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Shadowing demonstration video

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 6050 days ago

209 posts - 220 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Italian, Dutch, Greek

 Message 25 of 56
04 June 2008 at 5:50am | IP Logged 
Rollo the Cat wrote:
In America, walking rapidly and talking to yourself is as certain an indicator of mental instability as it is in England.
Or maybe I should say, it was. Now, people have bluetooth devices and headsets for their cellphones and walk
around the streets or malls seemingly chattering to themselves. If anyone asks, just pretend you are talking to your
girlfriend in Chile, perhaps.

Dear Mr Terson,

Many thanks for this suggestion. I accept that it may, to some extent, be a useful and effective subterfuge. However, I see two potential problems with this:

1.) I remain unconvinced as to whether those learners who have really perfected the technique of shadowing could credibly claim to be engaged in a cellphone conversation. Consider, for example, the video which the good professor has posted at the beginning of this thread: it seems dubious to me whether any person of average intelligence could be persuaded that he is speaking to a friend in China in this said video. (But perhaps you would disagree with me on this?)

2.) I strongly suspect that most bystanders will not, in actual fact, ask a 'shadower' to explain what he or she is doing; rather they will form a silent opinion.
Again, I will accept that there may be differences in this regard between the United States and other parts of the English speaking world. In England, at any rate, it is very unlikely that a person perceived to be (if you will forgive a vulgar turn of phrase) 'a nutcase' would be approached and engaged in conversation!

--Jon Burgess

Edited by JonB on 04 June 2008 at 7:14am

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Rollo the Cat
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Russian, Ancient Greek

 Message 26 of 56
04 June 2008 at 9:26am | IP Logged 
Jon Burgess,

When people see or hear someone talking to no one in particular, they automatically assume they are talking on the
phone. Unless someone has the appearance of a homeless person, the assumption is strong and automatic. I pass
by people in the park every day who are alone and talking out loud. If you were shadowing in English, then the
whole thing might sound strange. But as long as there are no speakers of your target language within ear shot, you
won't arouse much suspicion.

Now you might annoy people, people like me in fact, who don't approve of the use of cell phones in public and
who resent even more people who use the headsets to converse while they talk. I find it anti social and rude.

I haven't been to the UK so I can't compare the two societies.
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 6050 days ago

209 posts - 220 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Italian, Dutch, Greek

 Message 27 of 56
04 June 2008 at 10:20am | IP Logged 
Dear Mr Terson,

What you say is most interesting. In the light thereof, I am increasingly inclined to think that there may, in point of fact, be some rather fascinating distinctions between the public behavioural norms in our respective countries.

I find it surprising (yet, in a way, rather refreshing) to think that a person marching in a wide circle, bolt upright and at high speed, while repeating staccato bursts of foreign language, would be considered entirely unexceptional within an American public context. This is doubtlessly a positive mark of a greater tolerance towards others on the part of most Americans.

As regards my own country, I must continue to concur entirely with Mr Walshy, whom I have quoted above in an earlier post. (I understand that this gentleman is an Australian - which would indicate that Australia correlates with England rather than with the United States in this regard.)

--Jon Burgess
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Rollo the Cat
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, Russian, Ancient Greek

 Message 28 of 56
04 June 2008 at 11:08am | IP Logged 
Mr. Burgess:

Marching in a wide circle wasn't what I envisioned. But walking along a sidewalk or normal pedestrian pathway is.
I think in the demonstration video, the Professor was walking back and forth for the sake of the camera. Yes,
marching around in a circle, by yourself, in public, might get you some strange looks with or without the

Rollo Terson
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United States
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 Message 29 of 56
10 June 2008 at 8:13am | IP Logged 
Mr. Burgess and Mr. Terson:

When the weather is inclement, then you may indeed find it profitable to shadow on an exercise bike, a treadmill, or simply walking indoors. If you wish to use this technique with full efficacy, however, you must do it outdoors. This generally means having recourse to a park, which means, of course, that you will probably be observed by others. As I have written before, there are some actual benefits of this, but it is certainly preferable to have your privacy. When some pedagogically minded philanthropists decide to furnish me with funds for the construction of a campus for the Academy of Polyglottery, I will certainly advertise for a Fredrick Olmsted to design designated Shadowing Grounds and Cloistered Walkways. In the meantime, try doing it in the early morning hours, when anyone else you meet is likely to be engaged in some other form of exercise and thus be more understanding than larger groups of people lolling about in the afternoon sun.

