Shadowing Technique | Arabic and Persian - Steve Kaufmann

Shadowing is a language learning technique developed and popularized by polyglot Alexander Argüelles. The idea is to repeat what you hear while listening in order to improve pronunciation and speaking. I have not used this much in the past but want to give it another try.


So I think this idea is pretty interesting. For the most part, I generally really only want to understand/comprehend the languages I’m learning so I can watch youtube or TV shows.
But in the case of Russian I do in fact want to be able to speak it.
So I have a conundrum. I have focused exclusively on listening. In some ways I’m following a similar technique to Steve.
If I don’t say so myself I think I’m pretty decent at listening given the time I spent but my speaking on the other hand is stumbling.
That’s obvious, because I spent no time on it.
So what’s optimal?
I’ve seen/heard of shadowing before. There are studies that show it’s effective so I think I might try this as an adjunct to my standard practice of aiming for solid listening comprehension.

Anyone got actual experience with shadowing/non-shadowing and willing to comment on the effectiveness of the approach?

Honestly, in the case of shadowing I believe that it is the increased amount of general speaking effort on a daily basis that really works. And there is no magic in this tight following after narrator. On the contrary, I think it is better to hear out the sentence and then to slowly repeat several times, gradually increasing the pace as you’re getting used to the phrase. Shadowing is the half-arsed comprehension and the half-arsed reading outloud. Can’t even attribute any specific advantage to shadowing that is unlike regular repeating and reading outloud.

LOL. That’s a pretty direct indictment. Thanks.

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The main reason I don’t like it is that by the end of the phrase, while you’re tailing it you neither clearly hear the narrator nor yourself, it always ends up you spelling giberrish. When I was a musician, the one thing I internalize about performing anything is that the easiest way is to play slowly without a rush, untill it become the part of your fingers, when you stop putting concience effort to fingering or other technical aspects of it. Then you can get the pace up a bit and so on, until you’ve reached the right pace. Only after that you’re able to make it a part of your muscial language. Untill that, like the most part of your brain is trying to not mix up the fingers and keep the pace.

UPD: Realized just now that I’ve read somewhere that our brain up to 40% (or 60) consists of parts, which is responsible for movements. So it must mean, as I see it, that trying to communicate, when you’ve not really learnt the phrase by heart, is like trying to communicate in your native language when you’re learning to play a riff. There shouldn’t be much difference, since 40-60% of the brain is preoccupied. In other words you don’t want this challange because communication is challenging by itself.

In music, I can’t recall something like shadowing. Apart from ‘canon’ of cource, but every participants already know their parties of it. That is to say, there is no use in trying to shadow after the other musician through all what he plays one single time, because you need rather 300 repetitions for every phrase really.

Hi DB I used it for a while with Arabic. I wouldn’t recommend trying to speak while listening. This only means you don’t hear the narrator properly. However done properly - i.e. listen to a short section, pause, repeat, I found it useful. It really forces you to listen to and ‘hear’ the sounds (you notice more than you do just reading) - and of course trying to repeat the phrase practises and improves pronunciation. There is a trade off though. It slows down your reading (significantly) and therefore your new vocabulary acquisition. It can also be a distraction from comprehension (as you can get caught up in the sounds). So depends a little on your goals. I use online teachers for practising speaking so at the end of the day, I decided to drop back to reading without shadowing to maximise new vocabulary. However I think shadowing is worth doing from time to time to brush up phonetics/pronunciation and also it’s probably a good option if you want to practise pronunciation before tackling a conversation with a native speaker.


Please can someone clarify for me whether reading the text whilst listening and saying the words at the same time is shadowing or whether it has to be done without the text in front of me - i.e. purely listening which is clearly much harder. I’m quite keen to tape myself whilst listening and reading the text but think I might get left behind if I’m just listening. Having said that I’ve just started to listen to the Mini Stories during my 40 min car commute and the extra hour+ listening a day has undoubtedly improved both my hearing and pronunciation. I long for the day when I enjoy the listening as much as the reading!