Pacing: How to Master any Foreign Language Text
Although Pacing is a stand-alone method, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend first reading the article on Shadowing.
Pacing, like Shadowing but more so, is a journey from the hazy obscurities of a foreign tongue to an enlightened state of clarity. It focuses on the skills of either reading and listening, with an added option of speaking (see below). When Pacing a text, we must gradually move from A (incomprehensible babbling), to B (complete comprehension). Whereas Shadowing gives you an amazing global understanding of the target language, Pacing really irons out those creases of confusion by exposing the learner to the fundamentals of the language and all its machinations. It is a method that takes seriously the two essential ways to read a text: intensive reading and extensive reading. If done correctly, the learner will be able to understand a fairly considerable text at natural speed (listening) and near-native speed (reading). Whether or not the user wants to focus on the spoken aspect as well depends on the individual, and I will go through different options in this article. The article will also outline the reasons I believe Pacing to be a powerful language learning tool, how to use it as well as some of its limitations (which can be compensated for with other methods on this site).
I first created Pacing as an alternative to Shadowing for use with materials that do not have facing translations*. One of its main attractions is its flexibility in terms of applied skills as two different tracks are possible. The four main skills of learning a language are reading, writing, listening, and speaking. While Pacing does not focus on writing, it can be combined with the Scriptorium method and as such, each of the four skills would be covered. There are two basic tracks that we can choose for Pacing:
As can be seen, in both tracks the method is a highly efficient way to improve ability in both of the passive skills of reading and listening. However, if the learner chooses the second track with speaking, this will affect her overall listening comprehension as the focus will slightly shift from comprehension (listening) to formation of correct sounds (speaking). I recommend the following guideline:
If used after Shadowing a text, choose track 1 (- speaking). If not, choose track 2 (+ speaking)
The method also works well as a purely passive exercise when we run out of coffee and cannot force ourselves to work on the active skills of speaking and writing. Honestly, at 7 o’clock at night after a couple of days of work and study, Pacing can be an extremely relaxing way to study a foreign language.
Irrespective of which track you choose, Pacing is very efficient and highly enjoyable.
To begin with, we must find materials with good audio. Here is a table from most to least appropriate textbooks that can be used for Pacing**.
This isn’t a review of how good these textbooks are, but of how suitable they are for Pacing a text. Some are more suited to certain methods than others. Again, Assimil stands out on top. Linguaphone begins to shine (as it should) with Pacing as its lack of facing translations doesn't create an issue. Indeed, it was while I was using Linguaphone that I developed the method.
You can also use this method with a graded reader if done in manageable chunks (1 page at a time), although I have never done so.
Now, for the procedure.
We must first prepare our text, which may include removing sound effects and long silences, speeding up or slowing down the dialogue, and looping the audio file. Once we’ve done that, the procedure is as follows (we’ll go into the method in more detail after):
The entire method can be seen in all its glory in this simple shorthand:
A → B → C → B → A
Our goal is complete comprehension; to extract as many nuances out of a text as possible within a very short period of time. Here is a quick breakdown of the stages:
1) Listen to Track: If we have recently Shadowed the text (recommended), use track 1 (the non-speaking option) as we have already spoken alongside the audio while Shadowing.
Now, it’s time to listen carefully to the speakers (which is hard to do when Shadowing as we are forced to speak alongside the audio). We only really need to listen five times rather than ten as we should be more than familiar by now. However, if you haven’t Shadowed the text already, you might want to try speaking alongside the audio as well. In this case, I also recommend going through each stage ten times rather than five.
2) Listen to Track while Reading: First, we only listened to the audio and nothing else. Now, we should be listening and reading the text.
A → B
3) Read Text: This stage is crucial and is the same for both tracks one and two. It’s also the main difference between Shadowing and Pacing. I found that even after listening and reading a text simultaneously 100 times (yes, I’ve done that), there was still a lot that I hadn’t grasped. This was because we need to read a text slowly and carefully in order to completely understand it. There are times when such an understanding is not necessary or even objectionable (when reading for gist, for example), but one of the main objectives of Pacing is clinical extraction: I want those words and phrases to belong to me! I want to be able to wield them myself and stupefy any unsuspecting interlocutor with my verbal prowess! Such world domination doesn’t come with a cursory understanding of a text. Be warned. Mwah ha ha.
A → B → C
4) Listen to Track while Reading: Now we are back to the second stage (and the normal world); that of listening to the text while reading (and speaking with track 2). The difference here is that we’re much more familiar now after our foray into the dark side of intensive reading (shudders).
A → B → C → B
5) Listen to Track: Finally, we complete the loop. We are back to square one but with wings. Close the book and just listen. How much do you understand now? I’m sure you’ve made astounding progress in a short space of time! But don’t stop there, be sure to review what you’ve learned at the beginning of the next study session.
A → B → C → B → A
Pacing is an extremely thorough method of intensive reading and listening, with the added flexibility of a spoken option. Few methods offer such extensive practice across the board of three essential skills simultaneously. It attempts, in its own modest way, to address the two main limitations of Shadowing***: a greater availability of resources because of its non-reliance on facing translations, as well as a more in-depth knowledge of a text. Nevertheless, it requires a little work to prepare the necessary audio files if the recommended materials are not readily available, but this can be learned and carried out fairly quickly. As with the vast majority of featured methods on this site, they are not intended for the casual learner, but extremely useful for the dedicated learner of one or more foreign languages.
Thanks for reading this tutorial! I’d love to hear what everyone thinks of this method. If you have found value in the article, please support the site by sharing!
Challenge: Try and find a text to pace. First, try it with track one and then with track two. Do a few lessons like this so that you become familiar with the procedure.
*Although I now use it alongside Shadowing when even that method is readily available (with Assimil, Cortina, etc).
**For a more detailed discussion of this information, including hacks on how to “fix” bad audio, see the article on Shadowing.
*** I have made no secret of the fact that Shadowing is my favourite method. “Limitation” should be understood objectively rather than critically, as each method is bound to the limitations of the target skillset it seeks to address.