Language Tech

How to use Audiobooks to Practice a Foreign Language

Listening to audiobooks can help you to level up your foreign language skills from intermediate to advanced.

Listening to audiobooks might be a worthwhile challenge if you’re trying to level up on your listening skills from intermediate to advanced.

Unlike watching videos or movies, you don’t have any visual cues to use as a crutch. Unlike podcasts or radio, you get more of a choice in the type of stories that you can enjoy. 

Why Audiobooks?

Listening is how we all start to learn our first language, so being able to pick out words and phrases are super important when you’re getting started.

As you get more advanced and know what words to say, it helps to be able to recognize and imitate the right rhythm and flow when you speak so that you sound less like a robot and more natural.


The biggest advantage that books and stories have is that once you get into them, you want to know what happens next. I find that it’s definitely easier to make myself practice.


I noticed that I tend to stick to using very simple sentences and basic vocabulary for everything when I’m not exposing myself to more formal speech, so this is where listening to a book helps. The style is definitely more formal and has more variations than what I would find in a movie or in a news report.

That said, enjoying a popular novel means that you do have to watch out for differences between literary and spoken language. For example, French has literary tenses (passé simple), which means learning to recognize completely different conjugations! 

How to Listen

There is another catch to getting the most out of what you’re hearing. You have to listen actively for this to do any good. Here are some of the tips that have worked for me.

  • Only listen when you’re not doing anything else mentally.
  • Wear headphones.
  • Try repeating each word in your head as you hear them or visualize the words like subtitles in a movie if it’s still difficult to follow.
  • Stop after each chapter or after a couple of scenes to explain to yourself what just happened in your language or using the vocabulary. See the events in your mind to help yourself remember.
  • Don’t get too caught up on trying to understand every word or trying to look up words. Just enjoy what you can understand and listen to it again later.

Tips for choosing books

Listening to a book shouldn’t feel like a homework assignment, so don’t pick something too hard.

Here are my experiences:

  • Books you’ve read or new books? – I like the challenge and find myself more motivated if the book is something I’ve never read.  At least, it’s a good idea to find a familiar author or a genre. If you want something familiar, try a book you’ve read that was originally in your target language.
  • Translated books or ones originally written in the target language? – Start with something translated from your own language, but have a goal to discover something you like by an author in your language of choice. Due to some differences in storytelling and style, I always found the French novels I’ve tried are more difficult to listen to versus ones translated from English authors.
  • Books targeted to children or adults? – Besides a few exceptions, I’m not usually a fan of kids books in my own language, so I don’t see myself wanting to listen to that genre. I’m not a baby, I need grown-up words!

Using Audible for Language Practice

I prefer Amazon’s Audible audiobook subscription service because it’s easy to find the books I want to read in my own language, I can return a book I don’t like, and they have a good selection in languages other than English

Helpful Settings in the Audible App

Besides being able to sync your books from your account to an app for listening on iPhone and Android, here are the other benefits:

  • You can select the playback speed to make it slower. I usually set a book at 0.75 – 0.8 speed depending on the reader.
  • Repeating sections or chapters is easy. There’s a button to jump back 30 seconds if you didn’t catch something.
  • It allows you to sign into the other Amazon country-based stores. The app isn’t limited to one language. See How do I change my Audible marketplace in the Audible app?

As of this writing, the different marketplaces are in English, German, Japanese, Italian, and French.

‘The cons of using Audible? The audiobooks are more expensive even with a subscription and the files are protected with DRM. If you can put up with that, it’s worth the price.

Bonne chance !

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