Alexander Arguelles
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Senior Member
United States
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 Message 30 of 56
26 September 2008 at 2:41am | IP Logged 
This is utterly fascinating to me. Had the idea of shadowing been introduced to me in
any other context than of having read of it from such an accomplished polyglot as the
good Professor Arguelles himself, I would be beyond disinclined to attempt it to such
a degree that I expect I'd dismiss it as utterly preposterous and snicker at the
person advocating it. The only time I have observed remotely similar behavior was when
I happened to stroll around a Chinese university campus during the early morning hours
and witnessed a great number of students reading their English study books aloud. I
laughed at them—supposing that there was no legitimate basis whatsoever for doing
this, and that they were probably just copying someone who copied someone who copied
someone all the way back to a person who had started the practice without justifiable
reason of any sort.

The reason I have gone into such detail about my initial misgivings is that I think if
the method is truly as efficacious as you claim, there are two big obstacles I see in
getting people to give it a shot:

(1) It must be endorsed specifically as a method which has been employed extensively
by a masterful polyglot in order to develop a certain and substantial part of his
ability in several languages. If someone who had learned only a few languages tried to
convince me to try shadowing, I'd likely still dismiss it as a mere eccentricity or
personal superstition and just assume the actual acquisition of the languages was
primarily a result of other activities. It is only the sheer number of languages that
you speak and have studied that convinces me that shadowing is not an incidental waste
of time that you did "in addition" to learning the language in some other manner.

I hope anyone else who has used this technique to good effect will report back to us
and strengthen the case for this technique as an actual primary means of establishing
one's grounding in a language.

While point one is well covered by the Professor throwing his weight behind shadowing,
my second point has, to the best of my knowledge, not yet been sufficiently addressed:

(2) The actual effects of the technique should be documented in greater detail. For as
much as the Professor has provided us with a detailed look at the technique, I do not
recall seeing him make any references to the actual tangible effects. If you have used
this technique and a number of others and can specifically articulate which actual
language use skills shadowing has contributed to as well as how the efficiency and
quality of said gains compares with other techniques, please do so!

An example of what I am talking about is empirical statements like:
X I was able to understand all the words introduced in a new dialog in new or
different contexts much more efficiently than if I had used flashcards/SRS software.
X Once I was able to mirror an entire Assimil course in X language, with no further
grammar book or traditional book studying I was able to hold a fluent conversation
within the limits of the vocabulary covered in the book, and with less trouble
recalling low frequency words than flashcards.
X I had expected to gain nothing but the ability but to recite some dialogs from
memory. In actuality I found I could productively make new sentences of my own after
having shadowed two or three variations of the same theme.

The reason that I'm requesting that something like the above be documented is that the
entire idea of shadowing and scriptorium has thrown my conception of language
acquisition on its head. I previously considered it absurdly wasteful to 'repeat' or
'reread' anything which one was already able to decipher with mild effort aside from
individual words or short phrases. Scriptorium also goes completely against my
conception of learning, as I had always presumed anything I don't put on a
flashcard/software is going to be forgotten in short order. (And for me, that has been
the case.) I thought the most efficient program on earth would be roughly something
like this:

