What are the Pros and Cons of Books(with Audiobooks) vs TV Shows/Youtube Videos (with transcripts)?

Obviously we are free to use both but I’m comparing the pros/cons of Books/Audiobook to TV Shows/Youtube channels (ones that are dialogue heavy, lots of talking i.e. sitcom shows, reality TV, VLOG youtube channels)

-Dense amount of words
-Better for passive listening because visuals are described
-Very Clearly Spoken
-More variety of words used
-Can read the book easily without the audiobook

Cons: (maybe)
-Audiobooks are generally limited to one narrator voice
-No visuals and generally no sound effects
-Less conversationally common words used
-Spoken too clearly compared to everyday life conversations

TV / Youtube - (Dialogue Heavy)
-Visuals and Sounds
-More realistic pronunciation to everyday life
-Can observe conversations (acted or real life)
-More slang, modern slang, more voices.
-Every type of person is represented on youtube 10 fold, of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. I can’t say the same about authors and books.

-Passive listening is difficult sometimes without the visuals
-Reading transcripts (unaccompanied by the video) can be very confusing without visuals

  • Generally Less variety of words compared to literature

Final note:
I’ve met people who have focused on either one exclusively and both with a high level of their second language. But I venture to say the ones I know who focused the majority of their time on Books/Audiobooks achieved a high level of comprehension in a shorter period of time than the ones who focused exclusively on TV/Youtube input with subtitles.


I think you already hit most of the main points.

But I venture to say the ones I know who focused the majority of their time on Books/Audiobooks achieved a high level of comprehension in a shorter period of time than the ones who focused exclusively on TV/Youtube input with subtitles.

I’d say people who like to read books are generally more studious than people who like to watch TV, so that could account for the difference you see.

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You are pretty much spot on. Just add radio plays there as well. More closer to real conversations. My listening skills in German have improved quite drastically thanks to listening to such radio plays. A lot of characters are speaking at the same time to keep your mind engaged at all times so less chance of zoning out which you do more often than not when listening to an audiobook. They are usually 45 mins-3 hours in length. Mostly, you are done with them in one sitting.


Woah I never thought about searching for radioplays. I hope I can find some. Thanks for that idea.

I agree with pretty much all of this. Books with audio are superior as far as a study method.

TV shows are a fun way to enjoy the language and build on what you’ve learned. But as a primary method, they’re kind of a waste of time – not because you won’t learn from them, you will – but because the amount of words you will learn vs. the amount of time spent will be a lot less comparatively to books.

Regarding radio plays, I’ve listened to them in the past, but I must say I find it to be very hard format for language learners unless you’re at a really high level. The whole point of a radio play is to deduct the context, and deduct the story itself strictly from the dialog and some sound effects – as compared to an audio book that tells you a story and adds dialog within the context of that. The visual evocations and associations are a lot more vivid with an audiobook and they build comprehension a lot better for most learners. Also, because of this constant high end detective work you have to do to deduct the story of a radio play, I find them to be not such a relaxing experience for passive listening. Another disadvantage is that transcripts are hard to find – at least they were back in day when I tried listening to Radio Tatort – which makes it harder to use them as active study material.

Of course if you enjoy radio plays, by all means you should listen to them – I know this is a very popular format in Germany, for example, and they can be fun for advanced learners.

My only point here is that I found that the radio play format is not as advantageous for someone who’s not at the highest levels yet, and books with audio will have more benefits for students at the intermediate to upper-intermediate levels.


You need to push through that difficulty and stick to it. For example, let’s say, if you are used to jogging or walking, then, I will tell you to do HIIT for 20 minutes, no doubt first week will be hellish, but with constant exposure, your ability to do HIIT on a daily basis will get better as your body gets used to it.
I must say that we have never tested the true ability of our brains because we want to avoid that difficult path. Initially, I started with 2% comprehension. I stuck to my guns. I have listened to roundabout 50 radio plays. Now I can understand them at the rate of 60-70%.
We never try to activate the ability of our subconscious mind. If a laptop is our conscious mind, then, our subconscious mind is like a supercomputer. You will be amazed at what it does if you go for a tough route. We will never know what kind of hidden secrets God has bestowed upon us inside our bodies and they will remain hidden from our conscious eyes. if we do not test unchartered territory and always stay within our comfort zone.

My subconscious mind has done some crazy things during the process of learning German that show me that we still do not know so much about the human mind.

