How often do you listen to audio books as opposed to reading?

This question refers specifically to your target language studies, as opposed to your native language.

I find audiobooks inherently more enjoyable in many ways than reading, particularly as they are a superb means of maintaining and improving listening comprehension without the luxury of being immersed in an L2 environment. Since maintaining aural contact with my languages is paramount for me, using audiobooks is therefore more congenial to my studies. So this thread is for curiosity’s sake, to find out whether the majority here prefer to read words or listen to them.

I suppose one of the issues I have in making this thread is whether reading, at an advanced level, is enough on its own to keep a language alive and to maintain listening comprehension. This is where I thought audio books would come in: one could expand one’s vocabulary indefinitely by means of literature, all the while improving and maintaining aural contact with the language. This is based on the assumption that listening comprehension is harder, or at least takes longer, to build and maintain than mere reading abilities (with the important exception of such languages as Chinese and Japanese). At least that has been the case with me. If I can read French literature reasonably well, my listening comprehension is almost certainly a notch below. This is why I’ve considered “ditching” (at least for the time being) the written word and engaging with the spoken word to keep the language alive in my head.

Audio books are great, with one caveat, though. The voice you hear is usually that of a professional voice actor. The pace is normally slower than that of natural, spontaneous speech. In this respect, you’re better off listening to talk shows or street interviews, or even watching movies.

Comprehension-wise, you’re absolutely right—the comprehension level of spoken language almost always lags behind the comprehension of written language. But this is only logical. While reading, you have the luxury of pausing on any word you don’t understand (or can’t recall quite instantly) for as long as you want. In speech, you have to move on, otherwise, while pondering over an unknown or misheard word you run the risk of missing out on the rest of the phrase, which will bring your comprehension level further down.

Could it be said that while narration tends to be slower than conversational speech, the difficulty in comprehending the latter tends to be “compensated” somewhat by a generally more limited vocabulary and range of grammatical constructions than the kind found in literary works? For my part, I tend to find conversational French less difficult than audio books, though this is admittedly not always the case given the lack of slang in my lexicon. I definitely agree though, that I should expose myself to television and film speech. After all, there are all kinds of registers of speech in languages!

"So this thread is for curiosity’s sake, to find out whether the majority here prefer to read words or listen to them. "

I feel that reading words is easier than listening to them. Besides, while reading I disregard or skip uninteresting parts so that I may not be frustrated. That is why I spend more time on reading than listening. I think that my listening ability is relatively inferior, but I reconcile myself to the fact.

I listen much more because it is easier for me to make time for listening while doing other tasks.

I prefer listening up to C1. At C1 and onward, I prefer reading. I much prefer listening to transcribed conversations. If I am going to listen to a reading, I can usually only listen to professional actors. I rather dislike listening to amateur readers.

Audio books don’t really appeal to me. I’d rather just read literature than have to listen to it as well. Having said that, my interest areas are generally non-fiction related, so audio books aren’t really suitable anyway for me.

In the last few weeks, I’ve taken a two-pronged approach to listening and reading in French. I listen to podcasts (without transcripts) of material that interests me; I can now understand it sufficiently (75% plus) to keep me motivated. I don’t worry about not understanding it all. I will often listen to the same podcast two or more times, if it’s something I am especially interested in.

In parallel to this, I read books covering similar subject matter and highlight words/phrases I don’t understand with my trusty red pen. When I have time I look up these words using online dictionaries and write them in the margin of the book. I will later reread the text (at a more rapid pace); this is a great method for increasing vocabulary and I notice words and phrases I’ve learned from the books appearing in the podcasts. I don’t (yet) import the words and phrases into LingQ but I may do in the future; I don’t know how worthwhile this exercise would be to be honest.

I also listen/read to conversational podcasts in the LingQ library. Serge and Marianne have created some excellent content for this in the French library. I think conversational stuff is the best material for both listening and reading - I find anyway.

Interest is key. One of the books I’m currently reading is the French translation of Daniel Tammet’s “Embracing the Wide Sky”. He makes the point early on that research has shown that the parts of the brain involved in learning and memory are far more receptive when the learner is more motivated due to the subject matter being more interesting.

@Jamie - Out of curiousity, why would you not simply import an article from the web into LingQ on a related topic to the podcast and look up the words instantly and save them on LingQ instead of the laborious process of looking up words in a paper dictionary and writing them down?


Mark, I’m not sure quite what you mean. Please explain as I may be missing a really good tip !

From time to time I do import articles of interest using the bookmarklet feature, which is a great tool. However, how can you do this with books ?
Even if ebook versions were available I would hesitate using them… I may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but I much prefer paper versions ! (especially as I spend all day in front of a computer screen)

Note: I only use online dictionaries (for speed), hardly ever use paper ones these days.

