Okay, so you want to know how to learn to speak Japanese, right? Well let me ask you a few questions:
How would you like to “sound like a native” Japanese person? And how would you like to fully hear and understand every syllable that a Japanese person speaks when they are taking?
Most people would would agree that if they could do both of the above, it would improve their Japanese speaking and listening skills TREMENDOUSLY!
While having a slight accent isn’t really a bad thing, being able to correctly identify what the other person says is vital for good communication! And one of the best ways to improve your listening skills is to be able to produce those sounds yourself so that you can not only hear them, but feel them in your mouth as well.
So how can you so this? What is the best way? Well before I get to that, I’d like to show you a quote from the prolific author Buckminster Fuller:
If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.
Rather than focus on what you need to be thinking when you speak, and how you need to position your mouth when you pronounce Japanese words, it is far better to simply use a tool each day that will naturally produce the result of sounding like a native speaker when you use it.
And when your normal and natural way of speaking Japanese is like that of a native’s, then your ears will also have been trained to listen for those exact sounds. Especially the ones that are very similar to each other like the “shi” and “chi” sounds.
That brings us to this particular tool, also known as the Shadowing book.
What is the Shadowing Book?
The Shadowing book is a book and CD combination that was created by Hitosi Saitou. The book is written in four different languages! They are:
The primary focus of the book is to learn how to speak and hear Japanese words. As long as you can read and understand English, Chinese, or Korean then you can use this book. I assume that anyone reading this post understands English, so I’ll just leave it at that.
The book is broken into five units. Unit 1 is, of course, the easiest and as you progress though each new unit, it gets progressively more difficult.
Within each and every unit there are ten sections and each section has ten parts. Furthermore, each part consists of two-person dialogues as they talk back and forth to one another. Usually in a question/answer format. Here is a little example that I created to kind of show you what a typical conversation might look like:
Remember, this is just an example. The book actually has a lot more in it.
In the book, each section (remember there are ten per unit) has ten of these “two-person dialogues” on the whole left page. And the right page has the translations in English, Chinese, and Korean.
There is no Rōmaji in the written part of these dialogues. It is all written in full Japanese kanji (with furigana), hiragana, and katakana. So you can improve your reading comprehension as well if you like.
There is a short introduction at the beginning of the book that goes over things like “what is Shadowing? How should you use the book? How is this book outlaid?” and all of that. So you will want to go over that section first so that you can use the book and CD the way that they’re intended to be used.
Other than that, the rest of the book is full of Japanese conversations and their translations.
I looked through it, and the breakdown of it goes like this:
So as you can see from above, there is plenty of practice materiel for you to use – Almost a thousand sentences!!!
And seeing as how the later examples are tougher than the starting ones, you will have more than enough to work with in just this one book.
How and Why Does Shadowing Work?
If you’re not all that familiar with what the Shadowing Technique is, then let me take a minute to explain.
Basically how it works is that you first listen very carefully to what a Japanese person says, and then you immediately repeat exactly what they said, exactly the way that they said it.
You see, typically a person will listen to Japanese words and then try to repeat it using their own language’s normal way of pronouncing words. This is why you can recognize a Russian accent both when they speak English, and Japanese. That “Russian flavor” gets added on to each and every other language they speak (just an example).
But when you learn a language and try to say it exactly the way the native said it, you are not trying to recreate words, but rather you are trying to recreate sounds!
You see, by listening and then repeating what you hear at the same time, you are training the muscles in both your ears and mouth to take in and then spit out information that is entirely Japanese.
Normally you would:
- Hear it in Japanese –>
- Translate it into English –>
- Think of a response –>
- Translate that back into Japanese –>
- Say it in Japanese.
Do you see how long that process is? It’s no wonder people have a hard time actually speaking a new language!
Have you ever had the experience of understanding what someone said to you in Japanese, but you were unable to respond back to them in Japanese? That’s because hearing and understanding are right at the beginning of that whole process. By the time you get to the end with your response, you are typically lost!
So what’s the solution? Simple: take out the English part and keep it all in Japanese. See below:
Better way to use Japanese:
- Hear it in Japanese –>
- Think of a response –>
- Say it in Japanese.
And when you reach a high level at Japanese, you don’t even have to think of a response. It’s so normal and natural that you just 1) Hear it and then 2) Respond in Japanese. This is probably how you communicate in English right now. And this is the level of mastery that most people would consider “fluent” in any language.
This shorter process of “hearing and responding” is what the book trains you to do.
Remember that quote from earlier? Rather than “thinking” about this whole process, just use the “tool” of the Shadowing Technique to promote you automatically and naturally using this shorter and faster 2-step process of “hearing and responding” in Japanese.
My Personal Thoughts and Experiences On It
So now you know all about the book/CD combo and how it works. What do I think about it?
Well personally, I love it!
It’s one of the few Japanese books that comes with an audio accompaniment so that you can actually learn the correct pronunciation of Japanese words. I mean, you can figure out how to pronounce words from an explanation, but that will never be on the same level as hearing a native speak. Combine hearing a native with repeating it yourself, and you’ve got a winning combination!
Bottom line: I have it and use it myself, so that’s really the biggest endorsement that I can give it. It works for me and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t work for you too as long as you follow the program through to the end, and take the actions that it tells you to take.
But everyone is different, I understand that. What works for me, might not work the best for someone else. So you’ll have to be the final judge on that part of it.
The way I see it is that it’s so ridiculously cheep anyway, that there’s really no risk if you get it and end up not liking it too much.
But I digress.
Let me warn you though, that there are two things in it that might give you some trouble:
- The people speaking the dialog go really fast!
- Shadowing is hard when you first start off.
I believe that the reason the people speak so fast in the recording is to help you to practice at a level that is slightly higher than the speed at which normal people talk.
It’s kind of like when you are moving some really heavy objects around your house, and then after that you go to pick up something that you would normally consider to be heavy, but now it feels really light because you were just lifting other things that were much heaver.
Likewise, if you practice listening and speaking at a very high speed, then when you talk to normal people it will feel like it’s a very comfortable pace for you.
That’s also why students who practice Japanese slowly (so they can understand it) have a really hard time communicating with natives. It’s primarily a speed issue.
As for the second part, what can I say? It’s hard at first to do the Shadowing Technique. Most likely you’re not used to repeating after people before they’ve even finish speaking.
Just stick with it. It get’s a lot easier the more you do it.
Alright, let me wrap this up by highlighting the benefits and where you can pick up a copy if you’re interested.
What You Get and Where to Find It
Let’s say that you pick up a copy and then go through the book, along with the CD that it comes with. Here are the results:
Process Japanese at a Higher Pace
Practically Use and Apply the Learned Dialogues
Improved Intonation and Rhythm
Respond Promptly and Fluidly (muscle memory)
Learn New Kanji and Japanese Vocabulary
Learn Japanese Grammar Naturally
I got mine off of Amazon.com and you can find it there as well if you wish.
If that is something that you are interested in, then I highly encourage you to check it out. Like I said, I really like it and it’s one of the things that I advise other people to use as well when I’m asked.
I hope you got a lot out of this review! If you have any questions about it, or if you have any thoughts that you would like to share, please do so by leaving me a comment below! Thanks!