You will spend 90% of your time with any language doing 2 activities : reading (books, newspapers, emails, etc) and listening (radio, TV, conversations, etc). The fastest way to develop these two skills is by listening to audiobooks while you “read along” the word-for-word text of the book. This applies to any language. What does this mean to kids and adults?
First note : I cannot find a reference for that 90% number, so handle it with care. (If you know of a good study that shows the percentages of time that people spend reading, listening, speaking and writing then please let us know about it by using the Contact Us Form on Our Main Blog so that we can mention it here). I think that you can see this from your own language activity. How many hours of your own day do you spend reading and listening? How many hours of your own day do you spend writing and speaking? It will vary from person to person but keep this in mind : most of the general population will write nothing more than a few standard lines of text during their work day (if they write anything at all).
Audiobooks with word-for-word texts are great for language learning. They are also a very efficient and simple way to learn almost any subject material.
And audio files for texts are very easy to make. Just take any text that your students need to learn and record a sound file for that text. It only takes a few minutes per text.
If audiobooks with word-for-word texts are so great, why aren’t all of the schools and homeschooling parents using them?
The first obstacles : cost, availability, selection
Until the Internet, it was incredibly expensive to supply students with audiobooks and their word-for-word texts. One single audiobook costs $30 or more. The printed book would cost another $30 or more. That’s $60 per book. The selection was limited and it was incredibly difficult to find useful and appropriate foreign language materials.
Example from today : The French web site called ‘Litterature audio.com’ already offers over 1,600 poems, essays, short stories and books as free mp3 audiobooks with their free word-for-word texts. Their collection is growing every day. It’s all done by volunteers. It’s amazing! This type of resource also exists for (at least) English, German and Spanish.
Possible today : A homeschooling organization or public school could start to create an online library of audiobooks + word-for-word texts for all of the subject material taught at schools today.
Everybody can help to add to these collections. Over time, these free audiobook collections will be able to provide any individual student with a selection where they can find a book that they personally find interesting and useful. For free.
The second obstacle : slowing down the person speaking the text
The other problem for beginning and intermediate language students (like young kids, for instance) is that the reader will speak too fast for them to be able to follow along. For the “read and listen along” experience to be an efficient and pleasant learning experience, it is important that the speaker reads slower without losing their natural speaking emphasis, breathing and other accent features.
Today, all computers can play mp3 files and all computers already have the technology built-in that allows you to slow down the speaking without distorting the voice or the accent. Windows Media Player and QuickTime can both slow down audio and video without distorting the voices. It’s free and it is already installed on your computer!
You do not need to buy anything to offer yourself or your students the ability to slow down audio and video. Our blog post How to slow down audio, video, mp3 and music explains how you can do this easily.
The third obstacle : male vs female voices
When you are learning a language you need to listen to a speaker that has the same gender as you. Despite the romantic notions of universalism humanists, men and women speak a language differently. The octave of the voice is different (just like in music). The emphasis and inflection is slightly different. Even the breathing is different.
So, if you are learning a language then it is important that your pronunciation coach is the same gender as you. It is also a big help if you listen to texts being spoken by a person of the same gender. While you are listening, you will be internalizing the accent used in the reading. This will later show up when you are speaking.
Why is this a small revolution in language learning?
As I stated above, a person spends 90% of their time listening and reading. This is especially true for beginning and intermediate level language students. The faster these skills are developed, the better.
The “listen and read along” exercise is an extremely relaxing and simple learning experience. It works, even if someone is tired or de-motivated. Imagine how useful it could be to :
1. Younger kids learning how to read
2. Kids thinking about dropping out of high-school that need a simple and fast way to improve their reading and listening skills
3. Busy and tired working adults trying to add a language because of their job requirements
4. Kids of immigrants trying to learn the language of their parents in an environment where very few people speak the language
On the Internet, all of these groups have access to an abundance of free learning materials plus a simple and relaxing method that can help them improve their reading and listening skills in any language.
And here is the bonus feature: Writing skills
Between being able to read a language and being able to write a language, there is a very handy and easy learning activity. Simply re-write a text. If you are lazy (like me) then simply “listen and read along” with a text until you understand it fairly well. Then, take a couple of minutes to re-write (transcribe) the first couple of lines of the text. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s helpful and it fits into an evening after a long day at work.
Added RSS feed for Litterature audio.com to sidebar
In the sidebar of this blog I’ve added the RSS feed for Litterature audio.com that will show the latest additions to their collection every time you visit our blog.
Written French in Quebec and written French in France are identical. You will certainly not be wasting your time doing the “listen and read along” exercise using audiobooks spoken with an international French accent. Secondly, if you are learning Quebec French then you are probably interested in learning international French so that you can use it when traveling. Spoken Quebec French slang is useless outside of Quebec.
To learn the spoken Quebec French slang you can use the 106 pages of “listen and read along” pages of the book Canadian French that we provide on this blog. See our blog post 1000 Essential Quebec French words – with audio files for details and and index to all of the Quebec French pages.