Speech shadowing is an advanced language learning technique. The idea is simple: you listen to someone speaking and you repeat what they say in real time, with as little delay as possible.
If you’re preparing for the C2 Proficiency certificate (formerly CPE), this is an important tool. It’s something you can practise anywhere, anytime. And, once you’ve mastered the skill of shadowing, not only will your spoken fluency improve, but you’ll also pick up more natural pronunciation and intonation.
But, before we show how to become a master-shadower, let’s think about what it means to speak a foreign language fluently and accurately.
To start with, these are very different skills. Listening and reading are what we call receptive skills, whereas speaking (and writing) are productive. Your receptive skills are used to process and comprehend language that is presented to you. But, with speaking, there’s a lot more going on.
In fact, speaking isn’t really a single skill; it’s a whole system of processes. Here’s a diagram to give you an idea of what happens in our brains every time we speak.
Don’t worry, (fortunately) it’s not necessary to understand all these processes to be able to speak. However, it does explain why we occasionally make mistakes when speaking a foreign language. When you think how complex speech is, it’s impressive that we don’t slip up more often!
When it comes to speaking fluently and accurately, practice makes perfect. Think about your native language. How old were you when you started to speak? How many hours do you spend a week speaking this language? Your articulators (e.g. tongue, lips, teeth) have had thousands of hours of practice, moving around and making the specific sounds of your native language.
Typically, in formal school settings – with many students in a class and limited hours per week – not much time is dedicated to speaking. This is one reason why a learner may not have very clear pronunciation, nor a good level of spoken fluency. When preparing for language certificate, you mustn’t overlook these aspects of your language.
So what can you do? It’s true that there are plenty of opportunities to practise your English in Barcelona, but there are also some possible barriers. Maybe you live somewhere very remote, maybe your schedule doesn’t allow you to go along to language exchanges or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable starting up a conversation with a complete stranger.
With shadowing, you have none of these issues. You can do it at home, in the office, even on the beach! You can do it on your own – all you need is your mobile and some earphones.
If you imagine you’re a tennis player and that the act of speaking is tennis match, then shadowing is a workout session in the gym.
Shadowing allows you to train your articulators to produce sounds more accurately. In a real conversation, you have to organise your ideas, find the right words and formulate phrases. But by imitating someone else’s speech, you can just focus on the sounds of the language.
That’s the theory, now it’s time to put it into practice:
So, give it a go and let us know how you get on!
Read more about our Cambridge exam courses and how we can help you prepare.
Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.
In real time (exp): the actual time during which a process or event occurs.
To pick something up (pv): to obtain, acquire, or learn something in an informal way.
To go on (pv) : to happen.
To slip up (pv): to make a mistake.
Handy (adj): convenient.
Articulators (n): your vocal organs (e.g. tongue, lips, teeth).
Workout (n): a training session.
exp = expression
pv = phrasal verb
n = noun
adj = adjective