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Learning French from a recording: Echoing

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 speaker.

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 transcription.
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.