The 12 Best Audio Language Learning Programs for 2023
Back when you were a kid, listening was how you learned new words and phrases.
Anything you overheard, your brain soaked up, and eventually you repeated it back.
Even as an adult, learning a language through listening works because that’s how your brain is wired.
Here we reveal the top audio language learning programs for 2023, as selected for their value, effectiveness and entertainment.
So listen up, and start acing your language now with these audio language learning programs!
- Best for Beginners: Pimsleur
- Best for Guided Immersion: FluentU
- Best for Grammar: Language Transfer
- Best for Speaking: Michel Thomas
- Best for Casual Listening: Radio Lingua
- Best for Listening with Reading: Assimil
- Best Free: FSI Language Courses
- Best for Diverse Podcasts: Innovative Language
- Best Comprehensive: Linguaphone
- Best Conversation-Based: Berlitz
- Best for Learning on the Go: Living Language Drive Time
- Best for Most Common Words: iSpeak
- Other Language Learning Audio Resources
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Best for Beginners: Pimsleur
The gist of the Pimsleur approach is this:
- You hear the words and phrases in the target language.
- You hear them in your mother tongue.
- You translate the word from your mother tongue to the target language.
The course is based on research by Paul Pimsleur, a linguist who sought to discover the fastest way to learn a language. The length of each course varies from around 15 to 45 hours, depending on the language. The courses are broken up into half-hour sessions.
Nearly everything is audio-based, and even the provided reading material is meant to be read along with the audio lessons. More than 50 languages are offered.
Pros: With the Pimsleur method, the pressure is on you to respond with the correct translations. This provides a built-in motivation system that inspires you to do better with every attempt. The material from previous lessons is repeated in subsequent levels, so there’s a lot of reinforcement.
Cons: There’s limited context provided in the lessons. Most of the vocabulary seems to be oriented toward people traveling for business. You’ll learn select words and phrases, but not necessarily those that would be most useful to you.
Levels: There are typically up to three or four levels, with 30 lessons per level.
Price: It varies by language and format, but each level is at triple digits.
For more on Pimsleur, here’s an in-depth review.
Best for Guided Immersion: FluentU
This language learning program teaches through authentic language videos and audio courses.
Learning through authentic content exposes you to nuances of the language, such as slang, pronunciation quirks and cultural shades that you’ll never get in a textbook.
FluentU bases its lessons around this concept, by curating authentic (and engaging) videos—like commercials, movie trailers and inspiring talks—and adding extra learning aids.
These include interactive subtitles (where you can access information about a word just by tapping on it), a contextual video dictionary, key word lists and multimedia quizzes which feature speaking questions.
This makes learning through authentic content seamless, and much faster than scouring through YouTube and online dictionaries.
You can access the program via the website, or iOS and Android apps.
Pros: You’ll pick up more natural-sounding language than with many other language learning programs, plus you have access to hundreds and hundreds of videos with expertly created subtitles.
Cons: While its audio courses give a great overview of whichever of their 10 languages you’ve decided to learn, they’re created for the purpose of learning, so they’re not authentic media.
Levels: Content can be categorized into six levels from beginner to advanced.
Price: You can check the current rates on the pricing page.
Best for Grammar: Language Transfer
Language Transfer has a unique method compared to other audio courses. Instead of taking you through greetings and basic vocabulary first, it focuses on teaching you the building blocks of grammar in a foreign language.
For example, one of its most extensive courses is Spanish, and during the first episode, you learn right away how to turn thousands of English words into Spanish.
Each episode lasts around 10 to 15 minutes, and it usually features the founder talking to a student who’s learning the language from scratch. The student asks questions and occasionally has to do exercises on the spot.
Pros: Language Transfer is free, so you can listen any time to its courses in nine languages. Its logical approach makes learning a language more efficient and intuitive, and it gets you up to speed with a language’s basic grammar pretty fast.
Cons: Since Language Transfer emphasizes grammar, it doesn’t teach that much vocabulary, so you’ll have to turn to other resources afterwards. Many of its courses also cover only the basics—only Spanish, Swahili, and Greek are considered comprehensive.
Levels: Each language has around 40 to 120 lessons that are meant for beginners. Once you finish a complete course, you’ll have a broad overview of the grammar of the language.
Price: All of the courses are free.
Best for Speaking: Michel Thomas
This audio-only method provides an opportunity to learn from a “teacher” who reads a lesson and asks you to repeat it. You’re “in class” with two other students also heard in the recording.
The course introduces words and phrases that are explained in detail, which you later (along with the other two students) use to construct simple sentences.
The total course for each language consists of 12 hours of audio.
Michel Thomas was a linguist and language teacher who spoke many languages and developed a system for rapid language learning. He was highly successful, with diplomats and celebrities numbering among his clients. These audio CDs are based on his methods.
Pros: Because there are other students recorded in the lessons, you get to feel like you’re really in class, and the progression seems natural. The Michel Thomas method is a more economical alternative to the Pimsleur method. The structure of the course gives you the tools to make real conversation in a short time.
