Passive Listening

I like the idea. I know that Steve Kaufmann and many language learners make passive listening an important part of their process.

But when I passively listen to my target language, even when I’ve read the transcript and know the plot, it seems pretty questionable for acquisition.

Maybe I’m not noticing. Maybe it adds up in the long run. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

Mostly I return to active listening as the Real Work.

Comments, thoughts, suggestions?

i struggled with this forever/still do. i basically ignored listening except for very focused practice/word for word with dialogues or comedy skits, which amounted to a drop in the bucket of my reading level. im finally starting to get more listening in thanks to fellow lingqer peter bormann’s reading-while-listening evangelism. i think passive listening is a skill you have to work up to, both in your target language and just in general in your skills as a language learner. might be safer to only do reading while listening until you reach an upper intermediate level, or have truly mastered one foreign language before experimenting with passive listening earlier in the process with another one

Thanks. Perhaps I’m not ready to absorb the benefits of passive listening yet.

I love reading French, but I first got into this because I love French songs. So for me listening is on the same level as reading.

When I now LingQ through a sentence I listen to the audio 5-6 times. During the last two reps I close my eyes, then visualize the words and feel the meaning as best I can.

It seems to be paying off.


I think what’s comprehensible input for reading and what’s comprehensible input for listening can sometimes be different things. Especially if the language is very different from your native language. Remember, the stuff you’re listening to should only be ever so slightly above your level, so that the words you don’t know can be inferred from the context.

So, just because you can understand a piece of text (through LingQ, of course) doesn’t mean necessarily that you should be able to understand the audio. And I wouldn’t get too hung up on that.

I’m learning Turkish, so a language very different from English. I started in January of this year. I have been listening to the mini-stories passively since then, as that has been the only audio that I could understand (or at least understand any of - I won’t claim to understand them all even now). I’ve still been reading and enjoying a variety of texts, still listening to them alongside reading. And I do a lot of that. Read something a few times, and then listen to the audio a few times while reading… but that’s active listening.

Passive listening should be something easy, otherwise you’re not really gaining anything from it. Listening to something you don’t understand is not going to help you improve; it’s just noise. You have to be able to understand it, so I’d recommend going back to something you do understand (like I did with the mini-stories) and focus on that for passive listening until you understand more.

I’ve now started to be able to understand different audio, so I mingle that in with the mini-stories while I prepare food or whatever, but my reading comprehension is still higher than my listening. And that’s okay; I think it’s normal.
I believe the ‘active’ listening is probably really important in speeding this up though, or at least I believe it is for me. I learn to associate the words I’m hearing with the text, so as I’m listening the written sentence sort of forms in my head… I don’t know if that’s a thing for everyone.

I don’t know if you have ever learned other languages, but I think for me, having done this in other languages, I can now sort of just trust the process. I now that by doing the things I do, I will be able to do more of the things I want to do.
When I learned Swedish (now a high B2/low C1 level) I had a similar experience, and with consistency my listening comprehension caught up, to the point where I almost exclusively listen now, mainly to audio books. Swedish is obviously more similar to English than Turkish, so the process was quicker, but if I look back I’d say it didn’t completely ‘click’ until a high B1 level, even though it was a similar language.


You can’t notice any improvement after one short session of passive listening. It’s like trying a new hobby once and saying you aren’t improving. Try doing an hour or so per day of passive listening for a month or several months (to material you have already read and read-while-listening). Not only does it improve your listening ability, but it is also drilling that new vocabulary and phrases you encountered for the first time while reading into your long-term memory.

EDIT: Also, I found passive listening works best while actually doing something, not just sitting there in a chair. In those cases, I get bored and my mind wanders.