The power of listening


Two evenings ago I had dinner with a Brazilian couple and we spoke Portuguese. Last night I had dinner with a Chinese person and we spoke Mandarin. I just finished a Skype conversation in Czech with a person in Prague, who is a member of a political party there. In all cases I was able to hear directly from native speakers about issues in their countries. What I take away from these discussions is not so much what I had to say, but what I heard them say in their languages. I derive immense pleasure and satisfaction from the fact that I’m able to understand what people say in a variety of languages.

I listen to podcasts and audiobooks to learn languages. This not only helps me to learn these languages, but introduces me to a wonderful world where words conjure up images in my mind about countries and cultures far away, in space or time. I usually have access to texts or transcripts to help me understand what I’m listening to. The written language is just a record or representation of the spoken language. In a way, reading is also a form of listening since I usually find myself sub vocalizing when I read in a foreign language.

Many people, when they study languages, are motivated to speak as soon as possible. In my case, I prefer to listen before I speak. A large part of my motivation in learning the language is to learn more about the history and culture connected with that language. I know that if I pursue my interest in listening and reading I will eventually be able to speak. In the meantime, however, the enjoyment of listening is its own reward.


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8 comments on “The power of listening


Hay Steve;
I just wondering if you try to learn Arabic Language, or may be it’s not in your interest, I really like your concern about all the languages that you know and knew, it’s something really wonderful

James Chalmers

Steve, you’re obviously very big on input flooding – I’ve also read previously that you don’t believe in learning grammar ‘rules’ but rather emphasise noticing patterns in the language and remembering them. These are all types of incidental learning rather than explicit learning techniques. Your system in LingQ is about highlighting words or phrases to help with recall later on, but do you do anything else in terms of identifying patterns of syntax, semantics, or even discourse in the language you are learning? For example, in Czech – a declined language – do you have anything specific to help you remember the different patterns of conjugated nouns?

Lyle Lexier

Hi Steve,
I really found it interesting to see how to converse in a different language each day. I really love working on my French, but I am learning a little Portuguese myself these days. Good luck in learning yet a new language like Arabic. I only know a few words of Arabic, but I find Middle Eastern people generally friendly and Arabic is one of the 9 most widely spoken languages in the world.

James, I do refer to a grammar book from time to time, but don’t expect to retain much, similar with tables etc. This then helps to notice these patterns when I read and listen, I think. It is a constant process of listening and reading, saving words and phrases, occasionally tagging words and phrases by grammatical pattern for concentrated review, and occasionally looking at the grammar book. I also do use the exercises or drills in grammar books, but I don’t do the drills, I look at the answers as a concentrated source of examples of a given pattern. In time the brain gets better at it all.


I find it unbelievable that there are people who disagree with your views on language learning. Following your methods I have learned two foreign languages and I am on my way to a third one. The third one I learn via LingQ. Two previous ones I have learned using other means, but I was unconsciously learning them the good way, that is through lots of input and not caring much about grammar and speaking early on. Whenever I see a criticism of your language learning philosophy I get nervous and want to defend it. Proving that your way of learning languages is right is one of the reasons I want to learn to a good fluency at least four languages. Then I will gain more credibility and will be able to spread your word.


This is all great advice – but what strategies do you suggest for languages which have no podcasts or audio books? I mean, try finding podcasts in Western Arrarnta or Pitjantjatjara – these are languages which I had to learn in the field, often without any real direction or use of courses and grammars. Oh, to have access to podcasts!!

Also, given that 200 million people speak Indonesian, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a LingQ program for that language? We’d like some love here in the Southern Hemisphere.


We add new languages at LingQ based on the demand or popularity of these new languages. If you can get 1000 signatures on our Facebook page we will gladly add Indonesia. As for the other languages, I have no answers but I respect your interest and enthusiasm.

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