Is it hard to find time to read books in English?
Or if you do read sometimes, do you ever wish you could hear someone saying the sentences aloud while you read?
Well guess what? You can have a native English speaker read books to you whenever and wherever you want!
How? Through audiobooks, that’s how.
Audiobooks are recorded readings of your favorite books.
Life is fast, and many people don’t always have time to sit down and read books. Audiobooks make it possible to listen to someone reading a book while you do something else, like wash dishes or drive to work.
How to Learn English with Audiobooks: The Ultimate Guide
The Benefits of Using Audiobooks to Learn English
Why would you want to practice using audiobooks?
There are many reasons:
- You can repeat any part of the book as many times as you want. You might be afraid or embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves, but you can repeat an audiobook over and over (and it will never get annoyed).
- You can “read” the book as slow or fast as you want. Listen to only one paragraph a day, or read an entire book in a few hours. When you’re talking with a real person, you can’t really tell them to share only half of their story today and the rest tomorrow—but you can stop an audiobook wherever you want to.
- You can choose any accent, gender or speed that you want to listen to. Do you have trouble understanding people with British accents? You can listen to an audiobook read by a British person to practice. Want to understand New Yorkers better before moving there? You can find that, too. Audiobooks have so many different kinds of voices to choose from.
- You can listen to audiobooks any time. You can listen on your way to work or school, during breaks or even right before bed. It’s like having somebody read you a bedtime story!
Now that you’re interested in audiobooks, where do you start?
Choosing the Best Audiobooks for You
There are many audiobooks to choose from, on every topic you can imagine. You can find classic literature in audiobook form, English learning books or modern literature. You can listen to someone talk about dinosaurs, airports or 16th century Italy—whatever you’re interested in, there’s an audiobook for that.
When you’re choosing an audiobook, look for something you would enjoy reading. If you already own the book or e-book version of the audio, that’s even better because you can read along if just listening is too difficult.
To find your reading level, try listening to adult fiction. If it’s too hard to understand, read young adult fiction instead. Still can’t follow along? Try a children’s book. Children’s audiobooks are wonderful learning tools because they are meant to be understood by listeners who might not know all the words.
Where to Find Audiobooks
You can find audiobooks all over the internet, some even for free. Here are just a few places to start with:
Audible: This is one of the largest audiobook websites. It’s owned by Amazon, and has over 150,000 books for you to listen to. It’s not free, but it does have a free 30-day free trial, and if you discover that you love audiobooks, it might be worth getting a subscription.
Project Gutenberg: If you’d rather not pay for audiobooks yet, you can look around Project Gutenberg. This website is known for its collection of free e-books, but it also has a nice selection of audiobooks.
Librivox: This website of free audiobooks exists thanks to volunteers from around the world who read books aloud for the site. It has some great books to choose from.
Local Libraries: Many libraries in the USA now have “digital libraries,” where you can check out e-books and audiobooks for free, just like regular books at a library! Ask your local library, or check online to see if you have access to a digital library.
Tips for Actively Listening to English Audiobooks
If you just listen to audiobooks, you will learn something. But to really learn the most that you can, try using these tips:
One mistake you can make when taking notes is writing too much. So instead, write down only things that will help you later when you look at your notes. Write words and expressions that you don’t know.
If you are trying to understand the story, write important events or names of characters. If you’re stopping your audiobook every couple of words to write, you are writing too much. Listen, learn and only write the most important things.
If you own a copy of the book you are listening to, read along with the audio. Reading along makes you concentrate completely on the words. To practice pronunciation, stop the recording once in a while and read what you just heard out loud. Try to match the pronunciation of what you just heard. Can you do it?
How well did you understand the book you just listened to? The best way to find out is to talk to other people about it. You can do that by joining online communities where you can talk about your books, like Goodreads or Online Book Club.
The first time you listen, you are listening to understand the story and the words. After you listen once, put the audiobook away and look over your notes. Look up the words you didn’t know.
Now you’re ready to listen again, and this time you’re listening to learn. Now that you understand what the words are saying, you can listen more closely to things you didn’t notice the first time, like how to use a word in a sentence or how the reader’s voice sounds when they use a phrase.
Use what you learn
By now you should have a few new words, phrases, pronunciations and more that you learned from the audiobook. So practice using what you learned! Use your new vocabulary words in conversations. Talk about what you just read with a friend. You’ll be surprised at how much you learned from just listening to someone read a book to you!
4 Audiobooks Recommended for English Learners
There are thousands of audiobooks to choose from, so if you’re having trouble picking a good book to listen to, here are some recommendations:
1. “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, read by John Lithgow
Dr. Seuss might be a children’s book writer, but this book has been read to high school and college students at graduation many times!
It’s a simple book for beginners that’s loved by everyone.
2. “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo, read by Cherry Jones
This book tells the story of Opal as she moves to a new city. Opal learns how to get over her fear and loneliness thanks to a dog named Winn-Dixie.
This is a heart-warming story for young adults, and is perfect for intermediate English learners.
3. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, read by various
What would you do if you could stay young forever? The story of Dorian Gray tells what happens when a picture of you grows old instead of you. The dramatic reading of this book has a different person reading the different parts, which makes it an excellent audiobook to practice listening and understanding different voices and accents.
4. “The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry
Even if you aren’t a fan of science fiction, you will love the crazy adventures of Arthur Dent, a man who goes hitchhiking (getting rides from strangers) through outer space. Narrated perfectly by UK star and comedian Stephen Fry, this book is very funny, but may be difficult to understand. It’s well worth a try if you want a challenge!
Of course these are only suggestions. Everyone has different tastes in books, so be sure to find the books that you’re interested in. For more ideas you can check Audible’s recommendations page, or look through AudioFile Magazine’s audiobook articles and reviews.
Enjoy listening and learning!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning English through audiobooks, you’ll love FluentU, too. FluentU teaches you English from authentic English videos, like classic movie clips, catchy music videos, funny commercials and inspiring speeches, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
It’s the perfect way to learn real English and absorb real English culture, without ever missing a word.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.