Basics of Japanese: Shadowing
It’s many people’s goal when learning a new language not to just speak it fluently but to also sound just like a native speaker. If they call someone, they want that person to believe they were born and raised in Japan when they speak Japanese. In Lesson 5 we studied the basic rules of pronunciation and then we studied the “pitch accent” in Lesson 17. From these you have a foundation for how to study and understand the way a native speaker sounds, but how can you practice it?
One technique that’s promoted by many linguists and professors is known as “shadowing”.
What is Shadowing?
Shadowing is where you listen to something in the language you’re studying and almost immediately try to repeat back what you’re hearing. There’s very little delay, and no pause button!
When beginning shadowing, you’re going to find it difficult to keep up. This is normal. Shadowing, like everything, takes practice. If you’re beginning to watch a new series, pick a character as the person you’ll be shadowing. Practice with 1 episode every day. On day 1 you might struggle to say more than just a random blur of sounds, but by day 7 you’ll be saying words, phrases, potentially even multiple sentences with ease!
Benefits of Shadowing
Shadowing has three major benefits:
1.) Enhances pronunciation
By imitating what native speakers are saying immediately after hearing it, you’re helping to internalize the correct way to say words in terms of both basic pronunciation and pitch accent.
2.) Improves conversation speed
Shadowing may be difficult in the beginning, but it helps to improve your conversation speed by encouraging you to match a similar speed to the person you’re mimicking.
3.) Enforces new vocabulary and grammar
The more shadowing that you do, the more you’re going to notice certain words, phrases or grammatical structures being used. As you continue to encounter them, these words will slowly become internalized in your memory bank. It’s studying without the flashcards!
Finding Shadowing Material
1.) Japanese dramas or movies
There is an abundance of Japanese dramas and movies and I’m sure I don’t have to tell most of you where to find some! If you’re in the US, a good place to start to find practice material is from the websites you’re likely using everyday, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu. All of these websites have Japanese movies or TV shows that you can watch if you already have a subscription to them (and Hulu even has many without requiring any subscription!).
2.) Japanese news programs
There are many news programs that have short clips online for international viewers, and you can pay for Japanese channels with certain cable/satellite companies.
3.) Japanese podcasts or vloggers
Youtube, iTunes and Stitcher are great places to find podcasts or vlogs in Japanese. The language used in these often includes a lot of slang and is great practice for the “everyday” style of Japanese!
4.) Listening practices from books or textbooks
The Read Real Japanese book series come with CDs containing audio narration of stories. You can also use the listening practices that come with textbook series like Yookoso or Genki.