Audio vs Video in language study

Do you think it is more efficient to listen to radio or watch TV? I always thought radio is better, because it’s usually (but not always) more dense in terms of language content and it’s free of any visual distractions. However, while watching videos perhaps we feel the context in a deeper way and maybe seeing people communicating, their faces and body language activates some sort of our inborn and unconcious desire to imitate them? In my case, after spending months merely listening to radio I found TV to provide me with somewhat different stimulus.

Consider that natural language acquisition in children happens in an interactive environment with plenty of visual and other sensory cues. Video comes much closer to that than does radio. Radio, i.e., audio alone, can be very, very challenging. I like a variety of YouTube videos.

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For me, video has been an essential tool to my language learning precisely because it provides multiple visual associations that add to my understanding of a term or phrase. Normally when children learn a language, they are exposed to multiple sensory associations to learn what words/terms mean and do so in many contexts. For example, when my daughter was a toddler, I wanted to teach her “hot” so she would not go toward our fireplace. I was holding a cup of coffee and she was reaching for it. I said “hot, hot, hot” and looked alarmed but did not prevent her from putting her fingers in the coffee which was hot enough to be uncomfortable, but not hot enough to hurt her. She did so and immediately withdrew her hand as I repeated “hot.” Later that evening, when a fire was burning in our fireplace, she was going close to it and I said “hot.” She repeated “hot” and didn’t go closer to it. In an immersion situation, language learning is invariably accelerated precisely because of the constant creation of multiple sensory associations. However, there are things that a learner can do when not in such situations in order to create multiple associations when learning new vocabulary and grammar patterns.

For example, in the early stages of learning Russian, I wrote about and described out loud things that I was actually looking at, touching, experiencing. When I described the position of a book under, between, on top of, beside or behind something, it was because I was physically placing the object in that position and/or was describing what I was seeing at that moment. It was not an abstract grammar exercise (which I never do). Instead, I described what I was doing with my objects in my house at a given moment. (In Russian, the prepositions require different cases – i.e., word endings – for the nouns and adjectives that follow them so describing these positions is not easy at first.) By making multiple associations (visual, tactile) regarding the prepositions – touching and moving the objects in front of me – I readily learned and remembered the correct case for each one. I then reinforced the learning by using the terms in everyday life. (Where is my cell phone? Oh, it’s over there on top of the newspapers. Where is the cat? She is under the table.)

Videos are valuable precisely because one can hear and SEE the context in which something is said, including the emotional tone and body language of the characters, all of which add associations/meaning. I have long noticed that when I look up a word in a Russian subtitle of a video I am watching, I have no problem remembering its meaning precisely because of the multiple associations in that particular scene. That is not the case with a word that I encounter in text without pictures. The best way for me to remember a new word/grammatical construction in straight text is to USE it myself and thus “make it mine.” In essence, I create several new associations/meaningful contexts for the new vocabulary/grammar patterns, first writing them out and then saying them out loud. Once I do this, I know them thereafter and can use them in speech. Without such active use, I would have to encounter a term many, many times before I could use it. This is OK for some vocabulary but for really common words and expressions, I find it more efficient to USE them immediately rather than just “recognize” them passively in a given context. Thus, for me at my present stage of learning Russian (low intermediate), videos and films with Russian subtitles remain a superior learning tool. However, I also read, enjoy and have benefitted from the graded materials I read daily on LingQ. Once I know the new vocabulary well enough in a lesson, I just listen to the lesson on my phone without following the text. Interestingly, often there are words/phrases in a LingQ lesson that I didn’t initially flag for immediate use and thus left as passive vocabulary. However, when I subsequently heard the terms in a video, I knew them immediately and they moved into my active, solidly known vocabulary. Maybe at a more advanced stage I will be able to listen to radio programs and find them helpful, but for now, the multiple associations in videos are more effective for my learning.


Seriously though, I much prefer radio and podcasts because I get more content in the same amount of time.

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Yes, maybe when you get to 100,000 words. :slight_smile: I’m still at the point where it’s frequently just frustrating that I can almost but not quite follow the conversation. :frowning: A rapidfire conversation on would be opaque and useless for beginners. So the answer to the “most efficient” question probably depends on where you’re at in your progress.


Yeah, that makes sense:)

Thank you for your story! Now I’m even more convinced that there must be a stronger connection between videos and context. Also, I’ve just realized that if I recall my numerous language exchanges, I benefited more from the video calls, because such conversations are more vivid. I just never thought about it before.

Define ‘efficient’. What level is the person at ? What skills do they need to work on ? What type of language do they want to speak (ie formal, diplomatic, youth ?) How quickly do they need to understand/communicate ?

As a general rule stuff with visual contextual clues is easier. Reading is easier than listening to native-speed audio of the same text.

I find (as a roundabout ~B2 level overall learner) that TV is much superior to the radio. The radio is hard. It will obviously get easier as my comprehension becomes better.

Language is about understanding messages and to understand messages with TV sometimes you don’t even need to know what’s being said at all to get the gist. This would be impossible with radio.

radio is certainly more difficult for beginners or intermediates i think if you can listen to the radio comfortably you are very advanced

As long as I had a transcript, radio is probably better because there is more material. If I didn’t have a transcript to important into LingQ (or couldn’t use LingQ because they don’t support previous versions of the iPhone/iPad apps), I would use video with target language subtitles. But only then when I was at a higher level when there are few words I don’t know (becuase i won’t be able to import transcript text).

“radio … more material”. Maybe. But try as I may, I haven’t reached the end of YouTube yet. :wink:

I think it depends. Sometimes I need to focus on listening only so radio will works. But sometimes, listening with visual aids is the best especially when I learning pronunciation. Here is one example, it really helps me improve my pronunciation with images