Layer Up Your English: From Imitation to Intonation

Take fluency to fluidity with the shadowing technique.

For auditory learners and all language learners seeking to fine tune their pronunciation, cadence, inflection, intonation, and accent, shadowing is a technique that can take your English fluency to English fluidity. In other words, if you want to sound like a native speaker, shadowing is a key to achieving that.

Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed a technique in which the learner listens to a text in his target language by a native speaker then speaks it aloud at the same time, taking care to mimic every nuance. It’s a technique that is closer to how we learn our native languages— repeating sounds exactly as we hear them.

Shadowing is a highly structured way to learn to speak another language and part of training for conference interpreters.

Shadowing provides models of connected speech.

In the flow of real speech, individual words are often connected and/or compressed. Mimicking native intonation allows better communicate the intended amount of emotional emphasis.

Secondary benefits of shadowing include reinforcement: familiar vocabulary, collocations and structures are fortified as you and your brain hear them spoken aloud clearly and confidently.

How do you shadow?

Essential Equipment:

  1. a player with or without audio phones

  2. about one minute of recorded audio that you fully understand in the target language at natural speed

  3. Accurate transcript of the recorded audio

Essential Steps:

  1. Listen to the text while reading along with the the transcript

  2. Listen to and repeat short parts of the text with minimum delay until essentially memorized.

  3. Speak along with the text, careful to mimic its every nuance.

Get (More) Physical:

Arguelles argued that in order for shadowing to be most effective, it is crucial to observe these three additional points:

1. Take a brisk walk outdoors.

Walking outside provides the opportunity for your brain to become comfortable using the target language in different settings and while performing other activities. The action of walking is so natural that your brain will reclassify speaking the new language as another natural activity.

2. Use excellent posture.

Upright posture increases oxygen levels, assisting the brain to learn and remember. Plus, confident posture helps create confidence, period.

3. Fully enunciate and speak loudly from the diaphragm

Consider yourself an actor projecting your lines from a stage to an audience. Speaking clearly and loudly tells your brain that what you're saying is crucial, promoting muscle memory.

Shadowing alone does not replace real time conversation practice but provides benefits that conversation practice alone cannot. The shadowing technique by Alexander Arguelles is an excellent way to take your language learning to the next level. Check out his