What is shadowing and how do you use it to improve your spoken English?  Get ready to have some fun playing with your face.

Do you know what I'm doing if I'm in my car between 9 and 10 am? I'm talking to myself in my best attempt at a British accent. Why am I doing this at such a specific time? Because that's when the BBC News Hour is on my local radio station. And that means play time for me.

You see,  the BBC News Hour has a lovely buffet of different British accents that allows me to get a flavor for how each one feels in my mouth.  Yes, feel is the operative word.  

As  correspondent Razia Iqbal discusses the latest headlines, I'm listening to her every word and parroting what she says a couple beats behind her, in my best attempt to copy her accent. I feel how the same words I say every day  are shaped differently by my lips and my jaw. I begin to feel patterns emerge that teach me, on a physical level, the differences between British and North American English.

This technique is a form of shadowing and it will help your spoken English.

Shadowing means that you use an audio model, in this case a news program, to repeat what someone says almost as soon as they say it. If it's done with intention, shadowing can be excellent practice for learning a new accent.

When, I'm driving in my car I can't repeat every word, I usually get the last few words in each sentence. But  in this video, I demonstrate how to use short audio clips to feel your way to better understanding a new accent:

 How to shadow any accent in 5 easy steps

Step 1:  Choose an audio clip with a speaker that sounds the way you want to sound (British?, American? Relaxed? Energetic?) **Download the guide for easy-to-find, free audio resources.

​Step 2: Choose one or two sentences from the clip and listen to it as many times as you need to until you remember what they said.

Step 3:  Speak along with the recording and try to imitate the accent as best as you can. You don't have to sound exactly like the person speaking. 

Step 4: As you shadow the recording, ​ pay attention to the movement of your lips, jaw and tongue. How are they moving differently than you're used to?  Which sounds feel the most different?

  • Are your lips more rounded or pulled back?
  • Does your jaw open wider or is it more closed?
  • Does your tongue touch a different spot on the roof of your mouth?
  • Does the sound resonate more in your throat or higher up in your face?

Step 5: Advance to the next couple of sentences in the recording and repeat. See if you begin to notice a pattern with certain types of sounds where your mouth feels particularly different. Think of other words that have that same sound and practice saying them with the same movements you did in the recording.

Download the FREE 8 Great Shadowing Resources guide.

Discover 8 fun and interesting resources for natural, conversational North American English.  

Start practicing your new accent today!









Learning a new accent should involve a lot of play.

Speaking is a physical act so have fun with it! Over exaggerate sounds while you practice, hold vowel sounds for as long as you can while you study what your mouth is doing to make that sound. Pay attention to how subtle changes to your lips, tongue and jaw can reshape a word. 

If you ever feel too silly while you practice a new way to speak English, think of me in my car carrying on entire conversations by myself, out loud in a half-baked British accent. I hope people think I'm talking on a speaker phone. Know that you are not alone and it's all for the sake of clear, confident English.

[Video] How to Improve Your Spoken English with Shadowing
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