Have you ever heard of the language learning technique called “shadowing” before? As it turns out, there is a book and CD combination that is designed to help people improve their Japanese. Today I’d like to share my Shadowing Let’s Speak Japanese review.
First let me talk about how “shadowing” works so that you can understand exactly what the technique is and how to correctly do it.
Then I’ll move on to talk more specifically about the book and CD, its contents, and any other pertinent information.
What Is Shadowing?
Shadowing is a form of language training. Here’s how it works:
You listen to someone speaking and then you repeat exactly what they said, exactly how they said it, as soon as you can.
What this means is that you will be listening and speaking nearly simultaneously. It won’t be a perfect match since you have to first listen to what they are saying, and then say it yourself, but the point is that you will be speaking at the same time as them.
This method was originally invented to help people perform simultaneously interpretation. That’s where they listen to someone speaking one language (such as Japanese) and then they translate it and speak it in another language (like English).
This is a pretty common thing to do when there is a global conference and a speaker is giving a presentation. The interpreters are usually in a room somewhere listening to the speaker with their headphones, and then doing this near instant interpretation into a microphone that other people are listening to.
So the first thing to keep in mind is that if you desire to one day be an interpreter, then this training is perfect for you.
But what if you don’t plan on doing that as a career? Well as it turns out, this type of training has practical results that are also beneficial to students of the Japanese language.
How To Use This Book & CD
This book was actually created for students who want to improve their Japanese. The shadowing technique is uniquely suitable for helping people improve their spoken pronunciation and their ability to speak the language fluently.
In other words, by listening to natives and then mimicking them, you train your brain to reproduce the same material in the exact same manner, and also in the exact same situations.
Because of this, it’s important to understand the words and message being said, but that’s something that I will talk about more in the next section of this post. For now, let me talk a little more about how to use this book and CD combination.
The first thing you’ll want to do once you get a hold of a copy is to read through the introduction. It explains a lot of the things that I’ve already talked about, but it also provides a lot more in-depth information.
For example, there are actually five different types of shadowing!
The earlier ones are intended for beginners to utilize so that they can begin getting used to this method. As you continue using it and improve your abilities, you can move on to the more advanced types of shadowing that are harder, but produce better results.
Something else that this book mentions is that shadowing is a very intensive process (I can attest to this) and you should only be doing it for 10-minutes each day so that you don’t ever exert your brain.
What this means is that shadowing is a good supplement to your study time, but it probably shouldn’t be the only thing that you do. I recommend combining it with a lot of listening and reading, or learning new kanji, and so on
At any rate, as you can see from the picture above, the Japanese is all on the left side and the translations are on the right. I would recommend that you read the English sentences first so that you know what the context is about before jumping into the Japanese.
Keep in mind that these translations are “natural translations” which means that it’s not an exact equivalent between the two languages, but rather it aims to provide the same message.
After that, I think it’s best to read through the Japanese and focus on comprehension. It’s also a good idea to try saying the sentence a couple of times so that you can begin to warm up your mouth muscles before getting to the shadowing part.
Then once you have done those two steps for all of the sentences on the page, I would recommend that you start your 10-minute shadow session using whichever of the five levels of shadowing is most appropriate for you.
Then when ever you are done and have some free time to work on listening comprehension, such as in your car, when you’re cleaning the house, or working out at the gym, you can pop the CD in (or mp3) and listen to the dialog.
This will allow you to continue hearing how these words and sentences are supposed to sound, which will help you later when you try to say them yourself.
Difficulty Level & Content
There are a total of three shadowing books. This first one (the green one) is designed for beginners to intermediate level students.
This is the one that I’ve been talking about in this post, but I just wanted to let you know that there are others out there as well.
Getting back to the point at hand, this first book on shadowing is broken down into five units as follows:
- 0-250 hours
- 200-500 hours
- 400-650 hours
- 650+ hours
- 650+ hours
You will notice a couple of things from these numbers. The first is that you can work on multiple levels concurrently. Meaning once you have about 200 hours of studying Japanese you can do both Unit-1 and Unit-2.
Second, you will notice that the fourth and fifth unit recommend the same amount of hours before diving into them. The only difference between these two units are that the dialog in Unit-5 are longer than the ones in Unit-4.
Another thing that stands out is that difficulty level. This isn’t really something that you should be doing a lot of when you are first starting out with Japanese.
Rather, when you get to the point where you want to focus on speaking smoothly and easily, and also sounding like natives do, then you can add this into your daily practice.
