Language Learning Audio Programmes: A Review

Most language learning resources come with audio CD’s. The quality of these language learning audio programmes varies. Before you bet all your money on the idea that a language learning audio programme will take you to C2 in three months, read this article to get an overview of the general pros and cons of language learning audio programmes.

The Benefits of Language Learning Audio Programmes.

Providing that there are native speakers on the recording, you’re getting audio exposure to native speakers. That sentence seems obvious, but one of the cornerstones is exposure to the sounds of the language. In and of itself, it’s a benefit. You can’t get the same exposure by searching Youtube for other learners, nor are you going to get the same exposure at a local college class.
They tend to have some great starter sentences. Obviously, you need to manipulate the sentences for them to be useful. “Where is the train station?” Can become, “Where is the school.” Still, you can copy the meat and bones of the sentence from the audio.
In a lot of languages, the accent isn’t incidental. Think about Eastern European languages – the fact that they have a lot of ee sounds and a lot of yuh sounds is an unmissable feature of the language. By listening to the audio, you get those sounds down naturally.
Also, every language has a rhythm. This is a very subtle thing to describe, but not a subtle thing at all to hear. The musical nature of a language extends to where places are accented, how they are accented. It’s especially important when learning tones. I’ve found with learning Mandarin that it’s a lot easier to find an example of the sentence in real life than try and learn the tones mechanically.
However, there are problems with a lot of audio programmes.

The Problem with Language Learning Audio Programmes.

They all cover tourist language.

“Excuse me, please could you tell me, Mrs Smith, where I could find the train station? My name is John Morrison. I am a businessman from New York, America, and I need to go to an appointment at fourteen-thirty.”
How much of that is relevant to you? Do people really speak like that? Even if you were ever in a foreign climate, what amount of that language is going to be relevant to you?
That’s the problem with a lot of dialogues. Even good language learning audio programmes like Michel Thomas and Pimsleur will only cover this material.

You need to make the language learning audio programmes work for you.

This is a second point which is related to the first. You need extra vocabulary. You need to stop and pause the CD/Mp3/tape constantly. You’ll need to switch words in. You’re never going to ask a man called “Yuri Kasparov” what time the train arrives. You need to make the information relevant to you, otherwise it won’t stick.

The words need to be split up in language learning audio programmes.

If you buy a Teach Yourself or Colloquial or similar course, you aren’t getting a breakdown of the syllables. You’ll get a dialogue which can be useful. You need to break it up yourself though, and make it slower. Pimsleur and Michel Thomas are great for this, because they’ll break down the word and have you repeat it slowly. This is how every language learning audio programme should work. However, they don’t. It’s a major shortfall.

Language Learning Audio Programmes: Make them work for you

Of course, the answer is to use your language learning audio programmes within a much larger structure. Using the negatives listed, we have to solve the following problems:
You need to pause the audio and slow it down to get the syllables memorised.
You need to break up the individual words.
You need to cut out the swathes that are not useful.

The easiest way to do this is to write out the dialogues, and make sure you know what they mean. Then, use a free program such as Audacity to edit the audio so it only has relevant information. Commit the sentence sounds to memory, and then practice them until you don’t need the audio anymore.
Supplement this new knowledge with talking to native speakers.

Language Bug