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Language Audiobook Jackpot! 5 Sound Sources for Learners

Way back before the advent of television…

…imaginations were sparked by stories told through nothing but the human voice and simple sound effects.

Listeners imitated the iconic performances, from the demanding lilt of Mrs. Aldrich to the maniacal cackle of the mysterious “Shadow.”

The stories of the Golden Age of Radio were so popular and engender such nostalgia that they’re still easily available today, generations after their heyday.

There are even websites devoted to the voice artists who gave them life.

Now, nearly one hundred years later, we live in a new, exciting era: The Golden Age of Digital.

It’s a magical time, when human voices and creative sound effects once again combine, delivering stories that stir the imagination.

These stories, now in audiobook form, are available throughout the digitally connected world, at the mere tap of a fingertip or the click of a mouse.

For language learners who want to hear all of the rhythms, intonations and flow of a language, audiobooks are a brilliant choice.

We can savor audiobooks in many languages, absorbing not only the basics of grammar and vocab but the subtleties of expression taught by spoken word performances.

So let’s not wait any longer! Open your ears and get ready to conquer the intricacies of cadence and more with these audiobook resources.
 


 
Learn a foreign language with videos

How Audiobooks Can Help with the Challenges of Learning to Speak Naturally in a Foreign Language

Giving context to vocabulary learned in isolation

Most of us begin learning a new language by memorizing vocabulary words and phrases in isolation. After all, you’ve got to start with the basics and build on that foundation.

The downside of vocabulary memorization is that it doesn’t give you practice with using new words naturally in speech.

When you’re writing words in another language, all you need is a grasp of their definitions, connotations and technical details such as how to write them in their native alphabets.

However, to use them naturally in speech, you need to understand nuances such as intonation and rhythm. Audiobooks can help with that.

Exposing you to the sublime subtleties of speech

Even if you learn how to pronounce vowels and consonants correctly, you may be missing out on the finer points of how native speakers use non-verbal qualities of rhythm, intonation and flow to express themselves orally.

To properly grasp the cadences of speaking, you’ll need abundant and varied audio and audiovisual resources. The more you expose yourself to the spoken language through tools like audiobooks and the ever-growing video library on FluentU, the sooner and better you can incorporate the natural sound of the language into your speech.

FluentU is a natural fit for audiobook-lovers, as it takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Allowing you to focus on the spoken word

Unlike with watching television or movies, audiobooks let you focus just on what you’re hearing. You won’t be distracted by the visual spectacle of a chase scene, a car exploding, dynamic wardrobe changes or the dazzling panorama of a mountaintop at sunrise.

Sure, you’ll be forming mental pictures as the book is read to you—but your imagination will be fed solely by audio input.

And while songs are useful for language learning, the melody can mask the intonation and rhythm you’d hear when someone is just talking. Besides… how many people habitually speak to each other in rhyme or to a set beat?

Being portable, practical and available

You can listen to audiobooks anywhere. Enjoy them while your hands are busy, but your mind is relatively free. Indulge in them even when you’re low on time or money.

Audiobooks are available for many levels of language learning and innumerable interests. Depending on your level of learning, you can benefit from different types of books and varied techniques for learning from them.

Letting you feel the beat of the words

Again, when you listen to music, you’re hearing words sung to an arbitrary beat. In ordinary speech, you can more clearly hear how syllables are stressed in individual words. In many languages, word stress can make a difference in meaning, so this aspect of spoken language can’t be ignored.

Providing a way to tune in to intonation

The rise and fall of someone’s voice can change the meaning of what they’re saying.

If you’re studying a language like Mandarin or Cantonese, you’re already familiar with tone—the way the rising or falling of your voice changes the meaning of a word.

Audiobooks are a fantastic tool for learning intonation, the way speakers of certain languages change the pitch of their voices throughout a sentence or paragraph to let listeners know more about what they’re saying.

Unlike tone, intonation isn’t about differentiating between similar words. Intonation uses non-verbal cues to express broader concepts such as the purpose of a sentence or the emotions behind it.

Interrogative rise is a well-known type of intonation. It’s the way the pitch of someone’s voice can rise as a sentence ends, indicating that they’re asking a question. (Its recent, widespread misuse has come to be known as “uptalk.”)