As a side note, there are a lot of kanji used throughout the book, but the first couple of units also provide furigana so that you can read them easily.
At the higher levels however, you’re expected to know the readings of the most common kanji, so you’ll be on your own.
As for the content of the book, everything centers around a two-person conversation (one male, one female) about the following topics:
- Greetings and short conversations
- Seasons greetings and slightly longer expressions
- More natural conversations and witty responses
- Expressing feelings and physical states
- Reasonable long conversations and practical expressions
I calculated up how many sentences there were one time, and it was almost 1,000. So, this one book ought to keep you busy for quite a while.
Once you’ve completed it however, you can move on to the next one (it’s blue this time) that focus on a lot of other situations such as family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, customers, etc.
There is also a third book (it’s white and orange) that is intended to help people during interviews for both school and job applications.
Unique Things In The Book
There’s not a whole lot left to talk about, but there were a few things I wanted to mention.
The first is that each unit has cultural insights on words and phrases that help you to sound more natural when speaking to Japanese people.
Sometimes this is by using slang, but a lot of times is just has to do with common expressions that Japanese people use, or communication methods that are different from Western culture (I.e. saying something is “difficult” when in reality they are saying “no” to an invitation).
It should also be said that this book has a strictly conversational focus. If you’re wanting to learn how to read Japanese, then this isn’t really a good tool for that.
However, if you’re trying to become really good at speaking Japanese, then it can be invaluable.
Finally, this book is actually multilingual!
The main language is Japanese, but there are three translations on the right-hand pages:
This might be irrelevant for the majority of you, but if your native language happens to be Chinese or Korean then it will be a big help for you when it comes to understanding the Japanese.
It could also be useful if you’re a polyglot who knows those languages.
My Opinion On It
I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone who has read this far that I really like this book (and CD too!).
I can’t recommend it enough as it has helped me to speak Japanese more confidently, more fluently, and a lot more naturally than I used to.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments about it, and I will be more than happy to reply. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese:
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31 thoughts on “Shadowing Let’s Speak Japanese Review”
thank you for all your efforts
Very useful and interesting. Thank you
I’ve tried shadowing before, but I kept getting lost while the other person was talking. It seems like it might be easier for short sentences, but once they get into long sentences it becomes really difficult. Any advice on overcoming that?
Yeah, you’re totally right about it getting harder the longer each sentence gets. I would advise that you take a step-by-step approach with Shadowing where you focus on short sentences until you feel like you’ve mastered them and then you move up to slightly longer ones.
If you can take an approach like this, then you shouldn’t ever feel like it’s too much for you. Rather you will feel like you can nail it with just a little more practice.
This book in particular is wonderful for a graded increase in difficultly like this. If you just grab random people talking as your material, then it will tend to be more hit and miss.
That’s one of the primary advantages that learning books (or courses) have. The fact that it starts slow, goes up to medium, and then ends with the hardest stuff. It’s a great way to feel like you’re making progress with what you’re using to learn Japanese.
This way of learning language looks like it really can work, I guess it is just hard work anyway. I am interested in Asian languages, especially Chinese. Although I do not think that I will ever visit the beautiful and wealthy country, but I would still like to learn enough to be able to read descriptions of China-made products. Sometimes when goods come directly from China, you can find English or Russian which I speak fluently. My question is, is it a good tool and how long does it take to reach some progress? Thanks.
The thing I’ve noticed about most language books is that, they actually have thousands of words and phrases in them. So there’s usually not a problem when it comes to finding a wealth of information.
The two questions are really, (1) – does this particular book present all of that information in a way that is easy to take in, and (2) – will you put in the necessary work to copy the information from the pages onto your brain.
I can say that this shadowing book does a great job on #1 and giving you a format that is efficient at moving the information from the book and into your memory. It is hard at first, but becomes easy as you practice repeatedly (like most things).
But the greatest techniques won’t do squat if you don’t apply them day in and day out.
So the sort answer (a little late, I know!) is that this technique works, if you do.
As for how long it take to see progress, I would say you’ll start seeing some good results after a few hours of using it, and you’ll get a nice compound effect after a couple dozen. The Shadowing Technique is one of those unfair advantages because at some point, the results start to outstrip the work put into it.
Great article! I know someone who used this method and said it’s the way to go. I am a teacher and understand the benefits of such a technique. I am looking into teaching English to Chinese students virtually. I do not know enough about it yet but hope they use some form of shadowing. Katherine
Yeah, I think one of the reasons it works so well is because it forces you to actually use the language, instead of trying to get you to understand how the language works.
