Shadowing is a language learning technique developed by linguistic professor and famous polyglot Alexander Arguelles. It is a modern language learning technique defined by taking in large amounts of audio in your target language and carefully picking out the sounds of the language and repeating them. You can find books for sale that teach Japanese shadowing all over the place, but for now I just want to show you free resources you can use via Youtube.
Some people think that shadowing is a waste of time as a beginner. While you will definitely see the greatest benefit from shadowing as an advanced learner, I think listening to and repeating Japanese audio as soon as possible is critical for beginners. Beginners often times ignore audio in favor of flashcards. As a result it’s easy to pick up bad habits! As long as you understand the translation and the words being said, there’s no reason a beginner can’t shadow beginner level dialogues.
1. Shadowing Reinforces Vocab You’ve Already Learned
Shadowing can be more than just reviewing what you’ve already learned with a textbook. When learning new vocab, it’s best to learn it in several different contexts. What I mean by this is that you should not just practice reading and writing a word, but also hearing it repeated by another speaker. When you study Japanese it can be frustrating to not be able to pick out the words another person is saying. Shadowing is a great tool for conquering this issue!
2. You Grow More Comfortable Speaking Out Loud
Unless you live in Japan or in a community full of Japanese speakers, speaking will be the hardest skill to master in Japanese. While it’s not objective of me to speak in absolutes, I think it’s simply inevitable. Some people spend years into studying Japanese without ever getting to speak it.
And what is the result?
They cannot speak Japanese
Shadowing is not as effective as having a conversation with a native speaker. But at the very least you will be getting the sounds of the language out of your mouth. If you’ve never strung together your own sentences you will probably be caught off guard at how difficult it is just to get your mouth into the unfamiliar shapes of the words you want to say. On top of that, you will have no mind-body connection with these words, so you will waste a lot of time just thinking of what you want to say in English (or your native language), and then manually translating it into Japanese.
3. You Learn What Japanese Really Sounds Like
Did you know that Japanese is not tonally flat? Maybe you’re not sure what I mean by that.
In formal Japanese classes, teachers often tell students to say Japanese words with a completely flat tone. This means without the stresses and pitch changes that we naturally are inclined to as English speakers.
Thinking that Japanese is flat is advantageous for a complete beginner who is trying to reduce their accent as much as possible. But Japanese is not tonally flat! The pitch accent of Japanese is an entire field within the study of Japanese itself that is only now getting a lot of attention from students thanks to teachers like Dogen. <a href="“>Check out the free portion of his phonetics lessons here if you’re curious.
If you are still a beginner, it might be a little early for Dogen’s lessons. But you can get a feel for the sound of Japanese and the way some sounds naturally rise and fall through repeated exposure to shadowing materials.
The audio below is advertised as something you should listen to while sleeping. (A language learning technique that appears to be better than nothing, but may or may not be effective)However, It think it’s also wonderful shadowing material for beginners as it provides the translation and the written version along with native Japanese audio.
4. You Can Study While On The Go
Alexander Arguelles was infamous for shadowing languages like Korean while on his daily jogs. While you don’t have to shout out the words being said on your recording in public like he does, it’s great to be able to practice listening and speaking while driving, exercising, etc. If you have a driving commute of 30 minutes both ways for example, you can turn that time into 30 minutes of extra study. That multiplied by 5 days a week makes an extra two and a half hours of study time! When you consider that certifications like the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests are thought to be equivalent to 600 hours of study time, finding an extra 10 minutes of study a day can propel you that much closer to fluency.
Shadowing is often confused for just listening to the same audio over and over again. While passive listening can also be a great strategy for picking up sounds and sentence patterns, there are two major differences that sets shadowing apart.
The first is that shadowing requires the text version of the script! It’s absolutely essential to know what the speakers are saying in order to get the full benefits of shadowing. If you don’t know what the speakers are saying, you may misinterpret a word or get lost in the audio. That would be terrible and definitely not a great use of your time.
The second major difference is that you have to speak along with the audio! I know how difficult it can be to start speaking Japanese if you’ve never been forced to before. I spent my whole first year of studying Japanese not saying anything at all. I really regret having done this now that I have to speak Japanese every day. Set good habits for yourself! Future you will thank you!
For those who are interested in the topic of shadowing, I would be happy to come back to this article regularly with updates like book recommendations and best practices. Maybe that would be better suited to another article?
Please let me know!