Shadowing is one very overlooked and forgotten method of studying English listening. When you shadow, you are not passively listening and hoping that some of the English will stay in your brain. You are actively listening for the sounds so that you can repeat them yourself right away.
As you listen to the spoken English, you immediately say what you hear. If you cannot hear some part clearly, you may jump to the next part you can hear. You try to say the sounds at the same time you are hearing them. I call them sounds because at this level you do not need to think about words. Just think about sounds.
But many people still may not have a clear idea of what Shadowing is. A better idea is to see what Shadowing is not.
Shadowing is not listen and repeat
When I first instroduce students to Shadowing, they all try to listen to the words first. This causes them to pause and listen before they start to speak. That is not Shadowing. That is what I call listen and repeat. Listen and repeat is fine practise but it has a different effect from Shadowing.
Shadowing helps you listen to and make the sounds you hear. You do not have to think about meaning to do this. Later when you are very good at Shadowing, you will find that you can shadow while you are thinking about the meaning. But in the beginning you do not have to think. Just shadow.
Shadowing is not listen while you read
I have other students who like to read the scripts while they shadow. This will help you become a faster reader, but it will not help you become a better listener. You will become a better reader. That is fine, but if you want to become a better listener, then put away the script while you shadow.
Of course, you may hear something that you cannot make out, and cannot say at all. Even if you hear it one hundred times. In that case, you may want to read the script. That is ok. Just do not read the script while you are Shadowing. Because that is not Shadowing.
Shadowing is not memorize and then shadow
One particularly bright student of mine memorized the script and then started Shadowing. The student said Shadowing was a great activity and it was easy. But I did not notice a great improvement in the student’s listening skills. I could tell that student was not Shadowing.
Once again, memorizing by reading many times first and then Shadowing is fine study, but it is not Shadowing. You will memorize lots of English, and you will also improve your accent and pronunciation. But you will not improve your listening very much. Please shadow by Shadowing, not by memorizing.
Shadowing is not mumbling sounds
You may feel that what you are hearing is not clear, so you cannot clearly repeat the sounds. You may begin to mumble. Well, mumbling is better than not Shadowing at all, but you must try to make clear sounds when you shadow. Try to make mistakes. This will help you to learn faster.
Mumbling comes from a fear of saying the wrong thing. You want to say the wrong thing out loud clearly. Then you will hear yourself at the same time as the speech you are Shadowing. You will hear the mistake. If you don’t hear it right away, you will begin to hear it later, as you become better and better at listening. You will constantly compare your own words to the speech you are Shadowing. Your brain will get very good at finding what is good and what is not good.
So what is Shadowing?
Now you have seen several Shadowing mistakes. We know what Shadowing is not. Let’s look more closely at what Shadowing is.
Shadowing is say what you hear as soon as you hear it
You have to start speaking the minute the speaking starts. Your first sound will be a mistake; it almost always is, even for me (yes I do Shadowing too!). You wil adjust quickly and start to make sounds much more like the speaking you are Shadowing. Just relax and let it happen. Let the mistake happen too.
If you honestly cannot make out the sound you are hearing, then just jump past it to the next easy sound. It will come very quickly so you will not have to wait long.
Shadowing is listen without reading and repeat it immediately
Go ahead and make mistakes! Say the wrong thing! Its ok because it is practise. If you wait to make certain what you heard, and then try to say those words you are thinking grammar and meaning. Your English will improve much faster if you think about sounds. Start speaking right away and do not wait for two or three words before you start to speak.
Shadowing is saying what you hear without knowing it before
I am saying this for emphasis. You will shadow English that you often do not know and do not understand. That is fine. You do not need to read it ahead of time, think about the meaning, and memorize it. If you do, you will always find your English has a level that you cannot get past. Proper Shadowing without memorizing or thinking about meaning will not give strong benefits right away. Rather it helps you build a very strong base. Your English will be much better than a person who does not shadow, if you do Shadowing practise and continue to study.
Shadowing is trying to make clear speaking sounds
You must try to make clear sounds when you shadow, even if you think those sounds are strange, or incorrect. Often you think they are incorrect but in fact they are correct! So speak out loud, and be bold when you shadow. If you truly think you are making many mistakes then record yourself. Listen to the recording and to yourself. Compare them and you might be surprised.
Shadowing is a great way to study by listening and saying what you hear. It is not listen and repeat. It is not listen while you read. It is not memorize and then shadow. And finally, it is not mumbling sounds. You have a clear picture of what Shadowing is and how to do it.
Go out and do it!