Shadowing Part I: What the hell does speaking have to do with the JLPT?

My father and I have bonded together over the movie The Rookie together at least 100 times. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s about Jim Morris, a high school baseball coach who promises to try out for the minor leagues if his underperforming team wins their division championship. To help them prepare, Morris gets involved in practices and starts pitching to them. This turns out to be the key to their championship victory, because after dealing with his up to 98 mph fastballs, anything thrown by the opposing team looks like it’s moving in slow motion.

So how does this relate to JLPT prep? More specifically, how can speaking practice help on an exam that has nothing to do with your speaking ability?

The simple answer? If you can say it, you can understand it. Shadowing forces you to pay attention to the nuances in inflection that will help you distinguish between the many, many words in Japanese that sound exactly the same. It also gets you accustomed to processing the language at the supersonic speed that Japanese speakers seem to think is normal. Japanese is, after all, one of the fastest languages around and you’re never going to pass the JLPT if you’re mentally translating each word you hear. If you can understand Japanese geared towards native speakers, you’ll be able to breeze through the listening passages in the JLPT without falling into their sneaky traps. It will, in other words, feel like it’s moving in slow motion.

And let’s face it. At some point you’re likely to end up in Japan, whether it’s for work, the opportunity to pay cute girls in maid costumes to draw ketchup smiley faces on your rice omlets, or to stock up on all of the cheap manga your pitiful baggage allowance will allow you to buy (I’m talking about you,Rachel). And you’re going to want to be able to communicate. I don’t care how much time people spend learning English here, there are a whole lot of people who still can’t speak it and even more who have convinced themselves they can’t even though they can. And besides…do you really want to be one of those mindless robots that the Japanese education system produces who can pass the JLPT but can’t even properly order food?

Not to mention, it’d be a shame if you ended up here in Japan and said, “Man, if I had only shadowed, I could have avoided that mayonnaise pizza.”

In the next part of this series, we’ll move onto a basic explanation of what shadowing is, and some tips on how to get the most out of it.

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