Can You Learn a New Language With Audiobooks?

I’ve always been interested in learning Italian. A few years ago I gave it a go and enrolled in some expensive evening classes but it really was too expensive and I quit after a year. So now I have turned my sights to free and cheap alternatives. Duolingo was great until it started asking me to repeat words aloud (really awkward on public transport) and a handful of Instagram accounts helped me memorize a handful of common zoo animals.

Next step? Try an actual language course on Audible. There are tons of language audiobooks available and I already listen to them on my daily commute, so it should be an easy win. I opted for the Learn Italian bundle from the Language Learning School because it looked so thorough (5 volumes for 1 credit – bargain!). However, within the first few minutes became clear that the narrator of this particular audiobook was reading every word on the page – even the big charts – just as a robot might. Inherently visual ways of organizing data, the charts and tables really don’t translate well to audio.

But don’t let this put you off! Often, language audiobooks will include a PDF or ebook so you can see these translation tables. It just so happened that mine didn’t. When you start looking for a language audiobook, I would recommend doing a bit of research as you narrow down the options. What are your goals? What do other people say in the reviews (and did they have similar goals)?

With visual-based frustrations fresh in my mind, I went back into Audible to find a different course. I recognized the Pimsleur brand and the Italian language course had pretty good reviews. It was more expensive but after some research, I learned that Pimsleur courses are originally developed with listening and speaking in mind.

I felt more confident in this choice so I downloaded it and worked my way through the first lesson. The difference was night and day. I didn’t suddenly speak Italian, but I felt a bit more comfortable with the structure of this course and not having a visual aid to rely on. This is a win. I think I will carry on using my credits for more lessons. It’s still a lot cheaper than night school classes!

So, back to my original question: can you learn a new language with audiobooks? I think the answer is “yes” but you have to be willing to find what works for you. There are lots of language courses out there and all of them have their own approach or method. My recommendation: go in with an open mind, be willing to stop when something isn’t working for you, and go on the hunt for something different. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for learning a new language. With a little bit of patience and trial-and-error, you’re sure to find a rich, rewarding resource.

PS – don’t forget to use the sample feature to see what the narration is like and read other people’s reviews to get a feel for how the books work

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