As a teacher, you kind of have to know both ways. But if you’re a student, then gaining a functional use of the language is much more beneficial than just an “understanding” of it.
That might sound a little weird, but it’s kind of like the kid who can speak fluently, but doesn’t know anything about grammar, vs. the student who can explain proper conjugation, but can’t hold a five minute conversation.
One of the common things I hear about Shadowing is that it’s hard, and that’s definitely true when you get started with it, but anyone who has stuck with it can attest to the results. They’re good!
Shadowing is definitely the way to go. I have talked to others that have used that technique and say it’s amazing. Looking to teaching Chinese students English, I am not sure exactly how it will work, but it will be interesting to see if they can use a form of shadowing. Do you know if they use it with other languages than Asian ones? Katherine
Yeah, so I’m not really sure if there are any books or programs that are dedicated to shadowing with languages other than Japanese. Probably because I haven’t really looked for any, but I’d be willing to guess that they do exist.
Since “Shadowing” itself is a technique, you can do it with any language as long as you’ve got some kind of audio material that the student can listen to and follow along with.
I mean, even English people do it with English when they want to mimic an accent or do impersonations.
So even if you are unable to find a good book on Shadowing for the language you want to teach, you can still do it. You’ll just have to do a little additional work setting everything up so that the student can learn using it.
Very interesting! I’m actually thinking about what language to learn next and Japanese is quite high on my list. I have considered Chinese but there’s something about Japanese which makes it more attractive.
Your post may well have made up my mind for me and I’ll apply this shadowing tactic that you explain so well. Thanks for the post!
Yeah, I know what you mean. I always thought that as Asian language would be a cool one when I was a kid. I almost went with Chinese because of all the kung-fu movies that I loved to watch. But in the end Japanese won out due to the anime, manga, and video games.
If you are brand new, then the shadowing technique might seem a little hard at first, but stick with it and you will quickly get the hang of it. It’s great since it not only allows you to listen to the native sounds of the language, but it also gets you speaking and using Japanese from day one!
That’s really powerful when you consider how long it typically takes students in a classroom to start talking and regularly using Japanese when they are in the process of learning it.
Amazing review, Nick! As a translator/teacher, I’m always interested in learning a new language. However, I have to admit that many online tools, apps and websites are simply not worth it, as they teach you a language in the traditional way, where no new methods are introduced to a learner. Therefore, it’s really hard to memorize things you would be able to do so instantly if you had a good tool. So, I’ve been trying to find the Japanese online course that would suit me, but no success. Now I’ll definitely give it a try! Thank you!
Hey Meena, it’s true that there is a lot of low quality programs and apps out there that try to teach Japanese. It’s kind of crazy that only 10 or 20 years ago there was almost nothing, and now you can find a million different things with just the click on a button!
I think that nowadays is probably the best time ever to learn a language, and Japanese in particular 😉 since you can find some amazing methods for learning it. But, you gotta know what’s good and be able to separate it from what’s crap.
That’s actually one of the reasons why I started this site. To share my thoughts and experiences with all of the different courses, books, and apps that I’ve tried so that people can focus their time and energy on the really great stuff that works, and avoid wasting time and money on the stuff that primarily fluff.
The concept of Shadowing has always been around (it’s an oldie, but a goodie) but this particular book was specially designed to teach you Japanese through using it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about learning Japanese!
Nick, I love the idea of speaking and using dialogue right away. As an ESL teacher in Costa Rica, I encourage the immediate use of dialogue for my students.
I’m curious about the reading comprehension portion. Most of my students are familiar with the Latin alphabet. So, reading and writing issues are minimal. What advice would you give to a beginner if they are having problems with decoding Hiragana, Kanji, and Katakana?
Yeah, I think that speaking the language from day one really helps with the whole learning process since it requires total involvement and participation on the part of the student.
As for understanding the written part of Japanese, I would encourage people to just focus on learning the first writing system of Hiragana.
I’ve written on how you can learn all of it in just a few days in this step by step guide.
Once you’ve gotten Hiragana down, you can move on to Katakana whenever you please. There’s really no rush as long as you’ve got Hiragana memorized because you can start reading most beginner Japanese stuff with just the first writing system.
Kanji it an entirely another beast since there’s thousands of characters, so just learning a few of them a day is a good plan so that at the end of the year you will have learned them all.
Well now I can, thanks to you and Shadowing! 🙂
That’s awesome man – I’m glad I could help!
