How to Learn English with Audiobooks: The Ultimate Guide
If it’s hard for you to find time to read books in English, audiobooks can help.
And if you do read sometimes, you can use audiobooks to listen to the sentences spoken aloud while you read.
This can help you with your English pronunciation—and your listening!
This guide will help you use audio books to improve your English skills and get better at having conversations in English.
- The Benefits of Using Audiobooks to Learn English
- Choosing the Best Audiobooks for You
- Where to Find Audiobooks
- Tips for Actively Listening to English Audiobooks
- 4 Audiobooks Recommended for English Learners
- And One More Thing...
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:
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.
This website works similarly to Audible: For a monthly fee, you get a credit that you can spend on any audiobook in their extensive catalogue. Libro.fm partners with local bookstores, so your money is benefiting the authors as well as bookstores.
Barnes and Noble
The giant bookstore chain has its own subscription service, offering a free trial as well as frequent sales. You’ll need to have the Nook app to play these audiobooks, so this is a good option if you already use the service or app.
The aptly named Audiobooks service has over 400,000 titles to choose from, and has a generous free trial. A subscription also comes with access to additional member features like access to more than 100,000 free audiobook listens, the ability to add family members, a community of enthusiastic book lovers and more.
Kobo is another audiobook and e-book marketplace that’s a slightly cheaper option than the competitors if you only listen to audiobooks infrequently. Keep in mind that you’ll need to use the app to listen to audiobooks on Kobo.
That’s right: Your favorite music and podcast streaming program now has over 400,000 audiobooks. There’s no monthly subscription: You just buy the book you want to listen to.
Apple Books and Android Play Store
You can buy audiobooks right on your iOS or Android phone. On Android devices, books are available to buy and listen to in your favorite audiobook app, while all audiobooks on iOS can be purchased through the Apple Books app.
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.
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.
Libby is a library app that lets you check out digital books and audiobooks from your local library. You’ll need a library card… and that’s it! The app and all audiobooks are free and easy to use, though more popular titles will often have a waitlist, and some libraries have a better digital selection than others.
Note that if you’ve used the OverDrive app in the past, it’s transitioning completely in this app, so it’s worth making the switch!
Hoopla is a program similar to Libby, allowing you to access e-books and audiobooks with just your library card. It’s a good choice for you if you also want to check out free TV shows, movies and music, which are available on Hoopla but not Libby. Note that not as many libraries are available on Hoopla as Libby!
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.
You can also join a local book club and talk with people in person about the books you read. You can use Reader’s Circle or Meetup to find a book club near you.
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 Jenna Lamia
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 English 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.
If you enjoy learning with audiobooks, you might also like learning with audio/video content like movies and TV shows, which let you see how English is used in context as well as hearing it.
You can practice English listening with captioned video clips as well. Some language learning programs use videos to give you practice hearing and recognizing words in context. FluentU, for example, turns native-level videos into English lessons with interactive subtitles to help with comprehension.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Wherever you find English audio resources, the key to improving your skills is to use different methods and keep practicing.
Enjoy listening and learning!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website 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.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," 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 gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.