Listen or read first?

When you have a new dialogue, with text, do you prefer to listen or read first? Why?

My view: common view (dogma?) seems to be to listen first, but I’ve never understood why. I prefer to read first, particularly if it is a challenging piece with likely higher than normal number of new words (20-30+%). This way I can review any unknown words, get used to them, and see how they may be used in other contexts. Then after reading/review, I listen a couple of times and then reread the sections I am still not picking up on.

I like to read first out loud, a few paragraphs at a time. (anywhere from one to ten paragraphs, depending on their length, challenge, and my…personal whimsy at the time) Then I listen while re-reading up to the point I’ve read out loud to myself. I repeat this method until I get to the end of the lesson or I’ve gotten through at least five minutes of audio. If I go past five minutes I make sure to do ten minutes before I stop, etc. (most of the material I use tends to be made up of long lessons)

When I was fairly new in French I would listen first, then read. This began to seem redundant as my knowledge and skill with pronounciation and comprehension improved. As I got better, listening seemed to become less important, since I already knew what most of it would sound like.

I also read first in Spanish, even though I am still in the early stages. To me Spanish pronounciation is fairly easy to predict with unknown words, so to listen before reading also seems a bit backwards.

I’ve changed positions on this numerous times during my half-year tenure with Russian. At first I thought it best to simply get the spoken words into the memory bank, so to speak - and read the texts and word definitions later on. Sometimes I still prefer to do this, especially when I have many other things on my daily agenda. But, I must say: I have found learning (for myself) better when I read first - thoroughly read (ie: remember most of the word definitions) - and then listen. Maybe I’m more of a text-learner than a listening one. But not everyone is the same. Try out a few different ways and see what brings you better results. Sometimes it’s also just a matter of “mixing it up” - approaching it differently from time to time. Sometimes I prefer to listen and read at the same time, for instance; stopping the audio whenever I come to an unfamiliar word, read the definition, and then continue or start again.

First, I listen and read at same time, once. After, I only read at out loud. Finally, I only listen to. If I get 70%~100% of the lesson i change and study another lesson. It works to me =D.

If I read first or along with listening on the first time, then that ruins the lesson as far as a test of listening comprehension goes.

I want to listen to something which I don’t know what’s coming and see if I can understand it- like a real situation out on the battlefield. So reading first or simultaneously on the first time takes away a lot of the usefulness of the new lesson.

Perhaps there would have been something I wouldn’t have caught in listening alone, but since I already read it, I know what’s coming and get a false sense of my level.

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LFJ - if you don’t know the new words, will a “listening comprehension test” really help that situation?

Depends on the language.

For example, in the German I’m learning there are many new words that sound quite similar to the English words or are compounds of simpler German words. So it gives me a chance to see if I would actually be able to understand them the first time I hear them, having not previously come across them.

I often find that’s the case, but sometimes not. Even if the pronunciation is too dissimilar to English for me to have caught it, the meaning may be obvious in reading. But that being the case, reading over the lesson first takes away that opportunity to test it in listening, as I then know what’s coming, and have no way to predict whether or not I would have understood it otherwise.

Overall though, If I am taking lessons that have a small percentage of new words then I can expect to have some unknown words in there and not worry about it, because the listening test is for the ability to catch known words in new contexts without having read them first, which would have made the listening too easy and predictable.

So do you think it is dependent on the likely amount (%) of new words in the text? or just how well you can discern the new words based on the context and existing language knowledge? If the percentage of new words is likely to be small (ie dialogue is at my level), I’ll often find I will listen first, but I also find that I don’t learn anything new, I just reinforce existing knowledge.

I stick about 3 hours worth of material at a time onto my smartphone and listen to it through the week. Whether I read it first or not is purely random. It seems to make no difference to my learning which way round it happens.


I like to listen first regardless of whether the percentage of new words is high or low, just to see how much I can get from it. Even with a higher percentage it may be possible to roughly get the gist of the topic. Every lesson has a story or message to unlock. Reading through it and checking all the new words first makes the message clear without effort and takes away the opportunity to use nothing but listening to try to unlock what the lesson is about. So for me I always want to listen first before I know what’s coming and what I’m actually listening to. If I don’t get much it’s fine. I at least got a little training and I can then go into the lesson and start learning. If I understand most, then it’s great reinforcement practice and good for confidence anyway.

It is better to read and work out unknown words in advance. Then, give it a few listens. The main reason is, you would not have to stop listening in the middle of the session in order to figure out the gist of the text. This way it would be more pleasurable and you would enjoy it more. So it is a great motivation booster. If you have plenty of time on your hands, also, have ample patience, then, I believe, all roads will take you to Rome.

I agree with LFJ.

I always listen 1 or 2 times first. Than I listen and read along with the text and create LingQ’s for the unknown words. For me listening is much more difficult than reading. So it is more challenging to listen first. But this way my listening abilities have improved a lot.

Another point is that I get easily bored. If I listen to a text that I already know very well, I get easily distracted and I find myself not listening carefully enough.

<I always listen 1 or 2 times first. Than I listen and read along with the text and create LingQ’s for the unknown words. For me listening is much more difficult than reading. So it is more challenging to listen first. But this way my listening abilities have improved a lot. >

It is the same process if you look at it carefully. Touch your ears either with your right hand or left hand, in the end, your ears are the same.

If you really want to give your hearing a real kick start, why bother working with a piece of text, start listening to Radio on line. That will be a good challenging work out for your ears.

For me, if I do not understand something while listening I feel like I am just simply wasting my time. As for reading it is the same. I do a quick skimming when I am about to read something, jot down unknown words , look them up in advance and start reading.

As they say, different strokes for different folks.

“Reading through it and checking all the new words first makes the message clear without effort and takes away the opportunity to use nothing but listening to try to unlock what the lesson is about.”

If it is a challenging piece (20-30%+ new words), reading and reviewing the new words also takes effort. (but surely if it less effort to learn the new words, then this is the better approach?)

Is it really efficient to “unlock” new words just by listening (particularly if you are not in an immersion environment)? If you don’t know the word, is it inefficient to discern it through listening?

I guess the issue, to me, is what is “most efficient”. But I guess Steve, and others, will argue - just do what works for you. I still believe there is efficiency gain to be made by reading first. But I am taking on board the logic of the alternative view.

I wasn’t saying to unlock new words just by listening, but to try and get the gist of the lesson through listening alone, before going through slowly reading and looking at each word, because by then the lesson content is clear and listening for overall meaning is no challenge. So it takes away some usefulness in listening right away, and as Vera said, it can make the listening boring being familiar with what’s coming.

I don’t worry about not knowing certain new words, because in speaking to a native there are bound to be unknown words coming at me. I can’t ask them for a transcript of everything they’re about to say to me. So listening first is also getting me used to that, trying to decipher the gist of the speech even with unknown words in there, which I then study in the most efficient way here at LingQ, reading, looking up new words, creating LingQs, reviewing, listening more, etc…