Impersonation and language learning

Today’s post is about speaking, which is rare on my blog! What triggered it is this video I found on YouTube:

It was a commercial, and for once, I didn’t skip it after 5 seconds. This Korean guy learns English by doing impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from the series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

I always feel excited to see how many different approaches and methods people use to learn a language. I never used this one before, in any language that I have learned, but it looks fun and effective.

I have heard about the shadowing method too but never tried it myself. If I understood correctly, shadowing means that you speak a text together with the original audio (?). What I did do, however, is to listen to a dialogue and repeat it alone, trying to get as close as possible from the original.

What this guy does is a little different. He does not only learn the text by heart and repeat it at original speed, but he also tries to impersonate the character, like an actor. This means that you won’t just repeat the text like a robot, but try to play it, with the right tone, the emotions and even the facial expressions of the actor. I think that this slight difference plays a big role in the effectiveness of this method.

When you speak a foreign language, don’t you sometimes feel like you are acting, playing a role that is not really you? To be more precise, don’t you feel that you need to be acting in order to speak well? This is how I feel. Being just me, I would speak in an inaudible voice, mumbling grammar points and vocabulary and turn red at my accent. But if I tell myself that I am just an actor playing the role of an English native speaker (or any other language), I can get rid of my inhibition, or at least, a part of it.

Also, I think that impersonating a character you like is the best way to get a good intonation and speak like a native speaker. Maybe not as well as a native speaker (you might still have an accent), but with the mimics, the particularities of a native speaker. This is what Lindie Botes explains in her video (at 4:30):

Her imitation of French! Haha.

So if you want people to tell you that you speak like a native speaker, you need to imitate the native speakers’ mimics and intonation. But if you are inhibited like I am, it will be hard to do it. This is why impersonating film/series characters can be a good start. By practising this exercise over and over, it will certainly become easier and easier to speak like a native speaker.

Speaking is not my focus with Japanese right now, but I found the first video inspiring and motivating and it made me want to try the same with a Japanese movie. I am not aiming at perfection, and I don’t really want to improve my speaking, but I think it could be fun. Through it, you also learn vocabulary and practise grammar, and improve your listening too, so why not? Last but not least, it allows you to vary your language learning routine with a fun exercise that doesn’t feel like studying at all.