Plugging in for listening comprehension
My work is all done on the computer, which means I spend between 5 and 9 hours a day staring at a computer screen. I love my work, but at the end of the day I almost always have sore eyes and a pounding headache—which means that I can’t indulge in one of my favourite leisure activities, reading. At least I can’t curl up on my couch and crack open a mystery novel. But what I can do is plug in an audiobook, close my eyes and get sucked into a story. Audiobooks are the most glorious gift to sore eyes and long transit rides and sleepless nights. And language learning!
How they help
I’m all about watching TV to help with listening comprehension, but audiobooks force your listening muscles to do all the work. No visual clues, no drawing from context, and certainly no subtitles. Relying entirely on your ear is hard work, and it’s not easy. It also shouldn’t be done too early in your study of a language, since de-contextualized speech requires strong skills. But the benefits are amazing. It’s also fun—just like reading a novel is a lot more enjoyable than reading a textbook, listening to a story is way more fun than doing listening comprehension drills. Both are helpful, but there’s a lot to be said for taking the path of most fun when it comes to language learning. Finally, audiobooks tend to be read much more slowly than how a person would normally read a book out loud, or even how someone would speak on TV, meaning that you have a little bit of extra time to absorb what you hear.
Where do you get them?
English audiobooks are pretty easy to find. Sites like Audible and Audiobooks.com sell books, but there are also some decent free sites like Books Should be Free and Librivox. Because of copyright laws, these free sites can only offer books in the pubic domain and a lot of these are “classics” of the Western cannon. Both of these sites also have books in other languages (including all the ones we speak here at Esperanza!), but because they’re in the public domain most of these are classical texts that may be difficult to understand. If you live in Vancouver, the VPL has a great selection of audiobooks that you can download straight to your phone or any other device. Unfortunately they only have English books rights now, but they’ve recently expanded their selection and I can only hope that other languages are on their way. If you don’t have a device that can play mp3s, most libraries have collections of books on tape. Ask your librarian if they have any for kids—these can be a great way to ease yourself into the audiobook world.
So whether you need to rest your eyes or exercise your listening skills, plug in your earphones, close your eyes, and let someone else do the reading for you.