“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” — Geoffrey Willans
But what is the key to really understanding a language (or two)?
In this post, I’ve shared actionable tips and my favorite resources to get you started in the right direction.
- My Favorite Tips for Productive Language Listening Practice
- The 13 Best Language Listening Resources
- In Person Immersion
- Interaction with Native Speakers
- Media and Entertainment
My Favorite Tips for Productive Language Listening Practice
Anyone who speaks more than one language knows that learning a language is a lot of work, no matter which language you’re learning. They all require time and energy. No argument there.
But listening time shouldn’t be a drag. It shouldn’t feel like your nose is to the grindstone every time you prepare to increase your language listening skills.
Listening practice can—and should be—fun.
No, I’m not kidding. Bear with me here!
To make listening practice less of a chore, choose activities that appeal to you, ones that seem interesting or make you excited about learning. Be flexible, though, and be willing to try new things. Who knows? You may gain some new favorite activities.
You also need to actively participate during listening practice. Too often, learners just “listen,” which sometimes ends up being a zoned-out, mind-wandering event. Don’t let that happen to you!
How can you actively participate in this part of your language program? Here are a few ideas:
Jot down vocabulary words and phrases that are new to you or that you think you’ll be able to pull into your writing or speaking practice.
When you hear a phrase that seems a bit complicated, try to mimic the speaker’s pronunciation. Chances are good that you’re listening to a native speaker. Who better to model pronunciation after?
Also, while you’re listening, actively participate in the conversation or respond to the audio. In other words, reply to what you’re hearing. Have a conversation with the video. No one’s judging!
Make listening practice the backbone of your program. When we listen and comprehend, we gain ground on the path to fluency.
So schedule daily listening practice, create an immersive home environment and incorporate some of these wonderful tips into your language program!
The 13 Best Language Listening Resources
Apps are a convenient way to pull in small bites of practice anywhere—because when you’re learning a language, every little bit of practice counts!
Look for apps that feature speaking and repeating exercises for optimal listening challenges.
You can also download an app that features several languages. Language learning is fun—why stop at just one?
The best way to gain listening practice with apps is to use your ears, not your eyes. If there are illustrations or transcripts with the listening sections, look away. Really listen—and learn!
HiNative (iOS or Android)
HiNative connects learners from around the world.
Ask questions, chat and get specific answers on everything from where to eat when traveling to what sort of regional accent you might encounter on an adventure.
FluentU is a website and app that’s all about learning languages with authentic video.
You’ll learn the language in the context of movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos and more fun materials intended for native speakers.
The lessons you learn from these videos are reinforced through multimedia flashcards and vocabulary lists, interactive subtitles and personalized quizzes that evolve as you learn.
SpeaterLite or Repeat Player
Listening repeatedly to the same phrase can be helpful. Doing so provides a listener with a “repeat” opportunity to fully comprehend any bit of spoken language.
SpeaterLite for iOS and Repeat Player for Android are repeater apps perfect for the task. Any bit of language can be listened to again and again—there’s no need to wonder if you’ve missed something!
A great course can bring loads of listening opportunities. The key to getting the best listening practice is to choose a course heavy on listening options. Look for videos, music, comprehension exercises or question-and-answer exercises.
Get the most out of your coursework by not only listening but also repeating what you hear. Take part in discussions by answering questions when they’re asked.
After working through an exercise, build on what you’ve learned. Formulate your own questions or statements about the content, add to what was being said, summarize what you just heard—in other words, remain engaged with the content, even after it’s finished!
edX is a global learning platform that makes courses available for learners from some of the most prestigious universities—no matter where they are in the world. It delivers educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to learners.
Fortunately, there’s a super selection of language courses open—for free—on edX.
There are a number of courses offered, targeting a few different languages. Content changes over time, so if you don’t see the language you’re currently interested in, check back in a week or two to see if a course has been posted in your target language.
My niece is using this now and her Basic Spanish course gives plenty of listening and comprehension practice!
Lingoci is an ideal way to gain listening practice!
It’s a program that offers one-on-one tutoring via Skype to language learners. Interacting with a native speaker in a target language makes communication—and listening!—the focal point of learning.
Every level of learner is accommodated through this program. Lessons are 55 minutes long, can be scheduled at convenient times and all materials are provided by the tutor.
In Person Immersion
Listening to a target language 24/7 can’t be beat, but let’s face it: Immersion is a long shot for most of us. Work, school, family obligations or finances keep us from grabbing our passports and going for this option.
But, if you’re fortunate enough that an immersive experience is possible, absolutely go for it!
There are a few things to look for when deciding to experience immersion. Of course, location is key, but you’ll also want to consider the types of cultural activities you’ll want to experience and whether you’ll feel more comfortable with a host family or in an apartment of your own.
Concordia Language Villages
Concordia Language Villages focuses on immersion for adult learners and has options available for a number of languages. This program is unique in that the immersion takes place in villages located in Minnesota!
There are 15 languages to choose from and learners are evaluated for placement with others who are at the same level. Days are filled with language lessons, cultural presentations, authentic cooking experiences and music.
If you’re US-based and looking for immersion that won’t take you overseas, this is a super option!
If you’re ready to take the full-on immersion plunge, Go Overseas is ready to help make that dream come true. There’s no way around it, studying a language abroad is a fabulous experience.
The immersive programs here vary, so whether you’re looking for a volunteer, employment, internship or educational adventure, there’s a program waiting for you. Immersion offers full-on listening practice with the added benefits that come with falling fully into a cultural experience!
Interaction with Native Speakers
If you’re like most of us, immersion might not be possible. But don’t worry: There’s still a way to interact with native speakers from home. That’s right: The internet brings everyone closer, so listening practice can come to you if you can’t go to it!
A few tips will help you get the most out of this part of your program.
Record yourself speaking. It sounds silly but this allows you to listen to your pronunciation and gives you a chance to correct any mistakes.
If it’s acceptable to your language partner, record him or her speaking, as well. Listen to the conversation more than once and use the native speaker’s pronunciation as a guide. Model your own pronunciation after your partner’s—and turn listening practice into speaking practice!
Tandem is a language exchange community that encourages learners to practice languages with native speakers. This is a great way to pick up slang and idioms or ask particular questions about locations and culture.
If your partner is located in a spot you’re considering visiting, turn this listening practice into a fact-finding mission! Ask about cultural activities and regional cuisine to get an almost-immersive experience.
RhinoSpike allows learners to upload text that they want translated into a target language. Native speakers record the text, then learners download the audio file and commence listening! It’s as simple as that!
You can always return the favor by recording some text in your own native language for others.
Media and Entertainment
Listening practice can be part of your entertainment time, too! Draw your target language into the fun parts of your day and you won’t even feel that you’re studying.
Whatever entertainment option you choose, don’t watch or listen to simply “put in the time” on your language program. Don’t use this option solely for diversion. Watch or listen to get the gist of what’s going on.
I did this with Italian, hoping to gain more from movies and music by not going into zombie mode. I forced myself to maintain concentration on dialogue without being swept away by scenery or action when I watched movies. It’s just a matter of being more active in the situation. Try it—it works!
But don’t be discouraged if you’re not understanding everything that’s being said. Remember: You learned your native language through listening—and you certainly didn’t understand everything immediately! Be patient, but persistent.
Press the pause button often. Listen again to a stream of dialogue and repeat as necessary until you gain comprehension. Also, take notes! This helps with writing practice, too.
Videos with YouTube
YouTube is a language learner’s dream site. There are listening videos in a multitude of languages and at all levels.
Simply search for “[your target language] listening practice” to find plenty of options. Then, you can choose the suggested videos produced by YouTube to continue your learning.
For instance, searching for “German listening practice” might lead you to a two-hour listening practice video from GermanPod101 (which also has awesome supplementary learning material on the website). From there, you can move on to a suggested video, like a three-hour “Learn German While You Sleep” video.
For even more targeted learning, you can add a difficulty level to your search. Searching for “easy Japanese listening practice,” for example, can direct you to nearly two hours of “Slow & Easy Japanese Conversation Practice” from Kendra’s Language School.
Movies and TV Shows with Netflix
Watching movies is a fun way to gain some language listening practice. And Netflix is a great option for learners!
To find the language you’re studying, browse the foreign language options by searching for your target language or using a handy guide to Netflix genre codes. Not every language is covered, but many are.
If you’re a beginner, watch with subtitles. Remember, it’s okay—encouraged, even!—to pause and repeat scenes. Then, when you’re comfortable, you can forgo subtitles and focus on the spoken words.
Be a critic! Listen, understand and evaluate what you’re watching as if you’re reviewing for an audience.
Listen, learn and relax!
Audiobooks with Audible
Audible has a quality selection of audiobooks in languages other than English. Browse around, find an option that appeals to you and settle in for some listening adventures.
But don’t just listen! Remember, you need to be active to really get the most from your learning.
Create handbook of unfamiliar phrases and words you think should be in your vocabulary bank. Then, integrate those new-to-you phrases into your writing and speaking practice.
Not finding any words you don’t know? Stopping every two seconds to write down new words? You might have chosen a book that’s not the right level for you. Choose books to challenge—but not overwhelm—your skills. If you’re an intermediate learner, for instance, don’t go for children’s books. Look for something that won’t be too hard, but won’t be so simple that you don’t make any progress from listening.
If you don’t understand a passage in the book you’ve chosen, don’t get discouraged. Listen again, grab a translation app or Google the plot to gain comprehension.
Music with Spotify
Everyone loves music and learning with it is an excellent way to get immersed. Luckily, Spotify offers music in many different languages.
Find music in your target language and play it in the background of your life. At home, at the gym and in the car are great spots to passively listen and pick up phrases, vocabulary and idioms.
For more active language listening practice, play the music without doing anything else and concentrate—sit down and really listen to the song lyrics. I did this when I was learning Italian and it proved very beneficial.
Songs bring cultures alive so music serves many learning purposes!
Using language requires good listening skills and the best way to increase any skill is through practice.
With so many fabulous practice options available, don’t choose just one. Learn by incorporating several resources into your program.
Improve your language listening skills, learn as much as possible, communicate effectively and become a part of the global language community!