Helping you pace yourself

Speeding up or slowing down your voice as you speak uses pacing, the flow of the words, to express emotions like excitement or sadness.

When you listen to audiobooks, you’ll become aware of how the narrator might slow down for a somber passage, then speed up their voice to indicate urgency or trepidation.

From Listening to Speaking: How to Improve Your Foreign Language Speech with Audiobooks

Mix up your genres

Different genres of books may cover different emotional registers, affecting intonation and word flow. If you want to broaden your understanding of these important non-verbal indicators, you’ll want to listen to both fiction and non-fiction books on a variety of topics.

Keep your eyes and ears open

To become more fully aware of how the spoken version interprets the text, read the corresponding text as you listen. This helps your brain link the written representation of the word or phrase to its spoken counterpart. You can then consciously note the way tools such as flow and intonation are used to impart another dimension of meaning to the text.

Audition different voice actors

Listen to the same text being read by different narrators, mentally noting the differences in one “performance” versus the other. In this way, you can internalize the natural, individual cadence variations among native speakers.

Take a turn at the mic

Record yourself reading a familiar passage from an audiobook. (Your smartphone probably comes with a simple “audio recorder” app for this.)

Compare your recording to the professional version. Try to figure out how you might sound more like a native speaker.

Language Audiobook Jackpot! 5 Sound Sources for Learners

​Now that we’ve discovered how audiobooks can be used to learn cadence and other important elements of speech, let’s look at five bountiful language audiobook resources that will take you closer to sounding like a native speaker.

The Book Whisperers: Amazon Audible

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The company that brought you Kindle keeps the reading flame burning with Audible audiobooks service.

Audiobook languages:

  • Spanish
  • Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese

Types of available books:

  • Literary classics
  • Contemporary fiction
  • Non-fiction

Special features:

Audible lets you switch from one device to another without losing your place in the book. Start out listening to a book on your laptop during your afternoon break. Continue listening on your phone right before bed—and don’t forget to take advantage of Audible’s sleep timer!

The next morning, take in a chapter or two via your Echo Dot as your coffee brews in the kitchen. Grab your travel mug full of java and proceed to the car for your morning commute… and continue listening seamlessly on your mobile phone. (You can even repurpose that old Garmin or TomTom GPS device in your car as an Audible device.)

With Whispersync, now available for thousands of books on Amazon, you can switch back and forth between the e-book and audiobook version on the fly. This is particularly handy if you want to keep reading, but you’re in a situation where you can’t listen out loud and can’t use headphones.

To take advantage of Whispersync, you must:

  • have a wireless internet connection
  • own the e-book (or have a Kindle Unlimited subscription) and
  • own the audiobook (or have an Audible subscription).

Average cost and format(s):

Individual books from the Audible service cost as low as $3, with some over $20.

Another buying option is an Audible membership, which includes access to a new audiobook each month. You can try it free for a month to see if you like it; paid membership is about $15 monthly.

Audible books are completely virtual—all you need to access them is a compatible device and a reliable internet connection. Once the books are downloaded, feel free to enjoy them even when you’re out of WiFi range.

Freebies on LibriVox

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LibriVox is a labor of love. A multi-language library of works recorded by volunteers, LibriVox’s mission is the “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.”

Audiobook languages:

  • Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

…plus over 50 more ancient and modern languages, including Ancient Greek, Irish Gaelic, Tamil, Arabic, Yiddish and Ukrainian.

Types of available books:

Books on LibriVox are from the public domain (as defined by the laws of the United States). LibriVox boasts all kinds of genres, including these:

  • Children’s books
  • Humor
  • Horror
  • Crime fiction and detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Plays
  • Poetry
  • Romance
  • Westerns
  • Non-fiction

Special features:

LibriVox is interactive. If you don’t see a certain favorite work, feel free to add it to the “wish list” in the Book Suggestions forum—provided it’s in the public domain.

If you need to report an error in a file, you can do so in this section of the forum. You can even participate by recording works for the LibriVox library, or doing “proof-listening” for newly recorded works, if that appeals to you.

You can easily browse the LibriVox library by language, genre, author or title.