1. Learn pronunciation principles by going through a word list + tape having words
which cover all unique syllable sounds in the language. Get a native to correct you
after you are confident in reading one word at a time. Don't repeat stuff you already
got right—just hunt down specific problematic sounds.
2. Use spaced repetition software to memorize 2,000 basic words from a basic text with
maximal efficiency. Do this in a short time to assure your "English" translation
impression of these words doesn't sink in before you see them in a real sentence.
3. Work through a textbook (you should already know all the vocab) by reading the
dialogs and making note of any sentences which are contrary to the impression 90% of
the sentences give you about the basic style of the grammar. Any grammar rules you
think cannot possibly be impressed upon you through reading extensively can be thrown
into the SRS software, but not too many.
4A. Find authentic listening material and play/pause/play pause as much as necessary
and look up stuff in the dictionary as you need until you can get every word.
4B. Memorize 6,000-10,000 words with SRS software rapidly (~3 months), then tear into
real books and read, read, read without looking stuff up.

As you can see all of these activities are "hard" mental work much more akin to
working through the problems in a physic text than is something like "mimicking a
tape" or "copying text and reading it as you copy". Also ~70% of the time is needed
just to keep the raw individual words in one's head. Your learning, as far as I've
seen, has no time at all invested specifically in memorizing words. That alone boggles
my mind and conception of how to tackle a new language.

Justin Wilson

Edited by parasitius on 26 September 2008 at 2:49am

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United States
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 Message 31 of 56
15 October 2008 at 7:08pm | IP Logged 
Mr. Wilson,

Thank you for your comments about the technique of shadowing and for your interest in stimulating the compilation of empirical documentation of its effectiveness. In point of fact, whenever I teach my methodological seminars, I in effect require each and every student to do just this by the keeping of an experimental log book. I introduce them to a variety of techniques (not just shadowing by any means!), and once they have demonstrated that they can do them properly, I encourage them to vary the procedures so as to discover what works best for their individual style of learning. So, some of these log books might be of interest to you or anyone else who cared to do some research in this area, although I must say that the typical college student is neither focused nor systematic enough to produce anything like scientific results. However, if I can ever get the more ideal circumstances of a dedicated intensive language learning center going, then I think that the logs of such students will routinely provide the kind of statements you would like to see.

In the meantime, as far as I myself am concerned, I will confirm that shadowing was not something incidental that I did “in addition” to learning the languages I know in some other manner, but that it was indeed my basic and fundamental means of getting a grounding in all the languages I taught myself in the period of about 1995-2000, when I entirely devoted my mental energies to wholesale language learning. On the basis of my own experimentation with more techniques that most people can probably even imagine wanting to imagine, I found that there was just nothing like it for building a relationship with a language, for planting solidly it in the terrain of my brain, as it were. In contrast, the type of “hard core serious” study you describe, which seems to center mainly around consciously memorizing words via SRS software, sounds both terribly unpleasant and terribly inefficient. Indeed, as you have noted, my style of learning involves no time at all invested in specifically memorizing words – and I do mean that most literally – as a linguistic autodidact, over the past 15 years, I have spent 0 hours and 0 minutes memorizing vocabulary.

The idea of both shadowing and scriptorium is not just rote or blind imitation, copying, and repetition, but rather consciously understanding and internalizing the global structure of a representative chunk of a language on a slightly deeper level each time you probe into it. If you try such techniques, you may just find that it is actually more difficult to do them properly than it is to do physics textbook type problems.

I am glad that your mind and conception of how to tackle a new language have been positively boggled – may I ask what languages you now intend pursue?

Yours with best wishes,

Alexander Arguelles

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Senior Member
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 Message 32 of 56
15 November 2008 at 11:39am | IP Logged 
Interesting points made here.

One thing I believe is that rote learning has it's place. Creative methods must go hand in hand with rote methods. For example: the memorization of poetry. I use repetition and mnemonics to memorize then try to understand it to see what it means to me. (I am not practicing this right now but it was effective.)

I am going to give shadowing Spanish an attempt this morning. Perhaps even have a go at Hungarian for the fun of it.


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