Tag Archives: Shadowing

Language Learning Tip: Keep a Notebook

I’ve seen it repeated over and over that keeping a language journal is helpful to language learners. You’ll obviously get practice, and you’ll be able to track your progress as you get better by looking through your older entries. Plus, you can do it for just a few minutes a night before you sleep, so it’s not a huge commitment either.

That’s all well and good. I’m pro-journal, and if you can stick to it, more power to you. But I’ve never been one to keep a journal, not even in English. So I’d like to suggest something even easier, but just as useful: a notebook. So don’t keep a journal; keep a notebook.

Why keep a notebook at all? I remember the things I look-up and hear, so this is pointless.

No it isn’t.

Marketing Japan writes about how successful people often use notebooks to never forget things—and as a language learner, that is your goal. In order to learn a language effectively, you need to actually remember what you encounter, which is easier said than done.

When I watch anime there are lots of words I don’t know, and grammar constructions that I can understand, but have yet to have really practiced myself. I might make a mental note of a specific word I want to remember for later, but unless I write it down, I’m going to forget. There’s too much in a single episode of an anime for anyone to remember, and trying to make mental notes of everything while passively watching isn’t going to translate into efficient language learning.

Keeping a notebook makes your language learning active.

So the next time you hear an interesting word, or see something in Japanese you don’t understand, don’t just look up the word and then expect that you’ll remember it for next time—you’ll probably forget within a minute if you don’t focus on actually remembering it.

So how is this language notebook thing supposed to work anyway?

First, you need a notebook. A smartphone might also work, but I think the physicality of writing a notebook may work better—but to each his own. If you’re feeling especially pretentious, head down to your local Barnes & Noble and pick up one of those Moleskine numbers. But anything small and portable should do.

It’s then a matter of finding things to write inside of it. From an interview with David Ury (AKA: Ken Tanaka):

Where/how/from whom did you learn Japanese and what drove you to do it?

I went to Japan as a college student because I wanted to get the hell out of the U.S. While there, I became absolutely obsessed with becoming the most fluent white guy in Tokyo. I learned Japanese from everyone and everything around me. I used to walk home from the train station to my home stay house looking up every kanji on every sign I passed. It took me 11 hours just to walk 3 blocks.

Not all of us have the opportunity to be in Japan, but the importance of writing down and looking up any Japanese you encounter cannot be understated. Jumping into reading a high-level novel may be too much, but finding tid-bits of Japanese to note and review is what will make the difference.

The next time you’re watching an anime, wait for an unknown, but interesting, word and look it up. Then, write down that word in your notebook. Or if you come across a Japanese website, you might look up the meaning of a sentence or two on one of its pages. Again, note down these sentences in your notebook.

At the end of the day, perhaps half an hour before you plan to go to sleep (since material looked at right before sleeping is generally not easily memorized, but material half an hour before is), review what you’ve jotted down. Whenever I do this, I usually end up noticing said word or sentence in other materials whereas I wouldn’t have noticed it before (since I wouldn’t have understood it!)

Today, for example, I came across and looked up the word 身長, reviewed it a few times, and low and behold, while watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes today—an awesome, if occasionally slow-paced space drama that I recommend everyone to watch—it showed up. I plan to review the word again before I go to sleep.

Setting aside time to formally study—such as doing shadowing as I’ve recommended—is important, but keeping a notebook will help you remember the little things you often think you will remember, but then conveniently forget. It’s the same reason you (should) take notes in lectures: you may understand everything that is being said, but not writing it down or reviewing means you’ll simply forget later. As language learners, forgetting is not an option.


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Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language

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!


  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!


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

On Learning Japanese: Self-Studying with Resistance

Alternative title: So how do I go about learning Japanese—or any language—anyway?

As I draw closer to the two-year mark in my Japanese language studies, I always wonder if the way I’m studying is the most efficient or useful. With such a huge number of learning resources out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and not know where to start, or where to go from where you might find yourself in your studies.

For example, I expect most people who have tried to self-study Japanese on their own have come across the following things:

I have a particular interest in AJATT, not because I find his method (1. Memorize the Kanji via RTK 2. Memorize sentences 3. Now you’re fluent) especially useful, but because he lays out a self-study method very different than what is found in your average Japanese 101 class. In that respect, AJATT is unique, and the author’s inspirational blog posts are always fun to read. It’s also quite popular among the self-studying crowd, so I’ll address it briefly first.

To start, I don’t think AJATT is incredibly useful. The first step, RTK, asks learners to memorize how to write and the English meaning of each Kanji individually, but nothing else. As a result, I expect that the learner who starts with RTK is sure to find himself frustrated by the amount of study time he has put in compared to the amount he will be able to actually read or understand in Japanese.

Nonetheless, I am not against RTK as a method; in fact, I think it’s incredibly useful for remembering how to write Kanji and differentiate similar Kanji when reading. I just don’t think I would use it FIRST—to me, that seems the least helpful time to learn Kanji, when the student has had no other Japanese input.

How to Self-Study Effectively: Do it with Resistance!

One thing to note is that I actually have not self-studied Japanese—I took classes at my university. I don’t think classes are a bad idea, not because I found the textbook used (Nakama) very good, but because taking classes causes what I like to call resistance, or some sort of discomfort while learning.

A good teacher in a language-learning class will force you to constantly use the language you’re learning. You’ll have to use specific structures, talk with your equally-confused peers, and in general feel some sort of discomfort as you try to say something or use a new vocabulary term but have initial trouble doing so.

That’s resistance.

That’s what you should feel when you’re learning a language. The feeling that it’s hard, and that things aren’t going smoothly. Because when that feeling hits, you’re learning. However, the self-studier can easily remove any resistance in his learning by skipping reviews, or doing easier tasks; there is no teacher forcing him to interact or speak in a language using structures or vocabulary that are just above his level.

Perhaps the most dedicated student will plow through and always force himself to reach the resistance state, but in general, we’re lazy. The old adage that I could learn everything in college for the same price as a few late fees at the library rings true at first, but simply reading a book in the library without any pressure removes resistance, and in that same way, removes a good deal of the learning in the process.

School as an institution is something we resist. We don’t want to be there. We don’t want to go to class. We don’t want to do this stupid five-page essay assignment. By having others tell us what to do and giving us deadlines on when to do it, we experience resistance. But again, this resistance, in my view, is when we are learning the most. On average, the hard class will teach us more than the easy class—resistance follows that same idea.

How do I incorporate resistance into my self-studying?

I will actually save specific ideas and methods that I have devised for later posts, but for now, two of my better recommendations:

Pimsleur acts as a teacher, forcing you to respond and use the language; it’s very effective, and I would say the best resource to have when you’re in your beginning stage of learning. Shadowing forces you to use the language as well, and allows for not just aural learning, but practice in reading (and writing, if you go far enough) as well.

I will go into how these work (especially shadowing, since it seems vastly underrated in my opinion) in a later post. Until then, good luck studying!


Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying