Got a pair of headphones?
Then learning your target language is about to get a whole lot easier.
Plus a little catchier.
Did you know the simple act of listening to your target language can help you take huge strides toward fluency?
And it doesn’t even matter what you listen to.
All kinds of listening materials can improve your skills, whether it’s stuff from your textbooks, your teacher’s lectures, conversations with native speakers, radio, TV or movies.
Even better, listening is a hands-off activity. That means you can listen to target-language content in the car on your commute or during your morning run. Those are great opportunities to get in some focused listening! But you can also listen while you’re doing repetitive work, homework or household chores.
The first step, though, is building that audio library so you can listen 24/7.
3 Steps to Building a Foreign Language Audio Library That’ll Fulfill All Your Needs!
Here are your keys to building a personalized foreign language audio library, no matter your interests or proficiency level.
1. Gather Music Like a Fiend
Benefits of Listening to Music:
Music is often our go-to when we think of foreign language audio, right? It’s catchy, it’s fun and it’s relaxing. If you’re a person who walks around with headphones on all day, chances are you’re already spending lots of your time listening to music.
If you switch that music over to your target language, think of the benefits!
- It’s not time consuming. You’ll get tons of practice listening to your target language and building comprehension skills, without taking any additional time out of your schedule. Listen on your commute, during errands or whenever else you already enjoy music.
- It won’t drain you. You can listen for long periods of time without getting fatigued, like you might with talk radio or podcasts.
- It’s catchy. In your native language, that means getting a song stuck in your head. In your target language, that means memorization. You’ll listen to songs you like over and over, so you’ll effortlessly memorize stock phrases.
- It’s awesome for learning slang and other casual language. Most music isn’t in that formal register textbooks use. You’ll learn how native speakers really use their language.
How to Find Target Language Music:
Looking for foreign language music can be intimidating—how do you begin to find songs and artists you like?
Spotify can be a window to the world of music in your target language. Start with Spotify playlists—you can type your target language in the search bar. (You can search either in the target language or in English—you’ll get different results for each, but you’ll still get results!) Scroll down in the search bar and click “Playlists” for all the results.
These playlists are user made—some cover specific genres, and some are pretty eclectic. I’ve enjoyed listening to playlists such as Mandarin Pop and German Top 100! You’ll have to do some listening up front to find what you like, but hey—that’s just more target-language immersion for you! As you’re listening, save the songs you like. Spotify will start recommending similar artists (often in the same language) on the artist page.
If the playlists aren’t thrilling you, you can also check out Spotify’s Charts feature (under “Browse”) and listen to the top songs from a country that speaks your language.
Next up, hit YouTube. Search for those Spotify artists you’ve enjoyed and check out YouTube’s recommendations in the sidebar to gather even more albums and artists in your target language. And don’t forget that YouTube has a playlist feature, too. You can search for YouTube playlists and top hits in your target language to get more options and find music you won’t be able to stop listening to.
With these tools, you have no excuse not to have a plethora of target language music at your disposal. Rinse and repeat until you’re satisfied with your options!
Hoard Those Native Podcasts
Benefits of Listening to Podcasts:
Podcasts are such a convenient way to get valuable target-language listening time. Because they’re made for mobile devices, listening to them is just as effortless as it is with music. Podcasts, though, are generally comprised mostly of speech.
Whether you’re listening to documentaries, interviews or fun talk shows, you’re getting all the language learning benefits that come with immersing in native speech. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with common speech patterns, or to get acquainted with natural accents and improve your own.
Basically, podcasts get you used to how normal, everyday people talk in your target language!
How to Find Podcasts You Love:
First, you’ll need a good bilingual dictionary in your target language.
If you’re learning European languages, check out WordReference. For Chinese, check out LINE Dict and for Japanese try Jisho. Look up words related to your hobbies or interests in your target language.
For example, you might be interested in gardening, video games, news and politics, business, travel or any number of other subjects! Translate the podcast topics you brainstorm and make a list of the new vocab you’re learning.
Next, search for those target-language words in your podcast app of choice. You can use Apple Podcasts, Overcast or Pocket Casts (iOS/Android), to name a few. It’s best if you have lots of common interests to search for, because that increases your chances of finding interesting, high-quality podcasts!
Here are some examples to get you started. If you like video games and you’re learning French, you might like Gamerside. NHK World offers news podcasts in a number of languages, not just Japanese. And if it’s travel that gets you excited and you’re into Spanish, you can always check out Nómadas by RTVE!
Another way to find target-language podcasts is to scroll to the bottom of iTunes (on your computer—this doesn’t work for the podcast app) and change the country. The podcast page will then automatically suggest popular podcasts in that country’s language, and you can download as usual. Just be aware that if English is widely used in the country where your language is spoken, you might have less luck with this method since popular podcasts may just be in English.
When you’ve found a podcast you’re interested in, make sure it’s current and subscribe so that you always have something new to listen to.
Finally, keep an eye out for podcast networks that offer a number of podcasts from the same company (such as RTVE in Spanish or TBS Radio in Japanese). There’s a good chance that podcasts produced by the same company will be of similar quality.
3. Don’t Forget Your Learning Materials
Benefits of Listening to Learning Materials:
When it comes to audio immersion, learning materials don’t have to be left out. Learning materials are things like textbook recordings and podcasts focused on learners (rather than media for native speakers). These are great for focusing on during commutes when your mind is free to take in new info.
Because they’re intended for language learners, these materials are usually slower and include definitions or explanations. You’ll be sure to pick up new vocabulary and grammar! This can feel less intimidating than audio created for native speakers and can help keep you anchored in your listening. But learning materials always work best when combined with native materials like those listed above.
How to Find Audio Learning Materials:
Before you search too far, grab that audio CD or digital file that came with your textbook of choice. Upload those audio lessons to your phone for reviewing whenever you want! I find it’s best to re-listen to lessons you’ve already covered in a more studious setting.
Learning podcasts, such as the LanguagePod101 series or slow speech podcasts such as Slow Chinese and Slow German are easier to find than native speaker podcasts. You’ll get plenty of choices by simply searching for the language in Apple Podcasts or Overcasts (if you’re using iTunes, you’ll have to scroll down for podcast results).
iTunes U courses are another great option. iTunes U offers recorded university courses as well as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for those of us who prefer classroom-style tuition over short podcasts like LanguagePod101. For example, here are beginners’ Chinese and beginners’ German courses offered on iTunesU through the Open University. FluentU also offers audio learning materials.
When searching on iTunes for courses, make sure you scroll through the results until you see the “iTunes U” heading. When you find something you like, you can download and listen to the audio to bring that classroom experience wherever you go!
Finally, you can get even more learning materials through Spotify! Go to the “Browse” section on the left sidebar and then scroll down to the “Word” category. Here, you’ll find a number of playlists that include audio course materials. There are playlists for French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, German, Swedish, Irish, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian.
If you have Spotify Premium, or if you’re listening on your computer, you’ll be able to listen to the playlist in order. If you’re out and away from your computer and don’t have Spotify Premium, no worries—Spotify will let you listen to the playlist on shuffle, and you’ll get an interesting grab bag of lessons.
If you bank up audio materials using the above suggestions, you’ll have a foreign language audio library for every occasion. You’ll never be bored and you’ll be that much closer to fluency!
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of 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 get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
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