How to Learn a New Language with Video, Audio, and More

How to Learn a New Language with Video, Audio, and More

If you’re wondering how to learn a new language, content, meaningful content, compelling content, this is the key ingredient, as I have often said. You need the right content to get started and you need the right content to continue on your journey all the way, all the way to fluency. The nature of content  available to language learners has changed, and very much for the better.

In the old days, the teacher decided what you would read and listen to. You had a textbook that sought to determine how fast you should progress. Often the language content of these textbooks was no more than 10% of the book, the rest being grammar explanations and exercises which really don’t help you learn the language as much as just engaging with compelling content. The classroom often reflected this.

This has changed. Many classroom teachers are now focusing on content in the classroom using CI techniques such as TPRS and Story Listening.

For independent learners, the range of content now available would have been inconceivable just 10-15 years ago and is continuing to evolve. Let’s look at some of the kinds of content that we have at our fingertips, literally, on our mobile devices.

How to Learn a New Language with Video, Audio, and More

How to learn a new language with video

I have not been a fan of using video for language learning. I have always found books and audiobooks more engaging than films where we can see what is happening without having to conjure it in our minds just from the words we read and hear. In particular high action films with lots of sword fighting or gun shooting or crashing cars just don’t do it for me. I am changing my mind.

I was recently recommend to a site for Arabic content where there are live interviews on current events, Al Jazeera. I can’t say I understand everything they are saying, but I enjoy watching them talk. I am arranging to have the discussions transcribed so that I can study them on LingQ. Once I have a sense of more of the words I will enjoy watching them more. The video adds another dimension. I can just listen on my smart phone, while driving for example, or doing the dishes. But I can also watch them, as I was doing so yesterday while working out on my elliptical trainer. (By the way, I think learning while exercising increases your learning efficiency in more ways than one.) While I’m not a fan of watching action films, watching these round-table discussions adds another dimension to my engagement with my target language.

You can easily import any YouTube video into LingQ with a click of a button. One of our Spanish members at LingQ has uploaded short YouTube discussions in Spanish as lessons in LingQ’s Spanish section. He calls this collection Español Cromático

He offered this explanation as to how he does it.

A Google sheet to help create playlists for the videos

This extracts .mp3s from the playlist

To extract subtitles from playlist

And audacity to clean the audio file:

Another one of our members recently created a video about using Anime as material for learning Japanese. Check out his video.

How to learn a new language with podcasts

If you google for podcasts in the language you are learning, you will find a more than you can use. You may also want to change your setting in the iTunes store to the country where your target language is spoken, to find more.

I recently discovered that more and more podcast seem to have video, which as I explained above, can make them more engaging. Unfortunately few Podcast have transcripts. I am forced therefore to find someone to provide a transcript. Searching on the outsourcing website Upwork has been my favourite way of finding people who will provide me with transcripts at a reasonable cost. Working with a podcast that I have paid to transcribe is good value. I can listen and read it many many times and this investment can be just as productive as paying for an online lesson. It is not that one precludes the other, but rather that your language learning expenditures can be quite varied, books, tutors, schools, and transcripts.

How to Learn a New Language with Video, Audio, and More

Graded readers

Olly Richards has recently put out a series of graded readers in six languages. I refer to it in a new video I published. For many people, the availability of these intermediate level stories helps them bridge the gap between beginner material and authentic material. The learner, by reading and listening to an engaging story, is not aware that he/she is getting used to the words and phrases of the language subconsciously and pleasantly.

Our mini stories at LingQ provide a similar bridging function from beginner material to authentic content. They are not necessarily engaging examples of fiction, but they ensure a degree of repetition of vocabulary that is not available in these graded readers, and certainly not available in podcasts and YouTube videos. Check them out by searching the Library in most languages and putting “mini” in the search box. I believe that these mini-stories are like an exercise room for the most common verbs and patterns of a language. Listening over and over to these, and reading them, can be more effective than trying to remember grammar rules.

Work related language and beyond

Very often we need  technical or professional language, related to our work, in the language we are learning. Nowadays it’s easy to find such content on the Internet. This can be imported into LingQ, for example, for study. It is even possible to import emails and regular working documents in LingQ to acquire the professional English, French, Chinese, German or Spanish that we need.

However, in order to improve our overall level, I also think it is a good idea to cover a wide range of content, including literature. Audiobooks when combined with the corresponding ebook are a treasure trove of language that describes emotions, the beauty that surrounds us, or suspense and action. It is easy to google for these resources. Some are free, and some need to purchased. However, they are usually valuable learning resources for an extended period. They take us well beyond the classroom and the traditional textbook.If we can engage our imagination and our emotions, we will connect with the language in a different way, and for all I know, engage different parts of our brain. Variety is important in language learning.

So in summary, we have a wide range of content available to us, and it is in our interest to take advantage. We should vary the level of difficulty, the nature or subject matter of the content, and the form of media that we use.  We should also engage in more and more speaking, with tutors, even online tutors, or friends, especially as we progress in the language.

Whenever I have a discussion with an online tutor, I get a report with the words and expressions that I struggled to use, often with accompanying audio. This is also a form of compelling content.

The classroom is one place, and perhaps not the most important place, to acquire a language. Take advantage! It’s a good time to be a language learner.


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1 comment on “How to Learn a New Language with Video, Audio, and More

Thank you Steve, this is a great article! I like the focus on content these days, it’s so helpful and exciting to see how much new stuff is being created all the time for learners of so many languages.

I would love to hear more about your experience using Upwork to transcribe podcasts. How much does the quality vary? How much do you usually end up spending for, say, 30 minutes of content?

I’ve done some digging and found some good podcasts with transcripts in a handful of languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, and Japanese), though I’m still looking for those less mainstream languages.

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