Sore fingers. Eye strain. Back pain.
These unfortunate symptoms are commonly associated with learning.
Got a headache because you were up all night cramming for a test?
Sitting in an uncomfortable chair all day taking a toll on your body?
Luckily, independent learning doesn’t have to involve being hunched over a textbook or keyboard.
You can study a language while out and about, while literally stopping to smell the roses. Heck, you can even learn while chilling to your favorite music.
“But how?” you may be wondering.
Well, with audiobooks. Isn’t it obvious?
Okay, so maybe learning a language with audiobooks isn’t as much of a no-brainer as it should be.
After all, in this digital age of podcasts and streaming subscriptions, does anyone even know what an audiobook is anymore?
Don’t worry, we’re going to go over that in a minute. It’s not actually that complicated!
All you need to know for now is that language audiobooks exist, you can access them and they’re going to make your life better, starting today.
Let’s see how.
Tips for Learning a Language with Audiobooks
We’ll get into subscriptions and downloads and all that jazz momentarily.
For now, I think it’s safe to say that you already must have some idea of what an audiobook that can be used for language learning is. It could be any audio recording that helps you learn a language, whether it’s a course, a continuous stream of information you’re trying to memorize (like vocabulary) or a novel being narrated out loud.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at how you can take advantage of audiobooks for your language learning.
- Pair your audio learning with an enjoyable activity. The best way to stick to an audio learning routine is to match it up with something you like to do.
For example, you could listen to an audio course during a bike ride after work. Or you could take in a podcast-style lesson while having breakfast. (Yes, eating counts as an enjoyable activity!) You could even use your learning as an excuse to do something fun you don’t normally do, like going to a park or a museum.
Unlike other types of learning, audio learning can be paired with all kinds of other activities.
- Consider listening to an instrumental music track along with your learning. It’s possible that certain types of music help make studying more productive. There’s conflicting information out there, but it’s worth a shot to see if listening to relaxing music while studying works for you. Aside from helping you learn, it may simply increase motivation.
Some of the audiobooks we’ll look at below actually include music as a feature, and depending on the applications and devices you’re using, you may have the option of sprucing up an audio study session by having some music running simultaneously in another application.
- Consider shadowing with the audio. The traditional format for audio learning programs is a “listen and repeat” or “listen and answer” one. The teacher on the recording talks, and then there’s a space of silence meant to be filled by the repetition or response of the learner.
But there’s another option for using language learning recordings, and that’s a method known as “shadowing.” It involves repeating after the speaker immediately, as close to simultaneously as you can.
If you feel self-conscious about your pronunciation, you might find this helpful, as it takes the focus off of your ability to repeat the speaker’s words back. Even if you only try shadowing occasionally, it might be a useful way to change things up.
- Set aside time for review and additional types of active learning. Audio learning can save you from an unhealthy amount of sitting and repetitive motion. But it’s good to review what you’ve learned in other ways. For example, it may help to do a dictation-style exercise with your audiobooks a few times a week, so you can absorb the material you’re learning visually.
FluentU is another great way to learn substantially along with audio. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
The interactive subtitles make it easy to see the definition to any word in context immediately, and you can add words you’re reviewing in your audiobook lessons to a customizable video-based flashcard vocab list.
This is a perfect way to review vocabulary learned during audio sessions in a different format.
14+ Language Audiobook Series and Sources for Sound Learners
The number one obstacle to learning a new language with audiobooks may be confusion around how they’re distributed and regulated.
The foremost purveyor of audiobooks, Amazon’s Audible, can itself seem a bit confusing at first. It’s not an ongoing “all you can listen” deal, but rather a “certain number of credits that can be exchanged for audio goods” deal. Once subscribed, you can buy Audible books at full price or in exchange for Audible credits.
Some audiobooks are available outside of this whole structure from other platforms, like streaming services, or as downloads from individual websites. Some audiobooks offer multiple download options, but it may not be immediately clear which is the best deal.
Some of them are available completely for free but only through a certain service. Or they’re available for free but you have to track down all the episodes yourself. This can all be very exhausting!
But don’t worry, I’m going to help you navigate all the language audiobook weirdness. And we will emerge victorious, with audio learning material for you. Some of it can be cheap, some of it can even be completely free. I promise.
Language Learning Audiobook Programs and Series
First thing’s first: You may want to download the Audible app and/or sign up for a free trial. Doing so will get you access to some books that won’t otherwise be available to you, plus some freebies.
The main thing to be aware of when using an Audible account to try out new language learning audiobooks is that it’s to your benefit to use credits for the most expensive books. For example, if you have one credit and you want to purchase one audiobook that’s $17 and one that’s $22, you’ll want to use the credit for the one that’s $22 and pay for the other one.
