Language Learning Techniques: Shadowing

by Jens Branum
Shadowing is an interesting technique which can be used in second language learning. If you are currently learning another language and are looking for a way to spice up the experience then shadowing might be worth a try.

Shadowing at its most simple is reading along to an audio recording in the target language, whilst simultaneously reading out loud a written transcript of the sample. Here is a video which demonstrates shadowing, although in this example the speaker has memorised parts of the text and is not constantly reading.

The man in the video is Alexander Arguelles, a linguistics professor who has apparently learnt around 40-50 languages in his lifetime and has pioneered the shadowing technique.

Clearly, Professor Arguelles is extremely committed to his language learning, to the point of practising for around 16 hours a day at the peak of his studying, and has no inhibitions about enthusiastically moving back and forward over a bridge shouting Mandarin in the middle of a park. He stresses the importance of practising outside, walking upright and moving quickly whilst shadowing, which is good advice if you live near a convenient park or are happy to charge around the streets practising your new language, but is not absolutely necessary to give shadowing a try.

All you really need to give shadowing a go is some recordings in your target language and an accompanying text. Many languages have premade materials which are designed specifically for shadowing, or you can use other sources like story books with accompanying audio, TV shows and films which have online transcripts, songs which you can find the lyrics for, or anything else you can think of which can be adapted.

I have tried shadowing in my Japanese learning and found it to be easy to fit in to the day and helpful for developing several language skills, since it combines listening, reading and speaking based on the pronunciation of a native speaker in a single exercise. It is also a great source of comprehensible input (language which is understandable but slightly more advanced than your current level) if you find materials suited to your ability.

Here is a short video by linguist Stephen Krashen which demonstrates comprehensible input in an entertaining way:

This is a sample from the book I am using for Japanese shadowing, which has material suitable for beginner and intermediate levels:


The text contains the audio transcript in Japanese, as well as an English translation which you can consult if you don’t understand everything in the text. The recording features natural conversations between native Japanese speakers and is highly recommended if you are learning Japanese at any level, although you will need to be familiar with the Japanese alphabets, or at least Hiragana, to read along with the recording.

A link to the Japanese shadowing book can be found here:

Overall, if you are looking for new ways to mix up your language learning or hoping to learn a new language in a fun and effective way, shadowing is definitely worth trying and can be done in short, quick sessions. I usually practise for around half an hour or so and find it far more engaging than reading textbooks, especially when I get outside and walk around. Give it a go!



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