Listen Up: The 6 Best Audio Programs for Learning a Language
You’ve probably heard people say, “Kids absorb knowledge like a sponge.”
Back when your vocabulary was limited to “mama” and “dada,” listening was how you learned new words and phrases.
Anything you overheard, your brain soaked up, and eventually you repeated it back.
The same method can work for you as an adult, because that’s how your brain is wired to learn a language.
- 6 Audio Programs for Learning a Language
- Why Learn a Language Through Listening?
6 Audio Programs for Learning a Language
Here we reveal the top audio language learning programs that will skyrocket you to fluency! We carefully considered the options and selected these resources for their value, effectiveness and entertainment.
These audio resources are highly valuable for any type of learner. In order to really understand a language, you have to practice your ability to hear it and speak it, which are exactly the skills that audio programs test you on.
So listen up, and start acing your language now with audio language learning programs!
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.
Cost: Price varies by language and format. German, for example, is $450 for a four-level course on MP3 ($970 on CD). All prices are listed on the Pimsleur website.
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 and so not authentic media.
Levels: Content can be categorized into six levels from beginner to advanced.
Cost: You can check the current rates on the pricing page
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 and select the word or phrase you want to hear. On an iPod, you’d find this by going to “Artist” and selecting from a list of themes, then to “Audio” and selecting from a list of topics.
Pros: iSpeak is compatible with iPod and most other 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.
Cost: Programs are reasonably priced.
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 on 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 on 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.
Cost: The entire series of each language will run you about $75-100.
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 company’s 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 take you from Beginner to Advanced.
Cost: The price is generally in the double digits.
A well-known name in the linguistic world, Berlitz offers a variety of language learning programs, including those that focus on audio CDs. The focus of their programs are typically conversation-based and centered around real-life conversation. 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 to an iPod or MP3 player.
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.
Cost: Price varies widely, but expect to spend in the double digits.
Why Learn a Language Through Listening?
Learning a language by listening can greatly improve your success in speaking like a native and the speed at which you achieve your language goals.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for this.
Some of us just learn better that way
Do you learn best by listening?
If so, you’re not the only one. A lot of us are the same.
While some learn most efficiently by reading books and using flashcards, others are more attuned to aural learning (just a fancy term for learning by listening).
For these people, using an audio CD or MP3 program is one of their best bets for becoming fluent. It’s also a great way to practice speaking the language by responding to audio prompts.
In fact, for people who learn best by listening, using other methods can be quite frustrating!
So if you know you’re an aural learner, don’t worry—there are plenty of resources out there for you, even if your brain is a little slower than when you were three years old.
It’s a scientifically proven way to learn a language (for all of us)
According to science, listening may be the best way to learn a language for everyone, regardless of their usual preferred language style.
So it’s not just those who consider themselves aural learners who can benefit from listening. The rest of us can, too.
Studies have shown that being exposed to the spoken language helps the brain absorb it, even if you don’t understand what’s being said!
Research on how the brain processes language has led to the revelation that hearing a language could very well be the most important aspect of a language learning curriculum. It helps our brains adapt to unfamiliar pronunciations and new grammar structures.
We may even be able to learn a language in our sleep just by listening to it!
Still, you probably already know that learning a language takes a lot of time and dedication, so it’s important to know you’re putting in time and energy where it’s going to pay off the most. It’s good to realize that learning by listening is sure to bring about results.
There are lots of great resources out there
If an aural language learning experience is what gets you to fluency, then audio CD and MP3 programs are the resources that can take you there. In these programs, you hear words, phrases and sentences spoken to you. Practices and exercises give you the opportunity to use them yourself. These lessons increase in difficulty and complexity in a natural progression.
This provides you with constant feedback about how to properly pronounce words and create sentence structures.
The best thing about audio programs is that you can start learning by listening at any level. No experience in the language? No problem! By listening to audio resources, your brain will start to pick it up right away.
You can easily mix audio with other methods
While listening may be a scientifically proven key to learning a language, combining audio programs with other methods will give your brain an extra boost.
A comprehensive language learning curriculum may also include textbooks, written exercises, in-person language practice, TV programs, computer tutorials and others.
Using a combination of different approaches forces you think about language in different ways. It helps you master the breadth of language skills, from writing to participating in real conversation. Try different approaches and see what works for you. It’s not necessary to do everything—just what helps you make progress learning the language.
You can learn at home, during your commute or on the go
Learning a language using audio CD and MP3 programs is one of the most convenient ways to boost your fluency. You can listen to them practically anywhere—whether it’s in the car, during your workout or while doing chores around the house.
Bored on your commute? Waiting in line at the DMV? Sitting at home with nothing better to do? Turn on your audio language program and get learning! If you have a CD player, or a mobile device that plays MP3s, you can make the most of your do-nothing time with these programs.
Even if you’re just passively listening, your brain will still pick up the language.
So if you want to learn a new language, you may as well listen to your audio language programs whenever you find yourself idle. You may be surprised how much learning you can squeeze in!
Audio CDs and MP3s 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!