Elena Sokolova, November 24th 2020
I am pretty sure you have met adult learners who have mastered the Danish language and speak fluently or have a native-like proficiency. You may think, OK, they speak German or Norwegian as their mother tongue, so that’s not a problem to learn Danish. Or probably they are exposed to a lot of input at home or work, so they have quickly acquired flawless Danish. And you may be right in your assumption! It’s quite an obvious thing that the native language plays a huge role. But honestly speaking, from my teaching experience, I know how different the stories of successful Danish studies can be! I would bet no one who is now reading this blog post can say, the internal motivation is the last factor. The latter can even override the mentioned ‘native language advantage’ or input from a Danish ‘kæreste’.
To put it clearly, I am not claiming that the knowledge of vocabulary and grammar is not essential in the context of fluency. No doubt that you may only learn to speak fluently when you also can respond fast and adequate to your interlocutor. To do so, your vocabulary and structuring the language communicatively relevant should be at the place. Everything works in symbiosis, but should often be trained for itself when you are an adult learner.
When adult learners mean ‘fluency’, they forget to take into account pure articulatory and auditive abilities which they need to train. In this blog post, I am going to tell you about my personal experience with one technique, that helped me (and I know many other learners) in getting fluent and confident in speaking Danish.
I am not going to give you advice on how to improve your pronunciation, because that would be enough for a whole book. I will only focus on the articulatory training or even more neuro-linguistic one when your brain is trained to speak fluently! And I am only writing about what I have tried myself. So it’s not a retelling of a scientific paper. I fully understand, if someone may think it’s too hard a way to fluency, and there may be an easier way, or that it’s for the one for you. But I hope you get some inspiration at least.
To say in advance, I always believed that nothing comes from nothing, as my teachers of Danish said once. So you need to put effort into at least trying, but the result will not wait long. Imagine, if you learn to ride a bike - it will not drive you on its own, even if it’s an electric one, you need to train your brain to control it.
The secret technique, which may help any learner and what is most important at any level, is called shadowing. You do not need to have mastered a high level of Danish or passed PD3 with high grade to start practicing this technique every day or from time to time. I know some learners even started practicing it in their mother tongue. The best thing about shadowing is that it’s affordable for learners of all levels and will help you to boost your fluency at your level.
Shadowing is an advanced learning technique, often used to train simultaneous interpreters. They are unseen people sitting in small rooms with a pair of headsets on, doing conference interpreting simultaneously with a speaker with a dealy of some few seconds.
While shadowing, you listen to any text in your target language (Danish for Danish learners), and then speak it aloud at the same time as the native speaker. To make it clear, it’s not possible to talk at the same time, but if you have a delay of 3-5 seconds, then you are already a professional. So in case of a language learner, missed words and gaps is a usual thing.
I’ve been personally using the method during my training for a simultaneous interpreter. I remember I was sweating in the beginning mumbling and missing words passing unrepeated by my ears. But then I had a lot of fun and thrill in the process, talking on adrenalin so to say. It gave me a real boot in fluency.
To start shadowing, you’ll need an audio track of a text/dialogue in Danish suitable for your level of proficiency, that you can play from a phone/computer in the headphones. A text or a monologue is better to start training with.
The length can be different, depending on how far you are in the shadowing training, but 2 minutes will be more than enough, to begin with. So you can decide to play only a part of the track if the original audio is too long.
It’s not recommended to practice on poetry or songs!
It’s also an excellent idea to have an audio recording program so that you can record yourself, what you were repeating. You can then listen to yourself as many times, as many version you wish, to make improvements each time even on the same text.
So if you are a beginner/intermediate learner, it may even be a small text/dialogue from you study book, that you have already read and understood/discussed in class, and have a audio file for. That is to say - the native voicing for that. It may also be a new audio input, which you have not listened to before, but it must be suitable for your level.
You may have the text version of the audio, but it’s important not to look in the text while repeating. You can look before you start shadowing or reread it between your ‘shadowing trials’, when you feel that you have misunderstood something or did not catch some words.
It’s not cheating, if you think, that you have already read the text and know all the words in it - even better for you - there will be less stress and more confidence to start with.
Video input is not that suitable for shadowing unless you can turn the video off, simply because it’s too distracting. But when you have mastered the technique, it can be a good idea.
Pre-phrase: get the audio feeling, not the content first! Listen to the whole text without pauses. Do not look in the text, just get the audio feeling of it. If it’s a new text, you have never heard, never mind that you will not know a couple of words.
Tune your self-discipline. Make an agreement with yourself not to stand up from your chair in the next 2 minutes unless there is a fire, or someone needs your help urgently.
You are as good or as bad at it as a native speaker! Say to yourself, that the first time of shadowing will definitely be a failure. Even native speakers cannot repeat a text they hear simultaneously. So you are equal on that point.
Now that you have listened once to the audio, you can start playing the track, repeating what the speaker says. So you need to repeat with least possible delay, what is being said.
Do not run ahead of the speaker if you do not understand a sentence/phrase/a place in the sentence, say ‘bla-bla’ to keep the rhythm and speed going and not to lose the spirit. It’s not a question of how precisely you have rendered the origin, but whether you can keep the pace and imitate the speaker’s modulations of voice. (It’s OK if you may think that you sound like an alien trying to imitate the Danish language).
Keep repeating and do not stop playing the track until the two minutes have gone. Why 2 minutes you may wonder? Because of these two minutes you will be actually repeating/producing Danish during one minute. The rest will be missed, at least when you do it first times.
If you think it goes too slow and you cannot follow the rhythm, find another audio that will be more comfortable for you to repeat. It should not be an exercise for pronunciation though, but a fluent monologue. Try another voice, sometimes it’s harder to practice because of a particular dialect/personal rate of speech of the recorded voice.
When you have tried repeating with a delay for two minutes, (remember NO pausing the track) listen to the audio track again to calm yourself down understanding that now this text will remain in you head for at least several hours ahead, because you have almost lived through it.
The fluency needs to be lived through. No one can explain to you how to make your brain get used to a new skill unless you just train it.
I hope sincerely, this technique will help you to boost your Danish fluency at your particular level and even level it up.
Do you have questions, comments or suggestions - email to firstname.lastname@example.org.