Amazing Review Nick! The shadowing book and CD combo actually works on the principle of listen and learn. I like how this book and CD works. Like you said, first lift the heavier products and later, get so used to it that them seem lighter than before. I myself always thought of Japanese as a very tough language, which is why I was never good at learning it.
Thanks Fred, I’m glad you liked it! And yeah, it is all about listening first, and then from there repeating it and learning the language.
This is pretty much how children learn languages naturally. And not just their first language, but also when a child learns several languages at once. I believe that the official name for this technique is called “mimicking.”
I think that adults don’t like to use this method because there’s a lot of feeling foolish at first. Most of the time, people who have gone through school want to learn a language the same way that they learned things like history or math – by reading it, understanding it, and then remembering it.
But learning a language is much more like learning how to ride a bike – you actually have to DO IT over and over again in order to get any better at it!
It’s a very interesting article about this new and successful method of learning Japanese. I like the product, too. I’m sure that this book would help many people learn Japanese. I agree with all your points and mentioned techniques of learning. I know very well all the difficulties, but also the beauty of learning new languages – because I personally speak three foreign languages. My learning was based on similar principles as in shadowing. So, this mentioned method – shadowing, could be easily applied on learning any other language, too. Thank you for the excellent review!
Hey Vesna, that’s pretty cool that you’ve used similar methods to learn three foreign languages!
Yeah, the techniques (and a lot of the products) that I talk about here on JT could easily be applied to any other language. Which is pretty cool since you can then repeat what’s worked for you when you want to start learning something new!
Shadowing is something that very few people know about, and even less talk about it, so I’m glad that I’ve got a platform where I can share what I know and talk about it with others. Thanks!
I think this is a possible good way to learn. My experience in trying to learn years ago in a classroom was a nightmare to me. This approach seemed to be a little bit more comprehensible than the way I was being taught years ago.
Yeah, I think that one of the problems with most classrooms is that they teach a lot ABOUT the language, like the grammar rules and how to spell words, but they don’t have the students actually using the language enough.
At least, that was my experience of language learning in college. Something like The Shadowing Technique is so great because it really forces you to speak the language and you therefore get really good at using it.
Hi thanks for providing your thoughts on this! I’ve never heard of shadowing before, but it sounds pretty unique. I was really looking to learn Japanese as the language is getting really popular nowadays. Just go to any anime convention to see what I mean.
Oh yeah, I hear you on that one! I went to a convention a little while ago and it seemed like people were throwing Senpai and Kawaii all over the place!
Then at one point people started a conversation about all the different ways to talk about oppai! WHAAAAATTTT!?!?!?
But yeah, I think I read that at anytime there’s at least 3 million people studying Japanese, so it’s not hard to find other people who share that passion! And some people find different ways to be easier for them personally.
That’s why I like to do a lot of different reviews. Maybe you’ll find one that resonates with you and works out well. That’s my goal at least!
Very interesting product. I was always curious about Japanese as a language, but found it to be quite difficult. I used to watch Anime that were mostly in Japanese, so I relied a lot on the subtitles. It was very difficult because I couldn’t relate to any of the sounds and pronunciations. For languages like this, it is good to have something that could take you step by step. Thanks a lot for this review!
Hey Dira, yeah I can totally relate to what you mean. Back before I had learned any Japanese at all, watching Japanese anime with subtitles wasn’t all that great. Mainly because I had to watch the screen AND read the SUBs.
But the really interesting thing is that as you learn more and more Japanese, you start recognizing words and phrases that the charters are saying. Even if you only spent a few minutes learning Japanese, you would be surprised how often you then notice those exact words in the shows!
I guess that’s a pretty normal thing for people who are studying Japanese, but it really makes you feel awesome when you know what the characters meant in their dialog just by hearing it, and not by reading the SUBs.
Quite an interesting product and system! Makes sense when you explain it the way you did. I tried learning Japanese with Rosetta Stone and it was just way too academic. it took me too long to grasp the language. I also did Pimsleur German which was alot more successful and similar to this shadowing technique, but not exactly that. Shadowing sounds like it could be an effective learning method. I think I’ll give this a try in Japanese
Hey Pat, yeah I’ve also used Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur before, both for Japanese. Rosetta Stone is okay, but there are a lot of reasons why I don’t think it’s really as good as they are advertised as being.
What I like about Pimsleur is that they have you speaking and using dialogue right from the start. That’s a super useful way to actually learn how to speak the language!
Shadowing just takes it to the next level above Pimsleur. It is harder since it goes a lot faster, but as long as you are able to stick with it the results are fantastic!