I should mention that Audible has changed its pricing structure and the way it operates in the past, so you should absolutely check into the current policies before subscribing.
An alternative to Audible that works similarly is Audiobooks.com. Their overall selection of language learning audiobooks below isn’t as wide-ranging, but that might not matter depending on what programs interest you.
Another platform that includes a few of the options below is Audiobooksnow. You can also try e-book providers like Kobo and NOOK, or even see what audiobooks are available through services that link to your school or library, like OverDrive.
Below, I’ve linked to some of the most popular currently available options for the learning programs, brands or series mentioned. I’m not going to specify prices because those can change anytime. But by looking at all of these options together, you can hopefully decide what subscriptions or separate purchases would work best for you.
Okay, here we go!
Innovative Language has built multiple language programs based around podcast and video lessons. You can find their channels on YouTube for free material and sign up on their websites for more. Innovative Language has content for a large variety of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian and many more.
In addition, they offer a variety of audiobooks for a number of different languages. Some of these you can only purchase through Audible. The cool thing, though, is that some books, including select ones in the Word Power series, are available for free with an Audible subscription. Of course, this also means that you have to have an Audible subscription to download these books in the first place.
The Word Power series is focused around learning key core vocabulary. Vocabulary is selected based on frequency of use. While the format is a pretty standard one—you hear the teaching language, then hear the target language, then repeat—it’s efficient and includes context. The recording starts by introducing a word, then turns it into a phrase, and finally makes a complete sentence.
Personally, I think the concept behind this series is pretty neat. What you get is words and phrases in your target language taught over catchy, repetitive music.
As the music is specifically meant to go with the language being taught, it’s not distracting but enhancing. Admittedly, I suspect this may be a “love it or hate it” kind of thing. Some learners will probably find it annoying, but others may swear by it.
Either way, you can listen to free samples in the Audible store or on the website. The program is available in a number of popular languages and some books use German as the teaching language.
Lingo Jump is a series based around, yes, parallel audio. It focuses on pronunciation and “predictable speech patterns.” The main idea with this program seems to be to get you speaking both fast and accurately.
One cool thing about the program is that it offers parallel audio not just in multiple languages but in multiple language pairs. Aside from lessons with English as the teaching language, you can also find lessons taught in German, French, Spanish and Italian.
You can check out free samples of the program on Audible and the Lingo Jump TV YouTube channel before buying.
Only got 40 minutes? These audiobooks are short, sweet and based around practical scenarios. If you don’t have much time but want to brush up on a language you’re actually going to use, you may want to check these out.
Note that Collins 40 Minute books are pretty cheap on Audible, so you may not want to waste your credit on them but just purchase them with actual money.
Pimsleur courses are audio classics that really dig into spoken language and practical situations.
You can expect to work pretty hard when you do a Pimsleur lesson—unlike with some audio lessons that are more vocabulary-based, you really have to pay attention. You’ll also probably benefit most if you commit to working your way through one whole level over a shorter period of time.
Lessons are 30 minutes long and you can purchase them in chunks. Pimsleur is currently available for over 50 languages.
Unlike some of the other resources on this list, Berlitz offers sort of a grab bag of language tools for you. In other words, this isn’t so much its own resource as what you get under the Berlitz name. Berlitz is known for its innovative in-person classes, which are based around a practical and immersive method, so it’s no surprise that its products are generally thoughtful and high-quality.
Berlitz products vary by language, but like the teaching method, they tend to be oriented towards practical goals, like travel or daily conversation. So it’s worth checking out what’s available in the Audible store, especially because most of the products are quite cheap.
The Guaranteed series gives you a course that lasts a few hours and covers everyday language for around six dollars.
The life and work of Michel Thomas, a polyglot linguist and Holocaust survivor, has reached mythical status. His method can be a bit divisive, with glowing celebrity testimonials on the one hand and some saying his techniques aren’t all they’re cracked up to be on the other.
No matter what you think of the decades-old method itself, though, you have to admit it’s still different from most audio courses out there.
One of the ideas behind the Michel Thomas Method is that the teacher is responsible for the student’s learning. In other words, as the student listening to the recording, it’s your job to relax, listen and speak without worrying about memorization. (Thomas himself died in 2005, but others have taken over teaching with the Michel Thomas Method since then.)
The language courses consist of sessions between a teacher and students that were recorded live. The teacher on the recording presents the language in practical, logical parts.
