Just Read or Listen to the Audiobook at the Same Time?

The question is in the title, but how do you all approach reading books in whichever language you are learning? I’ve been slowly going through an ebook in German and I switch between two general approaches. One is to go through a sentence, lingQ all of the unknown words and phrases, listen to it on my audiobook, and then repeat. The other is to just read straight through and listen to it later. I think the former method helps a bit more with comprehension later on but the time spent at my computer is much longer.

I have started reading and listening at the same time whenever I am at my computer and have found it has helped with my listening comprehension massively. I tend to listen and read to a whole chapter without stopping. The idea is to just enjoy the story and not worry about any unknown words at this point, as long as I can understand what is going on. Then I will go back through and do your first method, maybe not every sentence but I will listen and read to a 'page or 2 on LingQ at a time and then go through and create my LingQs and all that.


I think it is all effective so long as you do a lot of it. My own preference is to just read without bothering about listening and then to listen afterwards. I don’t want to read and then listen to it sentence by sentence because I just find stopping and starting the audio all the time a bit too much additional effort. As a beginner in Russian, I might read a short text through and then listen to it while reading straight after, but I won’t do this if it is a longer text.

My own observations:
Focus first/more on total words read per day if you already have moved most of the most common words to known. After hitting that goal, focus more on intense reading. Some reasons for this are: I figured out that many times I would spend say 1-5 minutes trying to figure out a word’s/phrase’s perfect meaning when focusing on one sentence. But then after just reading ONE MORE sentence the meaning was instantly obvious. Sometimes it take 3-4 sentences to get a word’s meaning. So extensive reading can save you a lot of time, you’ll be getting more reps per day of the words you already “know,” and you’ll be consuming MUCH MORE new words (just seeing the word alone will allow your brain a higher chance of learning it better later on, I’ll go into this down below more). But I still do intense reading too, but I recommend, reading at least one more sentence before you start digging into the dictionary. Or just click on the blue word and live with the first definition and move on.
Also, using LingQ on my computer tends to be slower process due to using a mouse, when I use hotkeys they sometimes stop working for some reason, I have more notifications on my computer too, etc so try out reading on your android/iphone for extensive reading if you can. It might decrease your time. Ultimately, there are clearly a lot of ways to go about this but I have found that focusing on reading more words per day for the past 2 weeks has led to much higher known words/general understanding of what I’m reading AND listening to than doing only/majority intense reading.

I’ll throw this in also: Steve has referenced a hypothesis/theory/whatever it is by Robert Bjork that I think correlates directly with me discovering that focusing on reading more words than reading with perfect understanding for every sentence is reaping better results for me. The brain stores information REALLY well. Especially visual information. But what we associate with fluency/knowledge is usually retrieval ability. Retrieval can be built up relatively quickly in one study session but it doesn’t maintain very well so it feels like we forgot something if we don’t think we remember it the next time we see it. But in fact, it is there, even if it’s just the spelling of the word. So even if you read/listen intensely and then finish the lesson understanding 99%, it’s not very likely you’ll maintain that retrieval, especially in different contexts. Bjork even discusses how moving to a different study location can remove your retrieval ability but if you move back to your general study area, it will return. Wtf, right lol? But the more exposure you get to words across various contexts (and physical locations) the stronger the memory is built in your brain. And then retrieval will be built up and stay up over time. If it disappears, that can be reactivated relatively quickly as Steve mentioned with taking a month off from Arabic, and I have experienced with taking 6 months off from Portuguese. If I forget something, I’m able to learn it better the next time and reactivate the retrieval very fast.

Bjork’s Video: robert bjork - retrieval induced forgetting - YouTube
Steve’s Video: Robert Bjork. The Importance of Forgetting in Learning. - YouTube
Another guy who sketches out Bjork’s explanation: Bjork learning and forgetting - YouTube

I have found listening while reading to be relatively interfering with each other, but yesterday I figured out if I take my eyes off the words and just listen to the narrator, and then only look at the words when I don’t recognize a word’s pronunciation or meaning, that works better. But trying to actually focus on reading and listening at the same time just doesn’t really happen. I feel like I’m blocking out one or the other and before I know it I’m way out of sync (being too far ahead or behind in the reading or listening)


I think it could be effective depending on the language you are studying and your native one. One reason is that if there is much difference and you don’t get how the language you are studying matches with the spelling of the words, reading and listening at the same time could be a lot beneficial since the beginning.

But if you know how to play the pronunciation of the language in your head while you’re reading it, I don’t think it’s much beneficial doing it at the same time as you won’t gain much from it. For example, in German, the language is not so much difficult once you know the alphabet. You read like the phonetic of the words are, like in Italian or Spanish. Yes, you might not get used to it and not be trained for it and for the speed but once you start listening a lot of stuff and you have a lot of passive vocabulary in your head I believe it’s just a matter of practice to get used to it very quickly.
So in this case I would read a lot before and then listen to the content afterwards. Now, if you want to listen to the same content I believe this would reinforce what you are reading.

But in the last example, I believe you can do it in both ways depending on your language level. If you are more intermediate it could be better to read first and the listen later. So you know already what it is and then you match what you can with audio comprehension.

If you are more advanced already you can listen to the audiobook first, catching most of the content so to enjoying it and reinforce your vocabulary reading later. Sometime we hear a word a lot of time but we don’t get the spelling or nothing at all and reading it will give us the ah ah moment that will reinforce our global comprehension. Or we listen while doing other stuff and when reading later we can focus even more on what we were listening to and gain more vocabulary.

But those are just ideas.

“But trying to actually focus on reading and listening at the same time just doesn’t really happen.”
I agree because human beings aren´t real “parallel processors”, but one-processor systems who constantly switch their attention focus.

“I feel like I’m blocking out one or the other and before I know it I’m way out of sync (being too far ahead or behind in the reading or listening)”
My experience is a little different: The “struggle” to synchronize reading and listening helps my focused attention. But when I want to look up words … well, I shouldn’t look up words when I combine ultra-reading with listening :slight_smile:

I’m a big fan of reading and listening at the same time. If you’re still in the beginning phases, your first approach you mentioned will be more beneficial on the long run, but it will take more time to get through.

At the early stages, I highly recommend comparative reading, which is basically getting both English and German versions of the same text along with the German audio and then just reading and comparing them sentence by sentence. This may sound slow, but it’s actually a lot faster than trying to make sense of a book just with LingQ translation when you’re still in the early phases – and this method is extremely beneficial in building vocabulary, and speeding up your comprehension.

Another huge advantage of comparative reading early on is that quickly shows you things like expressions, slang usage of words, old usage of words etc. A LingQ translate might identify an unknown word, but it may not tell you its use is outdated unless you see it translated in context, etc.


I switch back and forth. When I have the energy to sit down and just read I’ll do that. When I’m not in the mood to sit down and read or I’m multi tasking I’ll listen to an audiobook. I find that just listening without doing something else is a bit tedious though so I’ll usually at least go for a walk while I listen. I don’t really like to listen and read at the same time - unless it’s an Asian script and even then it gets tiring.

It’s a good strategy that works pretty well for me. I always read a book in multiple media, which allows me to read faster. When I am at home, I take a paper version of the book from the shelf and start reading. For example, lately I have been very fond of the era of romanticism, which I learned about in many ways on the site ⇉Free Romanticism Essay Examples and Topic Ideas on GraduateWay After that I leave the house and start listening to the audiobook to continue. While learning a foreign language, I can also listen to an audiobook and read at the same time.