Because of the repetitive nature of the exercise and use of the faculties of hearing, mental processing and production of sound through the mouth, I believe its effectiveness is due to how it simulates the way children learn their first language. By using this technique, you'll gain an intuitive sense for what is grammatically and semantically correct in the language. So, you know those problematic prepositions that keep you up at night? You won't have to memorize how they are used in each individual case because, if you practice the shadowing technique on a regular basis, over time, they will come to you more naturally.
This technique is also a great way to warm up in the foreign language before having to use it during the day. Here's how it works:
- You find written material that has accompanying audio recorded by a native speaker. This can be a book, but I prefer using articles because they're shorter, varied and use more everyday language. My favorite site for articles with audio is VOA Learning English for slow pronunciation and VOA Connect for natural pronunciation. In addition to learning English, you can keep abreast of what's happening in the world (caution: potential U.S. propaganda and bias ;-)).
- The first time through, I recommend listening to the article, focusing on the sounds, rhythm and intonation without reading it.
- Then listen to the audio again while silently reading along just once. Focus on the reader's pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and stress.
- Listen again, this time reading out loud a few milliseconds behind the reader. This is the "shadowing" and reason for the technique's name. Repeat this procedure two more times.
- You can also try progressively closing the gap between you and the reader until you are reading in unison. While in unison with the reader, you'll be better able to hear any tonal and stress differences between your speech and that of the reader. Musicians learn to play songs by ear in much the same way.
- Another way to use the audio is to stop it after each sentence or thought group and repeat what you hear out loud with the same rhythm, stress and intonation.
Try to imitate or "parrot" the reader the best you can. Find your inner actor, as this is part of learning a new language - assuming a different role. Experiment boldly and enjoy the new role.
If you practice this technique for 15 minutes a day, you'll be well on your way to mastering English, and with good pronunciation!