You want to improve your English speaking skills, but you don’t have any native speaking friends around. You wish you were speaking to a real person, but instead you just flip through a vocabulary book.
We all heard the common advice on learning the second language.
“Imitate the native speakers.”
But what if:
- You don’t have any native speaking friends.
- You are too busy to go to a language institute
- You just need to practice your speaking skills for a specific occasion – an interview, negotiation, or presentation – but you do not need it on a daily basis.
You can improve your English speaking skills, even when you are practicing alone.
Yes, there are Skype lessons and that’s one option. But there is a practice method that interpreters use to acquire native speakers’ accent and intonation.
It's called, shadowing.
Shadowing is when you listen to a speaker and repeat exactly what he or she said. For example, you find one of Steve Job’s presentations on Youtube, and you can repeat after him as you listen to his speech simultaneously, or a phrase by phrase.
But if you just repeat without paying attention to your diction, it’s not going to be as effective.
That’s why I adapted and devised the Shadowing SOG Technique, so that you can truly hone your skills and get the native speaker’s accent and intonation.
The letters SOG stand for sound, one at a time, and guess. S-O-G. It’s a framework you need to use to effectively monitor your shadowing process. Each one of these has a specific training goal, and I’ll explain what they are and what they stand for.
Watch the video in Korean!
S – SOUND FIRST – FOCUS, AND MIMIC EXACTLY WHAT YOU HEAR
The first goal of shadowing is to be able to mimic the intonation. You are training your ability to perceive and reproduce the same sound and melody of the English language.
When you learn to play music on an instrument, such as violin, playing the right notes is not enough. You also have to connect each note and play them smoothly, just like your teacher.
Learning English through mimicry is the same concept. Notice where the speaker puts the emphasis, and where she pauses. Where does the sentence rise in pitch? When does it go lower? How about the rhythm? When does the speaker rush through a sentence, and where does the speaker slow down? You’ll discover the speaker’s speech pattern.
Before you start to analyze the meaning of each word, start with a focus on the sound. If you need to, it’s ok to start and stop the Youtube video or the audio player to double check whether you've heard the audio correctly. It'll be challenging at first, but over time you'll get the gist of it.
O – ONE PHRASE AT A TIME – DON'T RUSH IT
After you go through several iterations of this practice, you can then focus on comprehension and learning the words the speaker uses. Here comes the O part of the shadowing SOG technique. The letter O stands for one phrase at a time.
You will play the video or the audio, hear a phrase or sentence, pause the player, and repeat the phrase or sentence out loud.
On the surface, you might be doing the exact same thing you were doing in the first step. But instead of focusing on the sound this time, you are focusing on your comprehension, memorizing a chunk of words and phrases with their meanings in mind, and adding them to your active vocabulary set.
In the second step, you want to understand, say the longer sentences, and memorize them.
Memorizing and saying phrases once or twice won’t be enough for you to make them a part of your active vocabulary set. You need to do kind of practice periodically so that it will engrain these phrases in your memory. You will then be able to recall and use them in your conversations later. You will also feel more confident when you are able to speak in longer, well-structured sentences.
You don’t have to go through the entire 20 minute Steve Job speech in one setting. Break down the speech in smaller segments, and practice one at a time.
G – GUESS, SPEAK, AND COMPARE
If you’ve come this far, give yourself a pat on the back! I'm about to show you an advanced technique. The letter G stands for guess, speak, and compare. You are going to test how quickly you can create a sentence based on the presented context.
Play, and pause the speech. Guess what the speaker will say next. Say it out loud, and then playback the speech. Compare what you just said with what the speaker actually says. Ask yourself these questions:
- How accurately did I guess? Where did I make the error? Was it prepositions, tenses or articles?
- Did I say what's appropriate in this context?
- If I was completely off, where did I go wrong? Did I misunderstand the context of the speech, or did I not know certain words?
Act like the speaker in the video, and try to think and speak from the speaker’s point of view. If you guessed them accurately most of the time, congratulations! You have almost memorized the speech.
Even if your guesses weren’t correct, you can at least say things that make sense in the situation. You can then improve your responsiveness, spontaneity, and the ability to construct a well-thought sentence quickly.
WHICH VIDEO TO PRACTICE WITH?
There are many Youtube videos to choose from. It’s important to note that there are many different formats, and each may serve you a different purpose and a result.
Speeches – Useful if you want to learn the presentation skills, appear confident, and become used to speaking in front of a large audience. Try presidents, CEOs, and speakers from TED talks. Some of my recommendations are here.
How-To Videos – Learning from How-To videos are more practical than speeches. In How-To videos, you instruct, or describe a process. I'm sure you already do that to your friends and coworkers in your daily life. Watch how tennis coaches, chefs, and excel experts teach you how they do what they do.
Interviews and Dialogues – These are also great. You don't get much chance to give a speech to a large audience, but you do talk one on one every day. Watching how people respond to interview questions and how they react in a dialogue will help you get a grasp of real spoken English.
Songs – Some students reported improvements in their accent by learning songs.
Don't wait, and start practicing now.