Just to give you an example - my subconscious mind guessed the meaning of a german word while listening to a radio play. It meant “without” in English. One day I went outside visiting a bakery ordering a coffee and it used the same word in a different context at the bakery but I was not sure if it used the same word in the right context but the lady hearing upon the word all of a sudden got a lot of happiness on her face and she understood its meaning correctly and prepared the coffee accordingly.
Later I heard the same word being used in the same context in movies (when a waitress asking for a coffee and the other person used the same word in the same context, the way my SUBCONSCIOUS MIND used it at a REAL BAKERY).
It is an uncanny experience for me. Similarly, what it does whenever you buy a new car, all of a sudden you will start witnessing the same model of the car vividly everywhere

It is nowhere written in stone that this way or that way is the surefire way to do things.

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I was wondering how people deal with reading subtitles from movies or videos is the process always watch then read? Without watching it alot of context is missed depending on description of what is going on but is it possible to just read subtitles without watch and it be fine?Obviously books are better at this but books have alot of useless words for someone if they dont care about novel in their target language and more about media etc. Its hard to choose idk really.

This is a great post! I agree with you. Videos transfer more information than language itself when we are watching them. That may distract the attention. More also, I like audiobooks because I use the time in commute to learn language after I convert Audible audiobooks to MP3 (with [OFFICIAL] ViWizard AA/AAX Audiobook Converter for Mac - Convert AA/AAX Audiobooks to MP3, M4A, AAC)

I agree with pretty much all of this. Books with audio are superior as far as a study method.
TV shows are a fun way to enjoy the language and build on what you’ve learned. But as a primary method, they’re kind of a waste of time (t_harangi)
In my experience, you need “both”.

  • If you want to have a rich vocabulary, (audio-)books are the way to go.
  • If you want to get accustomed to the fast pace of native speakers dialog-heavy YT videos / podcasts / TV series are the way to go. And I agree with Asad, audio dramas are also a great tool in this context!

To give you a concrete example:
I’m at an intermediate level in Brazilian Portuguese right now. I don’t have much difficulty understanding Harari’s book “Sapiens” in Portuguese - neither in reading nor in unassisted listening.
But I immediately break down when I watch a dating show like “O crush perfeito”. Even something like “Altered Carbon” is extremely hard to understand in Portuguese, although in other L2s like English, French or Spanish it’s pretty easy for me.
In short, having a “rich / varied” vocabulary is simply not enough, esp. if you want to live in a foreign country for a longer period of time (months / years).

And my “personal fluency test”, at least for listening comprehension, is this: If I don’t understand comedies like “Friends”, “Aquí No Hay Quien Viva”, etc. or dating shows like “O crush perfeito” unassisted and while doing some mindless activity (washing the dishes, etc.), I wouldn’t call myself “fluent”, at least not on a B2 level.
In other words, the ability to listen to dialogs of native speakers at a fast pace without tech crutches isn’t something that comes simply from reading a lot. Rather, this kind of listening is a complex activity that requires a lot of training (beyond vocabulary)!

BTW: “achieved a high level of comprehension in a shorter period of time than the ones who focused exclusively on TV/Youtube input with subtitles.” (Stewart)
It depends on what you test.

  • Readers, esp. the ones who avoid audio, tend to have immense difficulty understanding fast paced dialogs.
  • People who rely only on TV/YT tend to have a limited vocabulary.

Therefore, an L2 learner who wants to “master” his or her target language should practice both.

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TV and radio plays may be harder to understand than the spoken language in real life.

That depends on several factors:

  • How long is the conversation you are having ?
  • Are the native speakers artificially slowing down for you ?
  • How deep / superficial is the interaction?
  • How many native speakers are talking (at the same time) ?
  • What is their level of intimacy?
  • How complex is the topic?
  • Do the native speakers use dialects: yes or no? (for example: even as a native German speaker, I don’t understand certain dialects from Swabia, the Cologne area, Bavaria, etc.)
    The main point is: listening is a “complex” activity, reading and having a rich vocabulary are simply not enough. If an L2 learner wants to be fluent in his/her target language, listening a lot is a must. It doesn’t come naturally by simply reading a lot.
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Fluency is then quite a lofty goal. It took me at least 30 years before I started understanding British TV programmes without subtitles and some years more with the American ones. I still prefer having subtitles.

