to be transferred to language learning were they studied the effects of speech perception ( the process by which the sounds of language are heard, interpreted, and understood), and its influence on speech production( the process by which thoughts are translated into speech: this include the selection of words, the organisation of grammatical forms and the articulation of the resulting sounds).

They studied the way children acquire their first language. Soon, language teachers thought of implementing a method for second language learning based on these principles:

  • Sound is the most primitive form of language,
  • So language should be taught through sounds
  • Infants acquire a language by imitating what they hear from parents ,family and friends
  • People throughout their lives have learned by mimicking others.

[ Inspired b Patrick Hayeck “Imitation technique: The principles of the Method”]

The goal of shadowing technique in second language learning is to turn passive language

( words you know but can’t use in speech) into active vocabulary ( words you can use in speech).

When mimicking the speaker word for word, you stop thinking in your native language because your brain is actively engaged in a listening activity and a speaking one at the same time.

How does language shadowing work?

It is a simple but yet powerful method to help you improve your language speaking skills.

  • A text is chosen
  • You read as the native speaker talks
  • You repeat exactly word for word every sentence the native speaker utters, after a pause. Try to copy the sounds you hear. Pay attention to pronunciation, stress, pause, intonation.
  • And finally, Without the text, you listen to the native speaker whilst shadowing every word and sentence you hear ( you can even try to say them at the same time).

What’s intonation?, I hear you say.

Intonation is a feature of pronunciation common to every language. For example without knowing the meaning of words, you can detect attitudes, and emotions in the speaker. You can differentiate between a statement and a question. Etc

Intonation is the way we use the pitch of our voice to express particular meanings and attitudes.

In every language, it’s easy to understand the speaker attitude by paying attention to intonation: you know when they are expressing anger, interest, boredom, happiness, sadness even without understanding every word.

What are the benefits of shadowing?

  • Shadowing helps you prevent translating in your native language, as we already mentioned.
  • After a while you are able to talk confidently in your target language.
  • You reduce your accent ( having an accent is perfectly alright in my opinion as long as it does not prevent communication).
  • Your pronunciation improves and you sound more natural.
  • Listening to native speakers becomes easier.
  • You learn to listen to the sounds and patterns in your target language and you produce the same sounds effortlessly.
  • You’re more confident at speaking

What are the downfalls of shadowing?

  • It’s not easy at first, especially when applying step 4(shadowing the native speaker). Without the text, you tend to forget the sentences and feel lost.
  • It requires you to persevere: you need to practice regularly.

The shadowing technique can be enjoyable if it’s combined with other activities like a walk. After all it’s all about having fun.

Leave a comment and let me know of other fun ways to apply the shadowing technique.


Click here to download the 5 tips to use Shadowing Technique PDF