It’s handy seeing my red “manual LingQs” when I reread the book, as a reminder of the meaning of the words. If I copied the terms into LingQ how would this benefit me ?

To clarify, I buy the books because I want to read them, not just to support my listening activities.

ahh…for books I see what you mean. But, if you are only looking for reading material on topics similar to the podcasts you are listening to, you can probably find a lot of it online just not in book form.

Yes, that’s also a good method which I use for very specific things I come across in the podcasts or books, which I want to know more about. I use a lot for this.

I listen far more than I read, and for good reasons. If my family see me reading they assume I am not busy enough and therefore come and disturb me. I can pretend to be asleep while listening to an audio book and they leave me alone :wink:

Also, I have a pile of books on professional development which are higher priority than my Russian novels, so if I’m going to read I feel I should read one of them ;-(

I read much more because it is interesting for me. I do not know why, but I can not listen. I realize audiobooks are useful for understanding the foreign speech. On the other hand, book reading increases vocabulary, I write words almost without mistakes.

I also listen much more than I read just because I can do it often- while walking, driving, jogging etc., and I believe it is necessary for the comprehension – you can’t achieve speech understanding though reading.

I read much more than I listen. But I’ve been slowly getting into audiobooks lately, as it’s a good tool to learn last minute while relaxing at night in bed to get to sleep. :slight_smile:

I’ve always been more of a reader than a listener, for me I enjoy discovering things for myself, rather than having them told to me, that way I can embrace the story as individually as possible. Also audiobooks are very cumbersome to me; with a book I can translate a sentence or word I don’t know by simply opening up a dictionary and glancing back at the word. With an audiobook I dislike having to stop the recording, rewind, stop the recording, rewind, ad nauseum. Having said that though, once I’ve read a book, translated it as efficiently as possible to my liking, I love audiobooks. Getting to listen to a story I love and am familiar with, only in another language. It is only once I’ve embraced my personal interpretation of the story and developed the scenery and such in my head that I can truly begin appreciating audiobooks. Perhaps that is a more aesthetic level though.

Having said that though, I do listen to audibooks fairly often. Particularly lately given all the wonderful audibooks offered on LingQ. What I love to do is find the German version (language I’m primarily learning) of a book I’m currently reading in English, than jump back and forth from English writing (or translation) to German audio. Lately I’ve been listening to Audibooks (generally the same chapter until I have it completely understood) about an hour or an hour and a half each day I’m able to.

I think audiobooks are a very useful learning tool for high intermediate 1 and intermediate 2. Has anyone here used them successfully either above or below these levels?

I’m not sure how you would define success but if personal enjoy enjoyment is a viable measuring stick, I can personally vouch for audiobooks at the most elementary level. I am studying Japanese at the very beginning level (<150 known words) and I have been listening to the Japanese graded readers from the レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー にほんごよむよむ文庫 (graded Japanese Language extensive reading library - Japanese yomu yomu book collection). Although I did not take the recommendation of the publisher to only listen without a dictionary, I read along with the book and I have been looking up every word I didn’t know and then some, I am enjoying the experience immensely and it helped me a lot in getting to hear distinct words instead of just a blur of strange sounds.

I did the same with Dutch, listening to the very expensive to import Harry Potter and the Hobbit. Even after my Harry Potter was stolen from my car I bought another one and still enjoy listening to it. My Mother who is a native speaker helped with recording some Louis Couperus in the original Dutch, and listening to her voice reading a great early 20th century Dutch novelist was one of the highlights of my Dutch Learning.

I am a very slow learner so I don’t measure my success in terms of production oriented statistics, (I still kinda suck at Dutch spreken even though my comprehension is pretty good) but the hours of enjoyment I have derived from my listening is enough to keep me doing it over and over. I recommend it!

I prefer Audio books but I do believe there should be a balance with your reading. For instance the audio book program I’ve been listening to recently helps alot with learning new phrases and pronunciation, but however it doesn’t show me how to spell those words out to where I’d recognize them in a German newspaper or whatever, which is why I find it important to me is if I don’t know how to write a word or sentence down, Ill figure them out with an online translator and right them down in a notebook and review them later. I also have books I read that teach grammar and verbs, as well as different rules etc. etc. but I’d say over 50% of my studying in a day is devoted to audio books and eventually I hope to get to a point where I know German good enough to watch a German t.v. show or movie even if its a dub of like a cartoon or something with not very extensive vocabulary, I prefer to start there and eventually go onto more complex things. I’m definitely by no means an expert on language learning, I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time but for me I feel I’m making progress as long as I know more of the language as I did the day before.