Cons: The Michel Thomas method uses a lot of mnemonic devices to help you remember words and phrases. If this doesn’t work for you, it may seem tedious. For some, the pace might be too slow, since it’s dependent on the progress of the other two “students.”
Levels: There are no distinct levels, but the program progresses to intermediate difficulty.
Price: The entire series of each language will run you at triple digits.
Best for Casual Listening: Radio Lingua
The staple course by Radio Lingua is their “Coffee Break” podcast series for learning different languages. “Coffee Break” lessons build on each other and are structured as short, informal discussions with a teacher and a fellow learner.
You can actually listen to them for free on major podcast platforms like Spotify and iTunes.
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. They even have spinoffs like “Coffee Break to Go,” where you can listen to native speakers being interviewed.
Pros: 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. The pacing is slow and progressive, and the podcasts and courses also come with thorough explanations.
Cons: An entire season of podcasts only lasts around ten hours, so you can go through them quickly. It also works best for casual listening—if you want more formal, structured lessons, you’ll definitely need other resources.
Levels: Depending on the language, the podcasts are arranged into seasons of increasing difficulty, from beginner to upper advanced.
Price: Their podcasts are free to listen to, but you’ll need to pay double digits to get additional materials like notes and transcripts.
If you’re curious about Radio Lingua, here’s a review of their Coffee Break podcast.
Best for Listening with Reading: Assimil
Although most 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.
Pros: You should give Assimil a shot if you want the freedom to switch back and forth between listening and reading as you see fit. It also lets you learn vocabulary and grammar in the context of entire sentences and conversations rather than in isolated fragments.
Cons: Most of Assimil’s courses are taught in French, so you’ll have fewer choices if you want to learn through English. It’s more focused on teaching you words in context rather than giving a lot of direct explanations, which can be daunting for beginners.
Price: Assimil’s courses are generally in the double digits.
Best Free: 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 free for anyone to download.
Each lesson is structured around a dialogue, new vocabulary and several different kinds of drills. In fact, they probably have some of the most thorough free language courses that you’ll find online—the most popular courses have around 60 hours of audio and thousands of pages of explanations and exercises.
Pros: 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.
Cons: The method is based on repetition, so some learners find the courses tedious. Since the FSI courses were also created decades ago, you won’t find modern vocabulary, and they include words for diplomats that you won’t necessarily use in everyday life.
Levels: FSI’s main courses are meant to take you from beginner to upper intermediate (around B2 or C1).
Price: All of the courses are available online for free.
Learn more about the FSI courses with this guide.
Best for Diverse Podcasts: Innovative Language
Innovative Language 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 from 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.
Innovative Language 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.
Pros: Each lesson is fairly short, so 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. The podcasts are also fun and engaging, so they can be a nice break from traditional language courses that have less personality.
Cons: Since Innovative Language has courses for so many languages, the quality and amount of material can vary widely based on the language. The videos span different topics, with culture podcasts mixed in with language lessons, so it doesn’t offer as much structured learning.
Levels: The most popular courses have nine levels, from absolute beginner to advanced.
Price: Innovative Language offers basic, premium, and premium plus plans, with the basic subscription being relatively cheap.
Click here for a full review of Innovative Language.
Best Comprehensive: Linguaphone
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 more than 15 languages.
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. On the other hand, if you want to focus only on audio, Linguaphone also has “all talk courses” that don’t require books at all.
Pros: Linguaphone is one of the oldest creators of language learning materials, and they’ve tailored their courses for self-studying, with tons of material like quizzes, native-speaker audio, and books available. It’s well-suited for learning a language at your own pace.
Cons: 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.
Levels: Linguaphone has courses for beginners, intermediate, and advanced.
Price: You’ll likely have to pay double to triple digits for their complete course.
Best Conversation-Based: Berlitz
A well-known name in the linguistic world, Berlitz offers a variety of language learning programs, including those that focus on audio CDs. Their programs are typically conversation-based, so they’re centered around real-life topics. There’s less focus on vocabulary and grammar lists.
Berlitz has one-CD sets, like Spanish in 30 Days, that can get you started for an upcoming trip, as well as multi-CD sets like Italian Berlitz Basic that give more in-depth lessons. The contents of each CD can be easily downloaded as an MP3.
Pros: There are a lot of different Berlitz products to choose from. Using Berlitz means you’ll be able to get high-quality books published by the company to complement your audio learning. Berlitz uses the “direct” or “natural” method that emphasizes learning a language to be able to communicate. For those who want to start using a language right away, Berlitz gets straight to the point.
Cons: The quality of the materials on the audio language programs can vary from language to language. With more than 30 language offerings, you might not get what you expected.
Levels: Most of their audio-focused products are for beginners. Their Confident series caters to “advanced beginners.” Their textbooks, which come with a CD, come in beginner to advanced levels.
Price: It depends on the product, but expect to spend in the double digits.
Best for Learning on the Go: Living Language Drive Time
The Living Language Method prides itself on giving language lessons that involve multiple senses. Its regular offerings include CDs and a book in multilevel packages that encompass audio, visual, written and interactive approaches to language learning.