Average cost and format(s):

As the name suggests, all books on LibriVox are free.

It’s easy to listen online using your browser—just click on the “play” arrow next to a selected book chapter to start.

You can download entire books as MP3 Zip files or Torrent files.

There’s a free LibriVox iOS app for your iPhone or iPad and a similiar, low-cost app for Android devices.

Books to Try on Spotify

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Spotify hosts millions of songs in hundreds of languages. But it can do more than just get your toes tapping!

Spotify offers a host of foreign-language audiobooks that are a boon to language learning.

Audiobook languages:

  • Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Spanish

Types of available books:

  • Children’s books
  • Fiction, including classics like “Moby Dick” and “Treasure Island” (translated into various languages)

For some languages, such as Japanese and Portuguese, audiobooks currently appear to be limited to language-learning texts. For other languages, like Arabic, Chinese, Italian and Spanish, Spotify offers language-learning texts plus a few children’s bilingual books.

Spotify’s French and German audiobook selections seem the most varied, although other language audiobook collections will likely grow over time.

Special features:

Enjoy the communal efforts of other Spotify users who have worked to compile playlists filled with language-learning material. Spotify’s Search feature finds public playlists created by Spotify and its users, such as these, that will aid you in your linguistic quests:

French

  • “Livres Audio” (French audiobooks), including“Le petit prince” (“The Little Prince”) “L’Étranger” (“The Stranger”) and other classics

German

Spanish

You can also search for specific authors or book names, although the most relevant results will appear if you combine both in your search.

Average cost and format(s):

Spotify can be enjoyed with a free membership; if you’d like additional features and benefits, like advertisement-free play, the ability to skip over multiple songs and offline listening, you can upgrade to Premium.

Listen to audiobooks on Spotify in any of the following ways:

Listen Up: Audiobooks.com

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A dedicated audiobook listening service, Audiobooks.com gives its listeners an extensive library of popular books in multiple languages, in addition to language instruction as well as other fiction and non-fiction books.

Audiobook languages:

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Polish
  • Russian
  • Spanish

To find fiction or non-fiction books beyond language instruction texts, trying searching for the language’s native name, such as “polski” for Polish, to get more relevant results.

Types of available books:

  • Adult fiction, both classic and contemporary
  • Collections of quotations from philosophers such as Thoreau, Plato, Confucius and Kierkegaard
  • History (non-fiction)
  • Treatises on disciplines like architecture and design
  • Biographies

Special features:

Using a patent-pending technology, Audiobooks.com lets you move your listening from smartphone to laptop to tablet, without losing your place in the book.

Audiobooks.com members can download books to the library on their own devices, making them available for offline listening—perfect for times spent in “airplane mode” or in places with spotty network coverage.

Average cost and format(s):

An Audiobooks.com membership costs about $15 monthly. One audiobook a month, which you can choose to stream or download, is included with your membership; if you’d like more, you can purchase them with existing credits or through a feature called “InstaCredit.” Membership affords you discounts on other purchases from the site.

You can listen to your Audiobooks.com selections on your iPad or iPhone, or using your Android device. Audiobooks.com also offers web-based listening on your laptop or tablet.

Card-carrying Hoopla

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Your public library card can be your passport to a world of online language audiobooks through Hoopla Digital.

Audiobook languages:

  • English
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Types of available books:

  • General fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Self-help
  • Science fiction and fantasy

Special features:

Hoopla provides ad-free content and no membership fees. Your borrowed items will be automatically “returned” to the virtual library after 21 days.

Hoopla offers other digital media, including music, comics and e-books.

Spanish is probably the highest-profile language on Hoopla (besides English); check out the following extensive collections of Spanish-language resources:

Average cost and format(s):

As it’s a program supported by local public libraries, borrowing from Hoopla is free. All you need to join is your library card number, along with a PIN.

Hoopla’s media library can be enjoyed on a wide array of devices, including:

 

Wherever you find your foreign language audiobooks, don’t forget to listen, imitate and let the spoken stories work their magic on the rhythm, pace and intonation of your speech.

Just like the tales told in the Golden Age of Radio, language audiobooks can take you on an unparalleled adventure, as you transform from language learner to near-native speaker.

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