Fluency is then quite a lofty goal.
“Fluency” in itself is often a very vague term. Here’s my take on it:

But it shouldn’t take you decades to understand most TV shows without subtitles / scripts in your target language. A few hundred hours of “high-quality” listening (initially with the help of technical crutches à la LingQ) should be enough.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you an “exact” number of hours to reach this level.

no, but I had no trouble understanding English in real life well before I started enjoying TV shows without subtitles. Well, I still don’t enjoy most of them (boring) but that’s another story.

what level books are being discussed like harry potter or like higher level literature? Im just curious what level of books are ideal?

Let’s say you’re going out with friends (most of them are native speakers) and they’re having fast-paced conversations to which you as an L2 learner want to contribute. If an L2 learner has a lot of trouble understanding TV shows in the target language without tech crutches, he/she will probably also have trouble understanding these fast-paced conversations between native speakers (especially in a noisy environment). And he / she’ll also have trouble contributing.
This is not only my personal experience (I lived in France / Spain for about 1.5 years), but also, for example, that of our new family member from Colombia, who has been living with us in Germany for a few years now.
And if a learner of German still has difficulties with something as simple as “Die Tagesschau”, he / she will most likely also have great difficulties understanding something like this: Regional German Dialects - YouTube

I had no trouble understanding English in real life
The United Kingdom is “notorious” for its countless dialects. Even American native speakers sometimes wonder what kind of English some of these British dialects are. So understanding English “well” throughout the UK is highly “relative”.

That’s why I’m always skeptical when, for example, learners of German say that they understand “everything” in everyday German life, when there are many dialects / dialectal expressions in my country that even I as an adult German native speaker don’t understand.
I would, by the way, be even more skeptical if the same learners of German said they understood “everything” in everyday German, but had difficulty with " Die Tagesschau" because the latter is a walk in the park for adult German native speakers… :slight_smile:

Peter, I don’t know why I can’t reply to your comment below, but I think you are right about understanding everything. My “personal fluency test” is then just less demanding than yours. Watching those tv shows could still be useful. I prefer audiobooks, which have also helped.

now this comment is shown in the right place even if I replied to another message. Strange.

One intensive immersion guy (German actually) made the rounds on language youtube channels last month who immersed 3-4 hours a day in Japanese and tracked everything in a very detailed spreadsheet an passed the highest Japanese proficiency test (JLPT N1) after 1.5 years from level zero and no background in any other language but English. He is able to pinpoint when certain skills came to click in place but he’ll be the first to admit he has a long way to go. Anyway I reached out to him and asked how long it took him to understand an “everyman” conversation in Japanese near 100% the first time around, he said 3,000 hours at around the 2 year mark. Granted, Japanese not related to Japanese in anyway so obviously we can all aim for a much lower number if our L2 overlaps with our L1. He also said if he could do it all over again he would have started extensive reading much much sooner but also add doing much much more intensive TV listening exercises in his immersion (break down an episode line by line and review it over and over until he can understand it 100%) to speed up listening comprehension.

His last retrospective video

His channel


One weird aspect when discussing reading books for language learning is the fact a lot of people just don’t read in general, so when the subject comes up they automatically think of this activity as a chore they have to engage in – and that’s part of the reason why so many people try to jump on the “Learn with Netflix” bandwagon, because they saw some video on youtube of someone doing it and it seems so “easy,” compared to the “work” of reading books.

So this is sometimes a weird conversation to have because for me the fact that I can read the same books I would wanna read anyway, but can also learn a language from them at the same time, is a complete no-brainer. Ten years ago I used to listen to audiobooks in English during my commutes – today I do the same but with French, German, and Spanish, because that what I enjoy doing in general.

But when someone doesn’t have the joy of reading, it’s difficult to explain to them how good this process is at building your language skills. The truth is, if the idea of being able read books in your TL doesn’t immediately spark interest and anticipation of the fun ahead, you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage as far as reaching advanced levels in a foreign language. And I don’t mean fluency here, you can be conversationally fluent and be illiterate at the same time. I mean advanced levels where your vocabulary reflects intellect, and your conversations are fueled by an understanding of the culture and history behind the language.


“One weird aspect when discussing reading books for language learning is the fact a lot of people just don’t read in general,”

Funny you say this. I didn’t read much prior to learning Japanese. Now that I’m reading Japanese books, I find myself reading more English books too.

The major issue with Japanese are the characters - if it weren’t for kanji, I’d be able to read A LOT more (luckily LingQ makes difficult books easier to read). Slowly piecing things together though.