The Drive Time series is an audio-based program designed for commuters and anyone looking for language lessons on the go.
Each language comes with eight conversational lessons that guide you through vocabulary warm-up exercises, examples and opportunities to practice. You also get a CD of vocabulary words and a listener’s guidebook with vocabulary lists, dialogue scripts and summaries.
Pros: The Drive Time series gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You’ll progress rapidly through increasingly challenging lessons for a fraction of the price of many other programs. If you like thorough explanations of new material, this course is for you.
Cons: It’s not as immersive as some other programs. The structure is very traditional, and with the explanations, there’s a lot of English on the recordings. Some learners may find the pace to be a little on the fast side.
Levels: The entire eight-disc series takes you from Beginner to Advanced.
Price: You’ll generally spend double digits.
Best for Most Common Words: iSpeak
iSpeak is an MP3 language learning program from McGraw-Hill that focuses simply on learning new words. The package for each language includes 1500 high-frequency words and phrases, all in MP3 format. Each comes with a visual cue to associate with the word that appears on the screen.
Simply load the program onto your MP3 player, select the topic you want, then click on the word or phrase you want to hear!
Pros: iSpeak is compatible with most MP3 players, so no matter your preference of device, you can use iSpeak to help you with your listening skills in the target language. The portability and simplicity of the program make it a perfect choice for travelers.
Cons: The program is limited, with just 1500 words and phrases. It doesn’t do much for improving grammar and building conversation skills. There are only a handful of languages available. Still, it’s a convenient way to pick up new terms in select languages, especially if you’re a beginner.
Levels: There are no distinct levels. Programs focus mainly on beginning-level vocabulary.
Price: Programs are reasonably priced, with Kindle and CD options available.
Other Language Learning Audio Resources
Aside from the audio courses above, there are several other online tools that can help you learn a language through listening:
YouTube is a language learner’s dream site. There are listening videos in a multitude of languages and at all levels.
Simply search for “[your target language] listening practice” to find plenty of options. Then, you can choose the suggested videos listed by YouTube to continue your learning.
For instance, searching for “German listening practice” might lead you to a two-hour listening practice video from GermanPod101 (which also has awesome supplementary learning material on the website). From there, you can move on to a suggested video, like a three-hour “Learn German While You Sleep” video.
For even more targeted learning, you can add a difficulty level to your search. Searching for “easy Japanese listening practice,” for example, can direct you to nearly two hours of “Slow & Easy Japanese Conversation Practice” from Kendra’s Language School.
edX is a global learning platform that makes courses available for learners from some of the most prestigious universities—no matter where they are in the world. It delivers educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to learners.
Fortunately, there’s a super selection of language courses open—for free—on edX.
There are a number of courses offered, targeting a few different languages. Content changes over time, so if you don’t see the language you’re currently interested in, check back in a week or two to see if a course has been posted in your target language.
My niece is using this now and her Basic Spanish course gives plenty of listening and comprehension practice!
Audible has a quality selection of audiobooks in languages other than English. Browse around, find an option that appeals to you and settle in for some listening adventures.
But don’t just listen! Remember, you need to be active to really get the most from your learning.
Create a handbook of unfamiliar phrases and words you think should be in your vocabulary bank. Then, integrate those new-to-you phrases into your writing and speaking practice.
Choose books to challenge—but not overwhelm—your skills. If you’re an intermediate learner, for instance, don’t go for children’s books. Look for something that won’t be too hard, but won’t be so simple that you don’t make any progress from listening.
If you don’t understand a passage in the book you’ve chosen, don’t get discouraged. Listen again, grab a translation app or Google the plot to gain comprehension.
Everyone loves music and learning with it is an excellent way to get immersed. Luckily, Spotify offers music in many different languages.
Find music in your target language and play it in the background of your life. At home, at the gym and in the car are great spots to passively listen and pick up phrases, vocabulary and idioms.
For more active language listening practice, play the music without doing anything else and concentrate—sit down and really listen to the song lyrics. I did this when I was learning Italian and it proved very beneficial.
Songs bring cultures alive so music serves many learning purposes!
RhinoSpike allows learners to upload text that they want translated into a target language. Native speakers record the text, then learners download the audio file and commence listening. It’s as simple as that!
You can always return the favor by recording some text in your own native language for others.
SpeaterLite or Repeat Player
Listening repeatedly to the same phrase can be helpful. Doing so provides a listener with a “repeat” opportunity to fully comprehend any bit of spoken language.
SpeaterLite for iOS and Repeat Player for Android are repeater apps perfect for the task. Any bit of language can be listened to again and again—there’s no need to wonder if you’ve missed something!
Audio resources for language learning can be the next best thing to a personal tutor.
They’ll talk to you, prompt you and guide you along as you master speaking your new language. Plus, you can take them wherever you go!
Your language learning doesn’t have to stop in the classroom or at home.
Take it with you, increase your practice time and see your efforts pay off!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)