Want to learn English with Benedict Cumberbatch?
Or how about learning the language with an incredible book that English speakers love?
All you need are your ears.
So grab your headphones, and we’ll show you the best tools to learn English with audio for all levels and language skills—from listening comprehension to vocabulary to pronunciation.
And don’t worry, we’ll explain why Benedict Cumberbatch is involved!
Why Learn English with Audio?
So why English audio? You definitely should not forget about all the other tools available to you, but audio has some unique advantages:
- Your eyes can take a break from screens. Using audio tools does not require that you look at a screen—like your cell phone screen or computer screen—for long periods of time, the way video exercises and films do. These days, we are surrounded by visuals, on our laptops, tablets and cell phones… so it is great to give your eyes a break! Just relax, close your eyes and listen.
- Audio is easy to find in several formats. You can download audio files online and upload them to your phone or iPod. You could go shopping for an audiobook or buy a CD English learning course to play in your car. They also tend to be less expensive than movie downloads or Blu-ray discs.
- Audio can be used in your spare time and when you travel. For example, if you take public transit to school or to work, you can definitely use both audio and video tools to improve English. But if you drive, then audio is the only way to learn, because you have to keep your eyes on the road!
- Finally, audio can be a very entertaining form of English listening practice. Talk radio and news are just the start. There are radio dramas and comedies, podcasts and audiobooks available to you. As you’ll see below, the options are endless!
Tips to Learn English with Audio Strategically
- No matter what kind of English audio you choose, you need to make sure that it is appropriate (right) for your level of English. If you were a beginner, it would be hard for you to understand the readings of Shakespeare or a documentary on international financial systems.
If you didn’t understand a lot of what you were hearing, you could quickly get discouraged (feel like you wanted to stop trying). You might stop listening to English audio because you find it too hard to understand—and that would be a pity, because English audio can really help you to learn.
If you start slowly, you will get more confidence (believe that you can do well). As you move up from easier to more difficult levels, you can build on what you’re learning.
A great tool to help you figure out your level of English—and build on it in a smart, helpful way—is FluentU.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU 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'll 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 is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.By listening to native English speakers in videos, and getting definitions through the subtitles on FluentU, you’ll learn words that will help you understand all kinds of English audio. And you’ll get a better idea of what your level of understanding is, so you can pick good audio for listening practice. Try it out with a free trial!
- It is also very important to have fun with audio. The readings of Shakespeare may be great practice for you as an advanced English speaker, but if you do not like poetry, you will probably not enjoy it that much. Choose an audiobook that you love or that interests you. Start on a new radio show. As long as you enjoy your learning, it will be beneficial to you.
- Here’s a more practical tip: choose comfortable headphones or earbuds for your audio English practice. There are two reasons for this: first, if you listen to audio in a public space, it is a considerate (polite) thing to do to respect other people and not force them to listen to your language lessons, too. Second, you may be listening (and wearing headphones) for long periods of time, so your head and ears should be comfortable while you do that!
Learn English with Audio: Listening Practice for Every Language Level
Below, you will find a lot of ideas to learn English with audio, which you could choose based on your language level.
Remember that while some English audio tools are appropriate for more advanced learners, you can always adapt the tool you like to your study plan by choosing less advanced topics and content.
Plus, even the beginner-level content can remain helpful as you get more advanced—you will find the courses targeting pronunciation and accent particularly valuable.
English Language Audio Courses
Audio courses you can find on CDs or online may be perfect for you if you are just starting to learn English.
In addition to giving you a good foundation in listening, you will also hear correct pronunciation (most likely with a British or American accent), grammar rules and vocabulary on certain topics. These English audio courses are great to listening to while driving or sitting on public transit.
“Complete English as a Foreign Language” by Teach Yourself
The Teach Yourself series offers excellent introductory courses for many languages, including English. This course focuses on fun and interactive exercises based on different topics, so you can quickly improve many areas of your English.
There is a textbook that comes with the audio guide, but you do not have to have both to start learning.
Pimsleur English courses are different, because they consider your native language when teaching English to you. For example, there is English for Spanish Speakers, English for Mandarin Speakers, English for French Speakers and many more course options.
Because every language has its peculiarities (parts that are strange or different), Pimsleur focuses on the most common problems English learners from different countries face. Each course is audio only. And you can try a free English lesson on their website!
