March 31, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook
The answer to this is: no.
But also yes.
What do I mean by that exactly?
There’s a lot of misconception about what shadowing is good for, and it gets treated like a magic-bullet exercise that should fix all problems.
In a way, I feel a little bit responsible for this, because as far as I know, I was the first person to put a video on YouTube, teaching the shadowing exercise for English. Other people had done it before, but never in terms of actually using it to improve in English specifically. And that video got taken in the wrong way by many, many people, as the comments on that video attested to.
Shadowing is useful for one thing, and one thing only.
Yes, it has side benefits.
But the thing only thing that it should be used for is developing muscle memory for speaking English. What we call the “physical aspect” of fluency. That is, learning to make your mouth and your tongue and your muscles move right to articulate English correctly.
If you have problems articulating English properly (as “chunks” of language, because that’s how native speakers really pronounce English) then yes, shadowing is an excellent exercise to use. As long as you are using it correctly, of course, and I’ll come to that in a second.
If you’ve got other problems in English it won’t help at all.
For example, if you know all the English that you need, but you can’t use it in a well-organised way, that’s something different. Or, if you haven’t actually learned the stuff that you need in the first place, that’s something different. Shadowing may have some small benefits. But getting good at these things is not what it excels at.
Trying to use shadowing for things like this is essentially like saying, “Okay, I have no muscles in my arms, so I’m going to go to the gym and do loads of squats.” It’s the wrong exercise for the job. If you’ve got a problem with your arms being too skinny, then you need to do exercises that are specific to your arms — not squats.
This sounds obvious.
But it’s what a lot of people are doing with shadowing.
So will it improve your English?
If shadowing is targeting the exact problems you personally have.
Now, the other problem is this:
A lot of people are not doing shadowing correctly. Often what people are doing is just speeding up speaking in a word by word way, which is not what shadowing is good for. Shadowing again is good for learning muscle memory. For learning to articulate English properly. Learning to chunk your language well in speech. To put the pauses in the right places, to learn the right kind of intonation… and all that good stuff.
Because so many people have this problem, what I did is I put together a free guide, called “The Good Shadowing Guide”. You can get it (for free) by going here:
Dr Julian Northbrook