Where’s the best place to learn a language?
Wherever you want!
Think about it this way: When you learned your native language, you weren’t too picky about your language learning venue. You absorbed all those sounds and words and grammatical structures on the spot, wherever you happened to be—in a crib, in a high chair or watching “Barney” on the living room couch.
Of course, your schedule might be a little busier now than it was back then. This time around, you should think about learning your new language on the move.
Audio courses make language learning mobile so you can work towards fluency while you’re driving into the office, doing chores, sitting on the bus, whatever!
Learning a language on the move with an audio language course will also help you turn the slow parts of your day into time spent on something interesting, productive and ultimately life-changing.
“But,” you say, “I’m not sure about learning a language using only audio. Aren’t audio courses just inferior versions of courses with both audio and visual components?”
No! On the contrary…
Advantages of Audio Language Courses
Audio language courses are an awesome way of learning a language. Not just because they’re convenient when you’re on the go, but because they work.
Your brain is wired for learning language by listening. Language is first and foremost something that’s spoken, something we think about in auditory terms.
That’s why it’s easier to internalize a new language by listening to it than reading it. You remember language based on the way it sounds, so when you learn with audio language courses, you’re doing your brain a favor by letting it focus on the part of the language it cares about the most.
Therefore, audio language courses are an especially efficient way of getting down the fundamentals of a language. After all, you learned by listening the first time around, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Making the Most of Audio Language Courses
That said, there are of course some differences in the way we learn things as adults. When you’re becoming familiar with a new phonetic system, it can save a lot of time knowing how things are spelled. And seeing a language written out can be a great way of reinforcing things and speeding up the learning process.
With these benefits of visual learning in mind, the way to make the most of audio language courses is to place the auditory learning at the center of your study plan but to branch out and supplement it along the way with visual resources.
This approach lets you keep the benefits of auditory learning as far as more deeply internalizing the language, making memorization more efficient and so on, while also shortening the learning curve by looking up how words are spelled, doing supplementary reading/writing and taking advantage of visual media.
When you put audio language courses at the core of a comprehensive, varied language study plan, the result is a learning process that’s powerful, streamlined and, of course, mobile!
OK, so audio language courses are an effective and convenient way of learning a language—but which audio language courses are the best?
Glad you asked! Here are some of the best audio language courses out there!
6 of the Best Audio Language Courses for Learning on the Move
LanguagePod101 offers language learning podcasts in dozens of languages, running all the way through the linguistic alphabet from AfrikaansPod101 to VietnamesePod101.
For any given language, you’ll have several courses to choose between based on your skill level. Each course contains dozens of short, engaging audio lessons that you can access online or download. Cultural tips are also sprinkled throughout the lessons.
LanguagePod101 is great for learning on the move not just because it’s an audio language course but because the lessons are short and entertaining, and the materials are conveniently available in a variety of formats.
Since each lesson is fairly short, these courses are ideal if you want to squeeze your language learning into smaller time slots throughout the day or if you like to learn in short bursts. This is a great technique for memory retention, as it gives you manageable lessons to learn and ample time to absorb and process everything.
This program also goes out of its way to make the podcasts fun and engaging, so they can be a nice break from traditional language courses that have less personality.
Overall, LanguagePod101 is a good option if you’re looking for a substantial introduction to a language but want your course broken down into short segments you can listen to on the go that aren’t too demanding in terms of sustained attention.
FSI Language Courses
The FSI language courses, available in several dozen languages, were created by the United States Foreign Service Institute several decades ago. Although they were originally designed for training diplomats in a focused, immersive environment, the courses are now in the public domain. This means that the audio lessons and accompanying texts are available freely for anyone to download.
Each lesson is structured around a dialogue, new vocabulary and several different kinds of drills. The method is based on repetition, so some learners find the courses tedious.
That said, the FSI courses are pretty comprehensive, and there’s a reason why they’re still around decades later—they work. They’ve even inspired several commercial derivatives. And of course, they’re free.
FluentU is an online platform for language immersion, so you can learn languages in context with engaging audio and video clips.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
The staple course by Radio Lingua is their “Coffee Break” podcast series for learning French, German, Italian and Spanish. “Coffee Break” lessons build on each other and are structured as short, informal discussions with a teacher and a fellow learner.
Radio Lingua also offers several shorter audio courses in other languages. Most notably, their “One Minute” courses are available in over 20 languages and give quick overviews of some language basics.
Radio Lingua is a good choice if you’re looking for something light and easily digestible but effective that’ll get you started with the fundamentals of a new language.
Linguaphone courses are comprehensive packages that cover all aspects of the language, including comprehension, speaking, reading and writing. However, the methodology behind the way the courses are designed puts listening and speaking at the center of the learning process. Linguaphone currently offers courses in 15 languages.
Repetition isn’t as big a part of Linguaphone as many other language courses, so some learners find that Linguaphone’s lessons move at a very fast pace. For this reason, many people use Linguaphone in conjunction with something that allows for more methodical, repetitive practice.
If you’re looking for a course that covers reading and writing while still keeping listening and speaking at the core of the learning process, Linguaphone should be high on your list. Of course, Linguaphone’s format makes it a little less portable than audio-only courses, but the heavy emphasis on auditory learning means there’s still plenty of studying you can do on the go.
Although most of Assimil courses are designed for French speakers, they do have several courses for English speakers too.
Assimil uses a highly dialogue-centric approach to language learning. Each course consists of a set of recorded dialogues and an accompanying book that includes the dialogues’ transcriptions and translations.
Because the same material is used for both Assimil’s listening and reading portions, there’s a lot of flexibility as far as how you want to divide your time between audio learning and text-based learning. So you can focus on the audio when you’re on the move, then return to the text when you have access to the book.
You should give Assimil a shot if you want freedom to switch back and forth between listening and reading as you see fit or if you want to learn vocab and grammar in the context of entire sentences and conversations rather than in isolated fragments.
Still haven’t found exactly the audio language course you’re looking for? Or want something a little more personal to complement one of the above courses?
No problem! Just create your own!
One way to really step up your language learning game is to keep an audio language learning scrapbook. While you’re going about your language learning, keep an ear open for audio clips you want to listen back to later.
Collect these clips as MP3 files, voice memos on your phone and so on, and soon you’ll have your own custom audio language course. You can also create new clips by recording yourself speaking or asking a native speaker you know (e.g., a language exchange partner) if you can record them. Then you can revisit your auditory scrapbook when you’re on the move and want to do some audio language learning.
What makes this technique so devastatingly effective is that unlike with a store-bought audio language course, you can tailor the audio clips you keep exactly to your language learning needs. Pick stuff that hits your weakest spots. Stuff you find interesting. Stuff you know you’re in danger of forgetting. Stuff that intersects with other aspects of your language studies.
Of course, a custom language learning course won’t provide external structure and direction the way a traditional audio language course does. But if you keep an audio language scrapbook along with all the other language learning materials you’d otherwise be using, you’ll take your language learning to a new level.
In the end, the reason curating a personal audio language course works so well is that which auditory language learning techniques work best for you will depend on your individual language learning style. The best audio language course is the one that works best for you.
With this in mind, don’t be afraid to try several audio language courses to find the right fit—in most cases, you’ll be able to get a free trial before you have to commit to buying anything. And definitely don’t be afraid to switch it up if things aren’t working.
It’s worth the process of shopping around for a good fit because once you find an audio course that works for you, you’ll start internalizing the language more quickly and be able to fully enjoy how rewarding it is to learn by listening on the move!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.