Michel Thomas courses will probably be most appealing to learners who get tense while speaking in real-life situations or have had trouble putting language lessons to practical use. The Michel Thomas Method now covers 18 languages to some degree.
Paul Noble’s approach is sort of similar to Michel Thomas’s. The biggest difference between the two is that Thomas and his successors have offered live sessions involving actual students, mistakes and all. Noble’s recordings tend to be more stripped-down, and you’re the only student in the “classroom.”
From the specific recordings I’ve compared, which have been mostly the beginner French ones, Noble’s courses seem to move at a slower clip, while Thomas’s are a bit snappier and get you thinking on your feet right away.
So if you’re intimidated by the Thomas method, or if you don’t like the idea of hearing other students’ mistakes, you may want to give Noble a try. If, on the other hand, you find the Noble recordings don’t have enough energy and you want to be pushed to speak more, Thomas or Pimsleur may be more what you need.
Another big difference, which has nothing to do with the method itself but will be the only difference that matters to many, is that currently Noble only offers courses in five languages: French, Spanish, German, Italian and Mandarin Chinese.
Lingo Mastery audiobooks tend to focus on core vocabulary, but they make that focus interesting. Like with Innovative Language’s Word Power series, their “Words in Context” includes sentences for core vocabulary. You can find some of these recordings on their YouTube channel.
They also have a robust collection of dialogues and short stories available for French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese.
Remember how we talked about background music earlier? This program includes it for you. The material is pretty straightforward: As the title suggests, the purpose of VocabuLearn courses is to teach you vocabulary, and they do so in a simple “definition followed by language” format. Note that not all recordings for all languages have music, but a good number of them pipe in classical tunes behind your vocab study.
As it’s really just a vocabulary learning system, VocabuLearn probably shouldn’t be your primary study resource. But musical tracks make rote vocab learning much more pleasant, and might even be beneficial to listen to while you’re doing something else, like cooking or cleaning.
The catch to using this course through Spotify is that the free version won’t allow you to listen to the tracks in order. That might not be a big deal, as the lessons are vocabulary-based, but if you want to listen from beginning to end, you’ll have to spring for Spotify Premium or a version on one of the platforms above.
VocabuLearn is available for a wide array of languages that extends to Ukranian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Coffee Break lessons are laid-back and conversational, featuring a mixture of English and the language you’re learning. Each lesson involves at least one “teacher” and “learner” of the language, so this is another series where you get a semblance of group/classroom learning. Aside from exposure to practical language, you’ll receive insight on a variety of cultural topics.
Coffee Break Languages offers free audio lessons for learners of French, Italian, Chinese, German and Spanish. The number of “seasons” and the way they’re presented varies somewhat by language.
To get started, either go to the “website” link above and scroll down to “Choose your flavour,” or search for “Coffee Break [language]” from inside Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. If you have trouble finding the beginning of the lessons on Spotify, try sorting by date. On the website, you may need to jump to the last page of lessons.
You’ll notice that some languages include options for online courses and premium content you can pay for, but you should be able to get all the podcast lessons for free. Also, some languages, like French, include additional series for learners.
Besides the lessons for the languages above, Coffee Break Languages offers “One Minute” lessons and other features on their YouTube channel for many more languages.
The Coffee Break lessons are a good all-around resource, so if you’re looking to avoid Amazon altogether, this is a good place to start. Or if you’re just flat broke, this is also a good place to start.
Additional Resources for Authentic Foreign Language Audiobooks
Availability is still something of an issue for authentic audiobooks, but it’s much simpler to find free and accessible material once you enter the public domain.
Here are some top sources for affordable audiobooks. The books you find here will become especially useful as you work your way through the intermediate and advanced levels.
To be clear, this is an app intended to be used for visual reading, too. It allows you to choose from a variety of texts that you can experience alongside the translation and audio.
Beelinguapp is useful for audio learners who want to make sure they aren’t falling behind on their written language skills. Texts are currently available in 13 languages.
The simplest resource we’ve looked at thus far, LibriVox is basically a huge public domain library of audio texts. LibriVox currently has nearly 100 languages listed. Browse by your target language and have fun!
If you can’t find a particular public domain text you’re pining after on LibriVox, or you just want another option, you can always try a YouTube search. This could either mean searching for “audiobook” in your target language or simply doing a search for the specific book you’re looking for.
For example, if you’re learning German, you might delight in this audio version of Michael Ende’s “Die unendliche Geschichte” (The Neverending Story).
Quite an earful, huh? As you can see, the world of audiobooks is an exciting one if you know where to look. Learning a language with audiobooks is a great option for students, so get started with it right away thanks to our list above!
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