Why are audio language learning methods so successful? Language is primarily a spoken form of communication. Languages evolved that way, and continue to change based on the sounds of languages. This is how we learned our native language as children. Think about it. Literacy only began to rise in the last few hundred years. For the previous 6,000 years of human written history, reading was for the ruling class and priesthood exclusively. The other 99% of us learned and used our native language as a purely spoken form.This is something often overlooked. Isn't it common sense that learning a new language with it's different sounds, vowels, consonants, and rhythms must include an audio component? In fact, I believe that the most successful methods are more audio-based than otherwise. We can't ignore the importance of reading, but clearly the most fundamental aspect of communicating in a language is speaking and listening. With that in mind, let's look at the specific strong points and weak points of audio language learning methods.
Better pronunciation. With an audio method, you can take your time practicing your pronunciation and comparing it to the native speakers you hear on the tapes or cd's. You will have better pronunciation skills and a better accent than you would with only a book to go by.
Hearing the language. You will actually hear the language with it's unique cadence and rhythms spoken by native speakers. Speaking is only part of the problem, you still need to understand what someone is saying to you. With audio language learning methods, you will be encouraged to engage the native speakers on the cd in a conversation, which will accelerate your ability to hear and understand the language.
It's convenient. You can take it with you wherever you go, provided you have a cd or cassette player. This kind of method is great for use in the car (when we are not usually being very productive) or with a walkman on your morning jog, or even doing housework. Our minds can be occupied with something productive while our hands our doing mindless work!
Limited in subject matter and vocabulary. Compared to books, an all audio format language learning method will have much less vocabulary. There is simply not as much time in an audio format as there is space in a written format. Even with Pimsleurs Comprehensive program, with each level containing 15 hours of audio, there is still not as much material as even one 300 page coursebook.
Need additional written materials. Because it is often difficult to equate audio with the written word in a foreign language that we are just learning, you must have additional written materials to study from. Even a simple coursebook or phrasebook. Of course, if you never intend to read the language this is wholly unnecesary, but there are few occasions where someone wants to learn a language but never read it. Even Pimsleurs all-audio format has a small reading booklet and accompanying audio in order to assist the learner.
Conclusion - audio is the most important aspect of learning a new language, so an all audio format is not a bad way to start. However, a few choice supplemental materials will go a long way toward putting the whole puzzle of a new language together. Check out the Learning Tips page to pick out a few tips and tools that can make the difference and help you learn more efficiently from audio language learning methods.
Pimsleur. In my opinion the single best language learning method. Their full Comprehensive program is available in the major languages, but they also have introductory courses for a number of other languages. Read my review of Pimsleur language learning products.
Living Language All-Audio. A nice and affordable introductory course, available in the major languages.
Michel Thomas. A line of successful and highly regarded audio language learning methods, but only available in a few languages.
PentonOverseas. Pentons makes a number of very good all-audio products. Their vocabulary building products in particular are a great supplement to any other method.
Back to Language Learning Methods
"All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer."
-Robert Louis Stevenson