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Thoughts on Language

Language Learning with Five Senses: Hearing

We all learn best when the experience is meaningful. Engaging all five senses makes a stronger connection to the information we are trying to absorb. Each sense can become another hook onto the information and makes the meaning deeper and more lasting. As babies, we tried to put things into our mouths to understand them better. So, let’s try to be a bit more like babies and approach language learning from all the senses.

In this series, I’m going to talk about how to stretch yourself beyond the typical boundaries of textbooks and language exchange. I will be using my target language, Spanish, as an example. But it will be pretty clear how you can apply these ideas to any language you are learning. So without further ado, here are some ways to engage your ear holes into the language learning process.


If you’re learning Spanish and haven’t yet listened to Radio Ambulante, you are in for a treat! Each episode is thoroughly researched, emotionally engaging and well-produced. To top it off, each episode has an English and Spanish transcript available. Because this show covers all of Latin America, you also get a chance to expose yourself to many accents and types of slang.

Of course, it may be hard to find quality podcasts in your target language. The selection may be narrow, or you may not find topics that interest you. But the nice thing about Podcasts is that they are free to listen and easy to produce. So keep searching! The subject matter may even give you some nice material for the next time you are in conversation with a native speaker.

Native recordings

While learning your target language in a classroom or with a textbook, the language you are hearing may not be the most natural. That’s where native speakers become your friends. A great source for finding native material in EVERY language you can imagine is Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. They pull heavily from WikiTongues that has a vast library of native recordings.

Self Recordings

This one is the most difficult but also most rewarding. After you hear a lot of native recordings, you might think that you talk with the same accent that you hear. Don’t be fooled. Shannon Kennedy has an excellent explainer in her blog about how recording yourself can help your learning, along with some excellent examples.

If you don’t want to record videos, try sending voice recordings to language partners on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. You can listen AND get feedback at the same time.

TV Shows

According to the 2013 EF English Proficiency Index, which included 60 countries, the top three countries in terms of english proficiency, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, all use subtitles instead of dubs for everything except for children’s programs. Meanwhile, Spain, Italy, and France, which mostly use dubbing for movies and TV, have only moderate to low English proficiency.

Want to get Swedish-level proficient in your target language? Start by finding shows that were written in your target language. Up next on my Netflix queue is Casa de Papel!

If you can’t find shows that interest you in your target language, don’t fret. Just type the name of your favorite TV show and your target language in the YouTube search bar and start enjoying your old favorites with an educational twist.

Follow the socials

This one might accidentally engage other senses as well, but following people who speak your target language on social media is a great way to pipe native content into your cochlea.


This is the type of audio input that goes straight to your soul. Music was how I learned some of my first Spanish words, and when phrases are set to melody they can stick with us for a lifetime. I don’t think a single person reading this will forget the word despacitoAnd I remember learning the subjunctive tense and then feeling the joy of identifying it in a Shakira song. Beyond grammar, listening to songs in your target language will explain why the heck everyone is asking “el anillo pa cuando?” And at that, I’ll leave you with some of my favorites.

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