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Parroting April 20, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Mandarin, Speaking.

Some people call it ‘chorusing’ or ‘echoing’. I don’t know if there is a technical name for it. I prefer to call it ‘parroting’.

I am referring to the type of exercises many people use to improve their speaking skills. You would listen to a piece of conversation or monologue, usually at normal pace, and at the same time repeat aloud what is being said.

I have been doing it for my Mandarin since 2 years ago. Starting from last month, I have been doing the same for my French. My goal is to able to say those lines aloud fluently and confidently. I find that at the beginner stage, I need to practice the same piece over and over again before I can get to some level of fluency. It is therefore not unusual for me to go over the same piece 40 to 50 times.

If I need to listen and repeat to the same thing so many times, it better be interesting to me!

Now, here is the dilemma. Quite often, something interesting might not be useful at all. For example, I found out an episode in ChinesePod recently that I like very much. A fictional couple quarreled over the phone and finally decided to break up. For some reason, I find it amusing to hear people quarreling in my target language. I surely don’t have problem listening to it for over 50 times. However, the content is utterly useless to me. Well, my wife does not speak Mandarin.

At the other end of the spectrum lie those seemingly useful phrases and dialogues that you can find in any language learning tape or CD, such as being at the post-office, restaurant, cinemas, making hotel reservation, asking for directions, and haggling in a store. Would you like to listen to these contents 50 times?

I tend to believe that the main objective of the parroting exercises is for us to ‘chew’ the language. The contents do not have to be useful in our daily life, but it is the good feeling and experience of being able to speak those lines fluently that is more important.

But then how do we learn to say the useful stuff? I personally believe that you initially learn them from enough expose to the language through reading and listening. Then you need to follow up with a lot of oral practices with native speakers.

I personally had experienced this for my Mandarin. I initially parroted over a lot of contents that interested me, but they were of no use in my daily life. Then one day, I had chance to converse with a native speaker. I was surprised that some ‘userful’ sentences and phrases started to coming of my month for the first time. I believe they came from the radio or other materials that I had been listening to. But certainly I did not practice parroting over them.

Then of course, when you reach a level that you need less iterations to perfect your target materials, they can be less interesting.

Here are some ideas of interesting materials for the parroting exercises: you favourite lines in movies, poems, jokes, star interviews, song lyrics, and famous quotes. They are just endless. Remember, you will be saying the same sentences many times. They better be interesting to you!



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