The better is the recipe, the better is the (French) cake
- What is the Shadowing Technique?
- How to do it, my recipe for shadowing French
What is the Shadowing Technique?
Have you ever heard of the shadowing technique? It’s a technique to practice any language and allows you to improve your speaking skills and fluency.
Shadowing technique is just a pretentious name for something very simple actually. It’s repeating an audio in (radio, tv, dialogue…) simultaneously. All in French. You know this game every kid play when they repeat in a row what you are saying. Very annoying yes, but actually that’s more or less what shadowing technique is except it’s not consecutive but simultaneously.
So basically you start the recording and start to repeat what you hear right away. Without pressing stop nor taking the time to listen very well. It’s really like copying, imitating but live. Like a live simultaneous interpreter would do.
Usually, French methods (and other language methods) let you repeat after you hear so that you have time to listen and repeat without mistake. So when you learn like this, you never face the stress of a real communication situation. Especially if you study by yourself. You never rush or stress yourself. Unfortunately, in real life, they don’t give you the stop or pause button. The reality is always back in your face. Shadowing technique helps to get prepared to this reality. It’s powerful because it involves a stress and an active practice that you should do in a hurry, a bit like a real communication situation It’s present and the instant so your brain and your mouth have to handle it! It’s active learning and a lot of fake it until you make it. These are two very important ideas in order to become fluent in any language.
For me, shadowing is more than words, it’s also imitation and impersonation. It’s the best way to learn something actually. If you use a video or a TV program, you can even shadowing with gestures (politicians speech are quite good, they usually speak a perfect French and slowly. Imitate everything your “model” does, not just words, but also the accent, intonation, word stress.
How to do it, my recipe for shadowing French.
When you first practice shadowing technique, expect this to be a mess! It will be a disaster. But if you keep on practice you will feel the benefit from it. Don’t take it too seriously, and don’t be afraid of doing mistakes or look stupid. Try to make it fun!
Take a 30 seconds recording that you will play over and over. Any audio is good, it’s not because you can’t understand that you can not use the audio. The goal here is to work on fluency and oral skills in French. It’s better to have a transcript but without is also ok. Without the transcript, you can’t check afterward but I think it’s very good for students who want to improve their pronunciation and intonation in French.
There are different ways to repeat. Here is a very progressive way to start:
- So at first, you can just focus on the French melody (French intonation). You don’t pronounce the words but you only vocalize what you hear, like if you were singing a melody without lyrics.
- Then you can do it with the French rhythm (French syllables). You “scat” the rhythm with a “da da da” for example.
- Finally, you try to pronounce all the words. It’s ok if you miss some words, even a lot. But never stop! You have to continue. Even if you misspell you need to continue because this is the point of this technique. Working on fluency.
- use earphones (so that your voice doesn’t cover the original recording and you can hear it clearly)
- articulate clearly in a loud voice. Good articulation is important if you want to perfect your pronunciation,
- do something else it at the same time, like running, cycling, cooking, gardening… This way you will get comfortable using French in different places and setting. Not only in a study mindset.
- Try different things: repeat without the transcript/ read the transcript/repeat without looking at the transcript/repeat while looking at the transcript.
- Schedule and repeat the process.
“Fait c’est mieux que parfait”
The biggest mistake is wanting to be perfect. Don’t set up to high goals. Doing many mistakes is a better sign than no mistakes at all. If you do mistakes it means you are practicing! Well done 🙂
Set a time limit a minimum and a maximum for your work session. As usual, try to be organized and track your improvement 🙂 set up small goals to stay motivated. Like I said in my article about Quantity Vs Quality, you might find a record that you will use for shadowing several times a week (quality), and add some others along (Quantity).
Resources to practice shadowing in French
For beginners I suggest all beginner French methods with audio dialogues (Assimil is a good one I think, or Communication Progressive du Francais). News In Slow French is also not too fast. But as soon as possible, switch to more natural French speech 🙂 Remember, it’s not because you can’t understand that you can not use the audio.
For intermediate to advanced I suggest Le Journal en Français facile, or any website with audio and transcription like Le Monde Diplomatique Audio. Any TV program is good, and French talk show and live debates are the hardest ones in my opinion. Check the website of the French National Television. Finally, Scène de Ménages is also a good one if you want to challenge yourself. A very natural speech and informal vocabulary. You can also find episodes on Youtube.
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