The mimic method – Idahosa Ness
Have you ever heard your own voice in a recording and thought “Oh my God…that’s ME?!”
Don’t worry, this is a common reaction. Due to the fact that your ears and speech organ are attached to the same physical body, your perception of your own voice will always be distorted. Therefore, whatever you think you sound like, isn’t really what you sound like.
Personally, I used to think I had a sexy voice, that is until I heard a recording of it one day a few years ago. Turned out that all that time I thought I sounded like Don Juan, I actually sounded like Don Doofus. I still can’t forget out how I was ever able to get a girlfriend.
Fortunately, self-recording on a regular basis has helped me improve my speaking habits a lot. Hearing my voice from an external source (the way everyone else hears it) has drawn my attention to the more doofish elements of my voice, and with this awareness, I have been able to consciously self-correct.
What’s the moral of this story? Self-recording develops Self-Awareness, which in turn lends itself to Self-Correction.
Same principles apply to second-language acquisition. Though committing gramamar, diction and pronunciation errors in a second language is an inevitable and necessary part of the learning curve, the ultimate goal is to commit as few errors as possible. Because these errors can be so numerous and complex, self-recording is the best approach for reviewing, analyzing and ultimately eliminating these errors from your speech.
In this post, I will describe 3 clever self-recording strategies to develop your personal error-awareness and accelerate your language growth.
Self-Recording Tip #1: Flow-verlapping
In The Mimic Method Language-Learning Philosophy, I identify a lack of physical comfort with foreign sounds the main reason why most people struggle to learn foreign languages. The term I use to describe this physical system of sound is “Flow,” so the main reason people struggle so much at foreign languages is because they never learn the Flow.
In my Flow Series Courses, I personally instruct students in the “Flow” of his or her target language by teaching them to sing song lyrics with a perfect accent. The idea is that each time you sing these songs for fun while you go about your daily activities, you actively train the acoustic perception and speech organ motor coordination to process the target language’s sounds and get into the Flow with little exertion.
That being said, Flow-verlapping is a technique anyone can use to self-teach flow. It involves mimicking native speech of your target language and listening to both your recording and the native recording at the same time to identify discrepancies. First you memorize the native speech, then you record yourself speaking with it in sync. Finally, you play back both audio files at the same time.
Listen to this example of me Flow-verlapping over a random audio file of native Mandarin speech. First I play the native speech, then I play my mimicry attempt, then I play both at the same time in “unison”.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69850742″ iframe=”true” /]
Notice how the sound becomes fuller when the tracks are flow-verlapped in unison. When two sounds of the same pitch and color are played at the same time in unison, they resonate with one another and result in a louder and fuller sound. So when you hear this fullness, you know that your sounds are matching up with those of the native speaker (i.e. your pronunciation is correct.)
In stark contrast, two different sounds played at the same time will lose this fullness and even clash. In the track below, I take the same Mandarin phrase but then purposely mess up a phoneme on one syllable and a tone on another.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69850741″ iframe=”true” /]
Even if you have no Chinese background, you can still hear which syllables are “off” due to the sudden loss in fullness and appearance of clash. In Flow-verlapping, you rely on this dynamic between fullness and clash to give yourself feedback on your pronunciation.
Typically, I practice Flow-verlapping with song lyrics, as it is much easier to synchronize my recording to a steady beat. Also, as a huge music-lover, I am much more likely to put in the focus and repetitions required to perfectly mimic with song lyrics than I would with random utterances of speech. Here’s some examples of me Flow-verlapping rap lyrics in the five languages I speak – English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Mandarin – plus the language I am planning to learn next – Japanese.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/69849582″ iframe=”true” /]
Flow-verlapping is a very powerful technique for closing the sound gap between you and the native speakers with whom you wish to communicate. Keep working to minimize your “clash” and maximize your “unison”, and I promise you that your perception and pronunciation abilities will improve dramatically.
If you want to try it out yourself, I describe the technical aspects in detail in this post, “Screw Idahosa – I can Learn Flow and Pronunciation on MY OWN with ‘Flow-verlapping;”
Self-Recording Tip #2: Cloud-Tutoring
Self-recording isn’t just for improving your pronunciation, it’s extremely useful in improving your grammar and diction as well. Have you ever asked a native speaker to correct you when you speak, and then immediately regretted the decision when he started interrupting you every 3 seconds?
Trying to express yourself through constant interruption is hard enough in your native language, so why invite interruptions into our second language learning?