Specialized English Language Audio Courses
English audio courses that focus on specific areas of interest are great for beginners, too. For example, if it is important to you to develop the perfect English accent, an audio course is the best way to do it.
This is actually a textbook, but it comes with five CDs that you will be using the most. It is a great self-study course aimed at beginner learners who want to speak with a British accent.
This is an audio and book course that will help you learn to speak with a proper American accent. Its complete focus is on pronunciation, including vowels, consonants and diphthongs (two vowels together that make one sound), so you are guaranteed to speak like an American once you finish it!
Children’s Audiobooks in English
Children’s books are great for learning English because of their simplicity and focus on easy vocabulary. You can start with the simplest audiobooks of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and even ABCs.
These make for fun and easy audio exercises that you can listen to when you are tired or don’t have much time to practice listening.
In this English audiobook, the famous children’s author Dr. Seuss presents the letters and the sounds of the English alphabet. It is a great start for elementary English learners!
“Treasury of Nursery Rhymes” by Lucy Cousins is a collection of well-known nursery rhymes that come with a beautifully illustrated book. When your English improves, you should definitely keep this one for your bookshelf!
Podcasts for English Learning
Podcasts are daily, weekly or monthly audio programs that you can subscribe to, either for free or for a small fee. Then you download to your computer, phone or tablet. Podcasts cover so many different topics and come in so many forms, you are bound to find something that interests you! News, sports, analytical programs, interviews, pop culture—podcasts have it all.
Keep in mind that some podcasts may be above your English level. Choose those that are not only interesting, but that you can understand as well. Some good resources to find podcasts are:
One of the most popular podcast programs for English learners is EnglishClass101 by Innovative Language. It has over 1,500 video and audio lessons to teach you English, in the style of podcasts.
These podcasts also come with interactive learning tools, so that you can practice your English with relevant activities.
Audiobooks for English Learning
When it comes to English audiobooks, you may want to start with genres that have easier vocabulary and grammar, such as young adult and adventure fiction.
As you get more advanced, you may enjoy listening to the readings of modern bestselling books, classical English literature and even non-fiction, if you want a challenge.
Here are some great places to find English audiobooks that match your learning level:
- Audible, an app that is compatible with (works with) most Android devices, is dedicated to audiobooks (most paid, but some free).
- Apple iBooks has a dedicated audiobooks section, with free and paid choices available as well.
- The New York Times Best Sellers list will give you some ideas, if you would like to listen to popular fiction or the latest in book trends, especially in the USA.
- All-Time 100 Novels is the list by Time of the best English-language novels since 1923. That may be subjective (not the same for everyone), of course, but it offers great suggestions for your next audiobook, especially if you would like to listen to an American classic.
- Your local library may have audiobooks on CDs or available as online downloads for free. Be sure to check it out!
Radio Comedies and Dramas
The ultimate English listening practice for advanced speakers are definitely radio comedies and dramas. BBC Radio is famous for producing high-quality ones.
These are just like your favorite TV shows with an interesting plot, engaging characters and witty (clever) dialogue, except they rely only on voices and sounds to tell the story. This is far from easy for an English learner to follow along with, so it will be a great test of your listening skills!
“Wooden Overcoats” is a comedy set on a small island and following the director of a local funeral home and his new employee. Do not be put off by the subject, because the show is funny and clever! It is released in a podcast format and has won multiple comedy awards and nominations.
This is one of the best comedies on BBC Radio 4 that follows the adventures of a small airline. There are only four characters (and one of them is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The episodes are each 30 minutes long, so you can listen to one or several at a time.
If you really enjoy learning English with Benedict Cumberbatch, take a look at this video, which shows you more ways to learn:
And for many more tips on learning English with audio and video, from famous and not-so-famous native speakers, subscribe to the FluentU English channel on YouTube. Don’t forget to click the notification bell, so you don’t miss any new videos!
Using English audio is the perfect way to get English listening practice and become better at understanding English speech, its patterns and even different English accents.
Depending on the audio tool you choose, you may learn new and exciting vocabulary, practice grammar and improve pronunciation, or just have fun and be entertained while you listen.
Keep in mind that patience is very important when you work with audio, because listening is not easy.
Your improvement will be gradual—but once you decide to learn English with audio, as long as you listen regularly and are having fun, you will soon see the results.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.