In-Depth: How to use Shadowing to Study Japanese

Alternate title: Good language learners copy; great ones steal.

In a comment on my last post about incorporating resistance into your studying, Peke Penguin (author of a bilingual Japanese-English story about the (mis)adventures of Peke) points out that well-known fact that immersion is the best way to really learn a language fluently.

Of course, for many language learners the chance to visit our target country—in this case Japan—is not always a simple feat. Visiting is costly, and without sufficient preparation or basic understanding of Japanese, going abroad could just as easily be unhelpful as well. Thus, today let’s consider one of the best ways to practice real and useful Japanese right from our very homes.

What is Shadowing, and how does it work?

C&B Comic

Your shadowing goal: be that human echo!

Prerequisites:

  1. Know Kana and some basic Kanji.
  2. Have a decent grasp of basic Japanese grammar.

Shadowing means repeating. You hear something in Japanese, and you repeat it. That’s it! Of course, this is easier said than done.

By repeating something, you demonstrate you have some knowledge of what was just spoken. Otherwise, you would just be repeating a series of random sounds, which would be much harder, if not impossible. When you repeat, you’re practicing both your listening and speaking skills at the same time.

Furthermore, you can take your repeating one-step further by repeating not when the audio you want to repeat is finished, but while the audio is being spoken you begin to repeat. This is the key part of shadowing that makes it difficult and useful when learning the language; remember, you’re aiming for resistance. Let’s use an example:

Say you’re practicing the following conversation:

A: 何、これ。食べ終わったら片付けなさい!

B: あー、それまだ食べかけなんだから、おいといてよ。

[audio https://sites.google.com/site/coldfrost/files/ShadowingExample.mp3]

To shadow this conversation, follow these steps:

1. Understand the conversation. Once you do, never look at the English text again.

A: What’s this? If you’ve finished eating then clean everything up!
B: Ah, but I haven’t finished yet; just leave it.
2. Listen to the conversation.
3. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after it has finished.
4. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after person A has finished speaking (yes, you will be repeating while the conversation is still going on) while looking at the Japanese text.
5. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after person A has finished speaking without looking at the Japanese text.
6. Repeat this process until you can complete step 5 fluently and easily.

And that’s how shadowing works.

Why use shadowing to study Japanese

Shadowing is not as easy as it may seem, especially if you’re going to be shadowing more complicated or longer dialogues. The point is to find dialogues that contain just a few words at most that you don’t know; you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with something too difficult for your level.

However, by repeating to the point where you can repeat the dialogue with ease without needing to look at any text, you will have effectively internalized the dialogue and you will find yourself using it in actual conversation without even realizing it. Effective shadowing does not require memorization, but does require enough practice to force the structures and vocabulary used in the sentences into your head.

Since these are authentic Japanese-sounding conversations, you won’t have to worry about wrestling with which grammar rule to use or word to chose when speaking; you’ll have already internalized a sentence or structure that expresses exactly what you need to say. Remember, good language learners copy, but great ones steal.

So where do I get good material for shadowing?

An excellent question—I realize I’ve been going on about real Japanese, but have failed to actually say where this material is located.

Good shadowing material can come from anywhere. Listen to your favorite anime—maybe just a line or two of dialogue—write down the dialogue, and start repeating it. Or maybe the lyrics from your favorite Japanese song are worth shadowing if they seem useful enough; you can use shadowing with any authentic Japanese spoken material.

If you’re looking for a little more guidance, however, I’d recommend the following books, available from the White Rabbit Press:

I own both of these books, and I find the dialogues in them to be incredibly useful. Plus, these are made for shadowing specifically, so you should have no trouble getting started if you decide to purchase them. The conversation example in this post was taken from the beginner-level book.

I hope this helps you! Next up I will discuss my feelings on the ever-popular Pimsleur series, and how you can use it effectively in your studies.

C&H Comic 2

Just don't try and go too quickly!

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6 Comments

Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying, Shadowing

6 responses to “In-Depth: How to use Shadowing to Study Japanese

  1. Pingback: Using Pimsleur to Jumpstart your Language Learning | EAS Student

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  5. jimhowes

    I’ve come to the conclusion that shadowing is the best damn way to rapidly improve speaking ability, assuming your vocabulary and grammar knowledge is solid.

    The real problem is finding just the right shadowing material and putting it into a format that is easily consumable and repeatable. Any chance you could do an in-depth post on how to streamline this process?

  6. I just happened upon this site. I’m a big believer in shadowing and I can endorse these fairly new resources:

    go to Amazon Japan and enter:
    わかる!話せる!日本語会話 基本文型88 (Speak Japanese!)
    or this one: すぐに使える 日本語会話超ミニフレーズ200 (Speak Japanese!) or this too: わかる!話せる!日本語会話 発展文型125 (Speak Japanese!)
    and this one too: 気持ちが伝わる日本語会話 基本表現180 (Speak Japanese!)

    This series is similar to the Shadowing books that you referenced, but they are broken into key phrases and grammar points in natural Japanese. They do nothing of the stiff, overly formal style that you rarely use.

    Excellent books and perfect for shadowing.

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