Audiobooks: The Secret Weapon for Homeschool Foreign Language Learning

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If you’ve been around the homeschool community for a while, you’ve likely noticed something curious about homeschoolers' "reading" habits:

Homeschoolers LOVE their audiobooks.

From Story of the World to the Green Ember Series (I’m anxiously awaiting Book 3), homeschool families are probably some of the most enthusiastic audiobook listeners on the planet.

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And this is for good reason. Research strongly points to the many educational benefits of reading aloud to children—all of which apply to audiobooks as well. (If you’d like to learn more about this research, by the way, I strongly recommend Jim Trelease’s classic Read-Aloud Handbook and Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast, the Read-Aloud Revival).

Now, I’d like to let you in on a little secret….

All of the benefits of reading aloud to children apply equally in foreign languages.

Therefore, if your children are studying a foreign language, no matter what their ages, I recommend integrating audiobooks into their regular language practice. Here are just a few ways that audiobooks in the target language can enrich language learning in your homeschool:

  1. Audiobooks can improve your child’s listening comprehension by providing exposure to native speakers with varying accents. Logistical challenges can make it difficult for homeschooled students to spend much time interacting with native speakers—let alone native speakers from different countries. Audiobooks, however, provide an opportunity for homeschoolers to hone their listening comprehension skills with authentic texts performed by readers from around the globe. 
  2. Audiobooks provide convenient, on-the-go opportunities for language practice WITHOUT a major commitment from mom. If your children are struggling to make deliberate practice a part of their language study, audiobooks might just be what they need. You can redeem that fifteen minute drive to soccer practice by listening to a book in your child’s target language—and in just fifteen minutes, you’ll be helping their language development immensely, with little effort or planning on your part!
  3. Audiobooks can be paced to match your child’s current language skills, while also stretching their language development. Unlike everyday conversation, where it’s easy to miss new vocabulary, with audiobooks, your child can press “pause” and “replay” as much as needed to aid in his or her comprehension. With the Audible app, you can also listen to books at 0.75 speed—a strategy that I recommend strongly for new language learners. 

So, how can your family get started with audiobooks in a foreign language? Here are five simple steps to follow:

  1. Sign up for an Audible.com account—you get two free books with a 30-day trial. If your local library has a subscription to either Hoopla or Overdrive, you may also find audiobooks on those apps, but I find that their foreign language collections are extremely limited compared to Audible’s. 
  2. Search for audiobooks in your child’s target language. Go to “Browse Audible” and then select “Foreign Language” to find Audible’s offerings in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Portuguese. Once you’ve selected your language, click “See All” to visit a page where you will see the “Kids” category on the left-hand side. 
  3. Match the audibooks (roughly) to your child’s level of language proficiency. While Audible does not classify its audiobooks by level of difficulty, it does classify them by age appropriateness, which we can use as a rough guide for proficiency. For beginning language learners, start with books targeted at ages 0-4; intermediate learners should steer towards the ages 5-7 category. 
  4. If your child is just starting a foreign language, look for supplemental materials to support his/her listening. If your child is in his/her first few years of language study, it’s a good idea to listen to picture books that you’ve already read in English, so that your child can enjoy the listening experience rather than dissecting every part of the narrative. if your library has a good selection of foreign language books, you could also consider checking out those that have corresponding audiobooks. Following the written text while listening (for children who can read) will provide extra reinforcement of the target language in your child’s mind. 
  5. Enjoy your audiobooks…again and again! Listen to your audiobooks while you’re folding laundry, eating lunch, driving to extracurriculars, playing with Duplos, drawing at the table…whenever your family feels like it! If time allows, don’t hesitate to listen to it on repeat—younger children will likely request this anyways, and the repeated exposure to the story will aid in their comprehension.

Next week, I’ll have a post with our family’s favorite Spanish audiobooks. In the meantime, I’d love to know: has your family used audiobooks to support language learning? Which ones have you enjoyed most?

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