I’ve been working with a group of non-native speaking English teachers recently and was interested to note that the one technique they all agreed had really improved their English was ‘shadowing’. It is a powerful technique which can significantly improve your language skills.

What is shadowing?

Shadowing was originally developed as a training technique for interpreters in Japan. It involves mimicking and repeating a native speaker’s speech patterns, intonation and rhythm in real-time. It’s like being a linguistic shadow – you copy the speaker, imitating their every word and sound.

Why is shadowing useful?

  1. Enhances Listening Skills: It can be especially useful for understanding fast-paced conversations, different accents and expressions.
  2. Improves Pronunciation: It helps you focus on the subtleties of pronunciation and helps develop a better understanding of sounds, stress patterns and intonation. It helps you internalise the rhythm of English.
  3. Boosts Speaking Confidence: Studies have shown that shadowing helps improve overall comprehensibility and fluency when speaking (not just when using phrases you’ve shadowed).
  4. Improves Reading Skills: If you’re shadowing using a script, it is thought to be beneficial for reading and pronunciation.

How to Shadow Effectively:

  1. Choose Suitable Materials: Select materials at your current proficiency level. This could be anything from podcasts, audiobooks or YouTube videos. Make sure you understand the content and choose topics you’re interested in to keep motivated.
  2. Start Slow: Begin with slower-paced recordings and gradually increase the difficulty as you become more comfortable with the technique.
  3. Record Yourself: When shadowing you are concentrating on imitation, it is difficult to do and reflect at the same time so record yourself and compare it to the original recording. This will help you identify areas for improvement and track your progress over time.
  4. Be Consistent: Studies show that even 15 minutes a week can be effective but you need to be consistent. Set aside time daily or weekly to practice.
  5. Experiment with Different Accents: Try shadowing speakers from different regions of the world to expose yourself to a variety of language styles.

Try it Yourself

YouTube: There a several useful videos on YouTube which will show you step-by-step how to practice the technique.

ESL Lab: ESL Lab provides a collection of listening activities with transcripts at different levels.

BBC Learning English: BBC Learning English offers a variety of materials suitable for different levels, covering a range of topics.

Voice of America Learning English: VOA provides news and feature stories in simplified English.

I’d love to hear your experiences with shadowing. Do you find it effective? Which materials do you use? Drop a comment or join the Facebook page to discuss it in more detail.