For the past 2 years on Jalup, my talk of shadowing has continued to grow. Due to my own personal experience of making it a major daily habit, I saw its raw power. Now I tell everyone to start shadowing. I’ve recognized the personal limits you’ll need to find and set. But I haven’t mentioned the biggest problem: how do you shadow when you can’t shadow?
You’ve heard me praise it to no end. You believe it. But when you try it, it just doesn’t work. You discover 3 obstacles.
- Keep up with the speed of the audio.
- Catch/understand what is being said in the audio.
- Repeat it while doing the above two.
There are four techniques to help you get around this:
1. Shadow audio books
Audio quality and “ease of listening” varies greatly in native Japanese material. Ever notice that irrespective of Japanese difficulty, the audio of anime just sounds cleaner than J-drama?
Audio books reign supreme with clean audio quality. If you are going to shadow, that’s the best place to be. This is why I am probably Audible Japan’s biggest fan. Make your life easier and stop trying to shadow that difficult to hear J-drama. News is the runner-up to audio books, but due to the significant increase in difficulty, you probably want to save that for later.
All audio books aren’t equal, and I recommend non-linear, non-story books with multiple chapters, sub-chapters and sub-sub-chapters. A story is harder to follow, and harder to jump in and out of for shadowing purposes.
2. Start shadowing parts – not the whole
Shadowing is about repeating everything you hear on a slight delay. This is the ideal. But you absolutely don’t need to and shouldn’t repeat everything if you can’t.
Start off repeating in this order:
- Individual words
- Connected Phrases
- Connected Sentences
- Then finally, everything
This progression matters. It takes time and there is no need to rush it.
3. Don’t set audio on a lower speed than 1x
It’s tempting to make your shadowing life easier. Audio books, news and other sources offer 0.5x or 0.75x playback. Lower the speed, understand more, increase your shadowing capacity. Except shadowing is about getting you used to hearing and speaking at normal speed. I’d rather you struggle with 1x only able to shadow a few words here and there, then slowly be able to repeat unnaturally slow Japanese at 0.5x.
4. Shadow even when you don’t understand
Shadowing isn’t just about hearing, understanding and repeating. Just like the earliest stages of immersion help get you used to the sounds of Japanese, shadowing can do the same. Repeat the sounds you think you hear. Even if they are wrong.
Sometimes just saying a word out loud while being wrong can make you realize it wasn’t what was being said. Other times saying something wrong out loud gives you an extra moment to internalize and analyze it in your head. Ever heard something in English, didn’t understand it, repeated it out loud, and then finally understood it?
Play the long game
Shadowing isn’t an instantly acquired skill. It works on all levels, from beginners to fluent, but you need to approach it properly.
Have you struggled with shadowing? Have any advice on how you overcame the struggle?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.