The imitation technique: why it's key to learning languages

November 10, 2023

Did you know that if you mimic someone’s accent, you’ll be able to better understand what they say? Playwright George Bernhard Shaw explains the connection between learning and imitation as such: “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.

This is what psychologists at the UK’s University of Manchester and Holland’s Radboud University discovered in a study in 2010. The results showed that learning through imitation  – imitating the person you’re talking to helps your speech comprehension.

So for language learners, this imitation learning technique means it’s best to practise your conversation skills with a native speaker.

Imitation speeds up learning

In the 1970s, American Psychologist Andrew N. Meltzoff identified so-called ‘social learning’, where people or animals observe and then copy their companions.

“Imitation accelerates learning and multiplies learning opportunities”, he noted. “It is faster than individual discovery and safer than learning by trial and error.”

Practise talking with a native speaker

So if you want to learn a new language, don’t just study books. Employ the imitation technique by making contact with native speakers to set up a language exchange. Whether  you’re looking to learn a few British English idioms or brush up on some essential Spanish phrases, you’ll learn, have fun and make new friends, all at the same time!

People who want to learn at any time and anywhere have met native speakers from all over the world on Busuu, the language-learning app with its very own community of over 90 million learners. Its Conversations feature makes it easy to log in and start talking.

Hot tip for learning even faster

If you want to speed up the language-learning process, don’t simply imitate your partner’s way of speaking, accent or intonation. Try to use this imitation technique for their hand gestures and facial expressions, too. Not only will you sound like a native speaker, you’ll also act like one!

There are so many benefits to learning a language like this. As well as having a great time and enjoying interesting conversations, you’ll practise your observation and socialising skills.

Tell us what you think!

What languages have you learned by interacting with native speakers? What extra benefits have you found?

And do you have any tips for successful conversations?

Want to learn a language by having real-life conversations with native speakers?

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