Update - I had a student ask me about echoing, "David, how do I know if I am doing it right?" So I made this recording for you to listen to.
This 8-minute recording gives you my greatest secret for becoming fluent : What echoing sounds like
-By David Tolman
When learning a new language, I enjoy trying to
"echo" recordings of native speakers.
Echoing is repeating everything that's being said
on the recording. It's kind of like singing along to your favorite radio
tune. You get better and better at matching the rhythm and voice of the
Echoing does not involve memorization.
You don't say what the speaker says at the exact same time he or she says
it. Instead, you echo the
speaker; you say everything you hear as you hear it. You'll find that the
more you practice, the more you will hear.
If you're new to the language, you will not be
able to echo a recording of a native speaker right away. It may take you a
few weeks of listening to the material before you can speak along with it.
Here are the stages:
Stage 1. Listen while following along in the
This is the only step that resembles homework. Learn to match what the
speaker is saying with what is written in the text. You are learning to
understand the spoken language.
Stage 2. Listen to the recording without
reading along in the transcription.
Here, you are learning to better understand the speaker. By listening
again and again, you accomplish two things: 1) You continue to let the rhythm of
the language sink into your subconscious; and 2) You work on your vocabulary by
trying to understand what is said and by periodically looking back to the text
for help. Move to the next stage ASAP.
Stage 3. Echo the speakers on the recording.
Echoing is the active mimicking of the native speaker; it will help you "mould
your ear" to the new language.
The only problem with "echoing" is that it requires
speaking out loud. You must find a place where you can spend 20 to 30
uninterrupted minutes at a time echoing out loud. You must speak out loud for two
reasons: 1) to keep your mind from
wandering, as it would if you were just listening, and 2) so that the language-processing part of your brain can help you
mould your speech to sounds on the recording. Specifically, you need to
think of your ear as a "feedback mechanism" in the language processing
loop. If you don't speak out loud, your ear can't give you any feedback as
to how well you are mimicking the new language. Echoing native speakers
helps you retrain your ears, which up until now have been adapted to
"hear," to "look for" English sounds.
"So why," you may ask, "must I spend at least 20
minutes at a time echoing?" Well, I recommend that amount of time
because, for me, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes of hearing nothing but another
language for my mind to completely switch over to that language.
You can continue echoing the same recording daily for many
weeks. Unless you already speak like a native, you will continue
to learn from echoing the same material.
I used to have a 30-minute ride to work. I would echo
recordings of French radio that I had brought back with me from France. I
was alone, so I could speak out loud and just revel in the purity of the
language. You'll find that echoing is a lot of fun.
If echoing seems hard, remember, languages
are like oral gymnastics. You are using your tongue, lips, and
vocal cords in new ways to make new combinations of sounds. It takes time
and lots of repetition to get better. Just keep at it!
An update to this article: I wrote this article back when I lived in the US. I now live in France and I still echo old recordings of our "Listen and Repeat" CDs. Each morning on my way to work (with my 20 French-speaking co-workers) I listen to the Listen and Repeat CDs. In this way, I give my accent a little tune up each morning.
Related article: listening for sound vs. listening for meaning.