3A: Adopt a Language Parent
If you've ever spent time with a 3-year-old, you'll hear them say funny things like: "This house is a mess!". Clearly, they've heard that exact expression a couple of hundred times.
Children copy every aspect of the language that they hear around them. Young children copy their parents and siblings while older children are influenced by their friends and the media they consume.
As adults, we do the same. We naturally mimic the people we have acquired the language from. You can leverage this natural mimicking ability to make yourself sound more like a native by adopting a parent.
When a child first learns a language, most of their input comes from one or two people (their parents). This shapes the child's speaking style for the rest of their life.
You can recreate this process by choosing a language parent. By focusing your input to only one person, you can absorb every detail of that person's speaking style. Your brain's natural ability to mimic will take over and your speaking style will sound similar to your parent’s.
So far, you've been getting input from hundreds (or thousands) of different people. Each person has a distinct style of speaking. Some differences like vocabulary, phrases, slang, and idioms are obvious, but there are subtler differences too, such as emphasis, enunciation, intonation, and speech register.
This mix of linguistic styles comprises a person's outward persona. When you start outputting, your speech will be a mix of all the speaking styles and personalities of the people you have immersed with. You're going to sound a bit weird. Choosing a parent will help you have a coherent, natural way of expressing yourself.
Most learners want to sound "native-like", but that term is nebulous because every native sounds different. Instead, we advise you to pick a specific native to sound like. It's much easier to ask "do I sound like this person?" than to ask "do I sound native?".
Over time, you'll develop your own style and idiosyncrasies, but for now, just borrow the speaking style of your language parent.
There are several factors to consider when picking a language parent.
- Your language parent should be the same gender as you. Men and women speak and act differently in society so you want to make sure you are copying the linguistic customs of your desired gender.
- Your language parent should be close in age to you (within 10 years). Language changes over time and people adjust their style of speech as they age. Teenagers speak completely differently than the elderly. Try to find a parent that reflects how you would speak if you were raised in their culture.
- You should like their personality. You're going to be spending a lot of time listening to this person and you'll eventually take on a lot of their personality. Make sure it's someone you like.
Your parent needs to be prolific. They need to have a very large volume of unscripted and unedited (raw) content for you to watch and listen to. It is very important to find raw content because that will show you how they truly speak. You want to hear every stutter, quirk, and verbal tic that make their speech sound natural.
We recommend your parent have at least 100 hours of raw content. Ideally, this person would also have a large volume of video footage so you can see their facial expressions and body language. Communication between people goes beyond verbal language and it's important to act the way a native would act.
If you can’t find a parent with a full 100 hours of raw content, then it’s ok to compromise and use some scripted/edited content.
We recommend trying very hard to find a single language parent. Unfortunately, you won't always be able to find one that can check all of the above boxes and has enough content. In that case, feel free to use a second parent. We don't recommend using more than two.
Twitch streamers make good language parents because their content is unscripted and unedited. The same is true of radio hosts and interviewers.
YouTubers and podcasters can also be a good choice but you need to make sure they have enough unscripted and unedited content. Many prolific YouTubers script and edit all of their videos, which makes them a bad choice of parent.
You'll be spending a lot of time with your parent throughout Stage 3. In Stage 3A, your goal is to learn to understand your parent as quickly as possible. At least 50% of your active immersion time and 100% of your passive listening time should be spent with your parent. It's very difficult to mimic a person if you can't understand what they're saying.
In Stage 3B, you will continue immersing with your parent until you can understand them automatically and without thinking. You will also start deliberately mimicking them in a practice called "shadowing".
Shadowing is the exercise of listening to your parent and repeating back what they say. This allows you to notice discrepancies in your pronunciation and make adjustments until you can sound just like them. We explain this process in detail in Stage 3B.
By the time you reach Stage 3C, you should be able to understand your parent without thinking (level 6 comprehension). With this connection to a native speaker, you can learn to embody their speaking style through imitation. Many people can imitate an accent for a few sentences, but when speaking in your TL, you need to imitate a native accent all the time, the way an actor would.
In Stage 3C, we explain how to imitate your parent and the various linguistic features of their speech.