Most of the time when people correct us in a second language, we just nod our heads like “Yeah yeah. Cool. Got it” and then immediately forget the correction as we continue with what we were trying to say. This is why we find ourselves making the same errors all the time – we don’t really dedicate the mental energy needed to remember the error when people correct us in real time. For these reasons, real-time error correction is simply ineffective.
A better way to fix errors is to review them after the conversation, but this isn’t really feasible in real life. The person correcting you would have to have a super-human memory to keep a mental log of each error you made, or he would have to do go through all the hassle of writing everything down – something no one is going to be willing to do on a consistent basis for free.
Moreover, for the correction to stick, you yourself would have to recall the context in which you made the error. This can be extremely difficult, especially if its a long or engaging conversation.
Fortunately, self-recording solves both of these problems. Using a service called Soundcloud, you can upload recordings of yourself for others to point out your errors using “timed-comments.”
A timed comment is a text comment that you can assign to a specific moment in time on a track. In the track below, I use Soundcloud to correct the English errors of a French friend telling me a story on the phone. This is what it looks like (I encourage you to click here to check out this track on soundcloud.com, as the visual interface is much better than the widget below).[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/70341813″ iframe=”true” /]
With this type of interface, you can easily review your mistakes while you listen to them. As simple a concept this is, it has proven to be quite an effective tactic for error reduction. The act of hearing your own voice committing the error (as opposed to someone just telling you that you did) works as an extremely powerful recall device.
Next time you make the mistake, your previous error echoes in your inner-ear, and you remember that something is wrong. The next time you are in the same context and you are about to repeat the mistake, the recollection occurs faster. Eventually, you are able to preventatively recollect the error and replace the bad habit with the good one.
I call this process of giving feedback through timed-comments on recordings “Cloud-Tutoring.” In my Flow Series Courses for Musical Accent Training, I use cloud-tutoring to give students precise feedback on their pronunciation. Student’s learn songs and then submit recordings to “The Cloud” for review. I then point out each mispronounced syllable and provide instructions on how to fix it. Here’s an example of a student submission from my Flow of Spanish course.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/66392083″ params=”auto_play=false&show_artwork=false&color=ff7700″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
As you can see, you can use Cloud-Tutoring to give valuable feedback on many different aspects of language-learning. If you’re an educator interested in learning how you can use Cloud-Tutoring to help your students, I recommend checking out the blog and forum at www.CloudTutorLounge.com. If you’re interested in making some location-independent income and Building Your Own Virtual Language Business on The Cloud, check out my Udemy course on the subject.
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Self-Recording Tip # 3: Social Journaling
Goal-setting and social accountability go a long way. I recommend setting up a tumblr blog stating your language mission, then publishing your self-recordings on that blog regularly. Get your friends to subscribe to your feed, or have your post automatically tweet and post to facebook for your friends to follow your progress and support you.
All you do is press the orange button and start speaking. The track is then saved to your soundcloud account and can be automatically posted to your facebook, twitter and tumblr, if you choose to enable those auto-share options.To streamline things, download the Soundcloud recorder widget for your smartphone and tablet (Available for iOS and Android) so you can submit recordings anytime your bored. Here’s what the record looks like:
To give you even more motivation, I recently created a series of “Flow Forums” for people to freely share their recordings and give positive feedback to others on their language abilities. These forums are setup around language pairs so that native speakers will be the ones giving you feedback. So for example, the Spanish<–>English forum is for native English speakers to share their Spanish learning sounds and give feedback to Native Spanish Speakers learning English. To try it out, go to this page and click the link most relevant to you below.
Make a point to review your past self-recordings on a regular basis so you can see your progress. It’s really motivating to hear your own voice struggling with concepts that are no longer difficult to you.
Recently I was in a cafe in New York City with a friend, and as it happened to be, there were conversations around us going on in all of the languages I speak. I hadn’t noticed until my friend asked – “Yo so like, you can understand all these people?”
Yes…I guess I can. I hadn’t noticed it because understanding a language you’re fluent in is just something you do without thinking about it. At that moment, I realized that my multi-lingualism has become such an ingrained part of me, I really have no memory of what it’s like to NOT to be able to understand these languages the way my friend across the table was not able to.
How insightful it would be if I could listen to recordings of my older self struggling with these languages that all come so naturally to me now, but alas, I didn’t have the foresight at the time.
Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and Spread the Gospel of Flow!
– Get started with self-recording today by learning more about Flow-verlapping
– Try out Cloud-Tutoring for free
– Submit sounds to The Flow Forum.
– Idahosa Ness’s website –> The mimic method