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.

 

Why is speaking a foreign language such a challenge?

 

Students are often better at listening and reading than they are at speaking.

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.

Shadowing: a new way to improve fluency at C2 level | Oxford House Barcelona

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!

 

What makes shadowing such a handy tool?

 

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.

 
Shadowing: a new way to improve fluency at C2 level | Oxford House Barcelona
 

Step by step guide to shadowing

 

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:

1. Select a some audio

  • Find a short piece of audio (max. 5 minutes) with just one person speaking.
  • It doesn’t have to be a native speaker, but they should be proficient.
  • The Your Audio Selfie playlist is a good place to start.

 

2. Listen

  • Before you start shadowing, listen to the audio at least once to get used to the speaker’s accent, rhythm and intonation. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word, but if it’s too fast or complex, look for an alternative.

 

3. Practise shadowing

  • It can be challenging to begin with, but try to repeat what the speaker says as quickly and as accurately as possible.
  • Start by doing 20-30 seconds and if you get stuck, just stop the audio and start again.
  • Remember, we’re not really concerned with meaning, you’re just trying mimic speaker’s voice.

 

4. Record yourself

  • Once you’ve practised and you feel more confident, try recording yourself.
  • Listen to the audio through your headphones and record your voice using your computer or smartphone.

 

5. Listen back

  • Listen to your recording and compare your speech to the original audio.

 

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.

Glossary for Language Learners

 

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.

Key

exp = expression

pv = phrasal verb

n = noun

adj = adjective


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