Speaking ability… Everyone wants it. Everyone struggles to get it. Immersion has a great influence over everything you will become able to do, including speaking. But sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. Your conversational ability lags way behind where you want it to be. Since most people judge your overall ability based on how you talk in the language, this gap can bring discouragement.
I was no different. My speaking is fine and has been fine for a long time. It’s steadily grown over the years, but for some reason I am never satisfied. I have continued with two things to counteract this: reading out loud a lot, and having friends to talk to in Japanese.
While these are effective, I felt there had to be something more. Why isn’t there immersion for speaking? A way to practice your speaking all the time like there is for listening. I thought to the popular and excellent technique that many people have used to improve their pronunciation and speaking: shadowing.
Shadowing is where you continually listen to and mimic what a person is saying from some audio source. It allows you to repeat native speech and improve your own. Most people do shadowing in their early and intermediate levels, and in intervals of short periods of time. They retire this technique once their speaking becomes more advanced and conversations become easier. This is what I had done and the thought of shadowing at a higher level had never crossed my mind.
But I’m always experimenting. What can I do to further improve my abilities in new ways I never imagined? What new advice can I give to help all of you that ask how to become a better speaker.
Then it struck me:
What if I combined shadowing and immersion together?
The concept was simple. Listening to Japanese whenever you can on your immersion device results in amazing listening skills. The same could be applied to speaking.
My new goal, which started in June was simple. Whatever I would listen to, I would shadow. Movies, anime, TV shows, podcasts, the news, everything. If there was native sound, I would repeat it. For however many hours of the day it would take.
I’m now here to report the results.
Let’s first start with the major challenges I faced engaging in shadow immersion.
Shadowing is tiring
Copying everything someone says can be exhausting. Doing this for several hours throughout the day can start to drain away your energy. For example, I shadow the NHK news podcast during an hour walk every day. It can really leave you out of breath(not from the walking).
Most people who have tried regular shadowing know it takes a large amount of effort to continue doing it. That effort is multiplied many times over, as there is no firm stopping point.
It takes a long time for your ears to start hurting from listening to too much audio. It takes a much shorter time for your throat/voice to start hurting when you talk too much.
Timely breaks became necessary quickly, and I had to learn how long I could go before I pushed myself too far.
It’s really hard to accurately shadow for long periods of time. I usually understand 99% of what I hear. But repeating that 99% is no easy task. You are introduced to an endless barrage of talking, on a wide range of subjects, and you have to follow it at the same pace. Even at my level, I probably started at around 80%-90% accuracy based on the topic.
Now I’m 2 months into shadow Immersion. To me this is still fairly early in the process, but here is what has been happening so far.
Active vocabulary ascends
Just like your your own native language, your passive vocabulary (what you can understand), is much higher than your active vocabulary (what you can naturally use). Shadow immersion shifted this.
You get the chance to use language that you never use on your own. When you get to real conversations, you find these previously passive words start appearing with more frequency. All of this happened unconsciously and I was surprised at what words would come out of my mouth.
News shadowing turns immersion into an SRS
Daily news stories follow similar patterns. They cover stories that take place over the weeks. You get the same information repeated to you over intervals. This is exactly what an SRS (spaced repetition system) like Anki is.
The thrill of watching your accuracy rise
Being able to fully shadow an entire news segment, whether it is a stock market update, weather forecast, or breaking election development, brings a sense of accomplishment. In the beginning, there were many times where I would get lost mid sentence. I had to take a pause, and then continue shadowing at the next open opportunity. This has slowly faded away.
It wasn’t until the end of these 2 months that I noticed I wasn’t getting tired as much anymore. I used to have to strongly will myself to continue sometimes. But that extra required push is gone. I naturally start shadowing whenever I hear Japanese talking. Sometimes I even have to remind myself not to do this when talking to an actual Japanese person.
You know when you listen to something, and someone asks you to summarize what was just said? Shadow Immersion makes this process easier. You have to absorb information and spit it out while absorbing even more information in a never ending cycle.
It’s easy to have your confidence hurt when you know what you want to say, have the ability to say it, but the words don’t come out the way you want them to. Shadow immersion allows you to release those words freely.
It’s a new challenge that even those fluent and above can appreciate
Shadow immersion can be done at any level, and will always be challenging. One of the major causes of the high level blues is not knowing what to strive for anymore when you reach a certain level. I love the game, but when you’ve beaten almost all of the stages, there isn’t anything much left to do.
This has finally become my new stage to battle in. There is a lot to triumph over from here on out. My accuracy has improved dramatically but getting to near 100% accuracy is still far away.
I also have noticed another new talent and challenge forming: shadow prediction immersion.
Remember how I said that shadowing the daily news is similar to an SRS because of repeated information over intervals? I’m finding that even though shadowing by its nature trails slightly behind what you are listening to, you start to get a sense of what is coming next. I’ve been able to predict sentences and say them even before the newscaster finishes them. I’m not sure how far I can take this, but I’m looking forward to seeing this new development play out.
I’m enjoying it, daily. This has brought a complete rejuvenation to the fun I used to have with my studying. I used to love immersion and always discovering something new. I thought that feeling would never return but it has now resurfaced in a new way.
Continuing Shadow Immersion
I plan on continuing this indefinitely and seeing where it will lead me. The long term effects if I continue this for a year or more are still unknown to me, but this only makes it even more appealing.
I’m not sure whether this article has convinced you to give shadow immersion a try. It isn’t easy. But regardless of your level, you too might also find a new world of Japanese learning that awaits you.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.