Listening To Learn Language: The Listen & Read Method

“Listening” is one great way to approach a language.

Especially if you want to speak and understand a language. That’s what most learners want to do. But, ever notice how most beginners are awful at speaking & understanding a foreign language?

Why? Because they focus mostly on reading.

So, why listening?

There was an interesting audio experiment done. It shows how 1) listening combined with 2) a follow-up translation/explanation gets you understanding something you didn’t know before.

Here’s the basic premise of this experiment.

  • A person listens to a “garbled” audio message that they don’t understand.
  • Then, they get its true meaning.
  • And then, they understand what that “garbled” message was..

Just listen to this 50 second experiment below. Press play.

So, how does this relate to learning language?

It’s very similar. If I were to say something new to you in Japanese, Korean or Russian, it’d go in one ear and out the other. You’d forget it. It’s garbled to you.

For example, listen to this Japanese phrase:


If you’re not already learning Japanese, this will go way over your head. You have no translation (old information) to connect it to. It’s gone.

As the experiment says, your brain can’t process new words/phrases it has no prior knowledge of.

But… if you have the translation and can read along as you hear it – now you have something to connect it to. You instantly understand it. And next time you hear it again, you’ll know it. So, what you heard was:

  • Japanese Phrase: dou desu ka?
  • Meaning: how is it?

Play it again. Now you have the 1) transcript that you can read with and 2) the translation. You know exactly how it’s said, how it sounds, what it means and how to say it.

You just learned a phrase.

You’ve learned some language.

I call this the “listen & reading along” method.

Alright, how do you apply this to language learning?

There are many ways to start a language. Most beginners start with reading a textbook. They get good at reading at grammar but their listening & speaking skills suck. Why? They put 100% effort into reading and 0% effort into listening and speaking.

It’s just a matter of what skills you’re practicing and how you choose to start. There’s no wrong way. But remember, if you practice only 1 thing, you’ll only get good at that 1 thing.

Here’s how you apply this.

Start learning with Audio Lessons, Video Lessons, Podcasts – that’s the first step. I recommend the Pod101 Online Language Courses. However, you ABSOLUTELY must have the translations and scripts for everything you hear – so you can read along and instantly understand.

Here’s the process.

  • Listen to an audio lesson that you DON’T yet understand.
  • Read along to get the meaning.
  • Listen to the language again.
  • Now you will understand it. SIMPLE.
  • Repeat what you hear to practice your speaking.

Here’s an easy example with JapanesePod101 to show how I learn Japanese with this  process.

This sounds so obvious, right?

You hear, get the meaning, and understand it.

Yet, most learners start out by reading and then wonder why their Japanese listening and speaking SUCKS.

This experiment is a great lesson in why you should use to audio lessons.

  • Once you hear the phrases, your ear becomes trained for it.
  • However, you don’t yet understand it because your brain has no prior information to relate it to.
  • Once you know its meaning, you associate the sound to its meaning.
  • And when you hear the phrases again, you’ll know what it is.
  • Your brain now relates most recent information – the meaning you just learned.

However, if you don’t HEAR it first, you won’t know what to listen for. And that’s pretty much how  conversation flows for beginners. They pick out words they already know in a conversation and, boom, they know what they’re being asked.

But reading a word first, and THEN hearing it in a conversation won’t help you identify it. Reading and speaking are two different things. Reading doesn’t train your ear to hear native Japanese conversation. And here’s the key point:


  • Hearing the unknown trains your ear.
  • Reading along gives you the meaning & makes an instant connection with it’s English translation
  • Next time you hear it, you will understand it.
  • Repeat what you hear to practice your speaking.

Are speaking and/or listening your weak points?

Have you tried this “listen & read” along method?

Leave me a comment below!

– The Main Junkie


2 thoughts on “Listening To Learn Language: The Listen & Read Method”

  1. Wow, this article and the technique absolutely resonates with how our brains try to understand and assimilate new information. Loved the examples! Thank you.

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