The best 8 audio language courses

For many people, audio courses are very important in the learning process. I believe that the learning process has two parts: the first, in which you learn to listen and learn the language, and the second, in which you write and read the language. Audio classes are only good for the first part.

Using a textbook is difficult: you have to be at home and have a notebook on which to write down your unknown words. ‘Playing’ on the phone with applications like Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Memrise? It may be a solution for some, but I personally can’t learn new words by playing on my phone. The audio courses are simple to use: just put on your headphones and listen. You can listen in the subway, at home with your eyes closed or at work, while pretending to work. You don’t have to put much effort into listening to them, and you get a lot of new information in a relatively short amount of time.

An audio lesson should be relatively short, to the point, and with a simple and intuitive explanation. That’s why most foreign language audio courses take between 20 and 40 minutes and those who teach are usually native speakers. I say “usually” because people like Michel Thomas and Paul Noble are not native speakers, but they speak the language fluently (or so they say). That being said, these are the 8 most popular and effective foreign language courses:

1. Pimsleur is one of the most popular and well-known language learning companies in the world. This company uses a spaced repetition system to settle new words and phrases. This spaced repetition system is widely used by programs such as Anki or Memrise, and even by textbooks such as Teach Yourself. But Pimsleur is the only company that makes extensive use of this Spaced Repetition system, and that’s why it’s so effective. Although in a Pimsleur lesson (which has 30 minutes) you do not learn many new words and expressions, they reach your long-term memory. That is why these courses are so praised. Until about three years ago, Pimsleur prices (about 1000$ for a five-level course) were so high that it’s not worth buying them no matter how effective they are. But with the wave of Web 2.0, the prices dropped (significantly!), so you can now opt for a monthly subscription of 20$ per month instead of giving 1000$ to buy the three or five levels of the course. Remember that this monthly subscription is not available in all countries. Try to use VPNs when consulting Pimsleur offers.

2. FSI+DLI. FSI stands for Foreign Service Institute, the United States federal government’s primary training institution for employees of the US. Basically FSI trains simple officials, ambassadors and even spies. FSI now offers free audio courses, without copyright. But with a little mention: the courses that are on the Internet are old. Very old. They are from the 60s, and the ‘newest’ are from the 70s. DLI stands for Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. The DLI agency is exactly like FSI (or at least that’s what I understood from what I read on the internet, I don’t live in America), but for generals, soldiers and military personnel. What is the difference between FSI and DLI? The first one is that DLI contains a lot of words and expressions related to military vocabulary, while FSI is more civilian targeted and contains usual vocabulary, which is used in everyday life. This does not mean that you shouldn’t take DLI courses, quite the opposite. In some cases, DLIs are far better than the FSIs. In some cases, DLI has extensive courses in some languages for which FSI has nothing, and vice versa. For example, DLI has courses to learn Romanian and 4 Arabic dialects (Egyptian, Iraqi, Saudi and Syrian), while FSI does not. I also noticed that, most of the times, the audio quality of the FSI is better than that of the DLI. DLI seems to have more extensive audio courses than FSI, although both have many hours of listening.

DLIs and FSIs are long. Very long. They teach you many useful words and expressions, so many that some FSIs may take you to (real) B2. It also teaches you complex sentences, which makes FSI and DLI a very interesting mix of Pimsleur and Glossika. The courses use a very boring spaced repetition system, which simply forces those expressions into your brain. It may seem very boring to you, but after 2-3 months you will realize that in the long term you will have learned about 90% of the course content. Which is great. And most importantly, they are completely free. Worth a try.

3. Assimil is not really an audio course, but rather a mix. When taking Assimil courses, you must simultaneously read the lesson on the textbook and listen to the MP3s. So you still have to sit at the desk to learn. The method works in the following way: Firstly, you listen to the first 50 lessons, without writing down anything at all and without focusing too hard on trying to understand the structure of the language. After you finish these 50 lessons, go back to lesson 1, then carefully write down all the unknown words, sentences and expressions. Then put these sentences and words in programs like Anki or Memrise and learn them until you memorize them. Assimil is a good textbook, but in the end, it’s just a textbook. It should not be used in any form as a single resource, but in combination with other programs such as Pod101, Babbel or Mango Languages. I also have to emphasize something: Assimil has no value in the learning process without a SRS software (like Anki, Memrise etc.). Just by writing the unknown words from the lessons you won’t learn them.

4. Michel Thomas. In the last 2 decades, a complex brand has been created behind the name Michel Thomas (who died in 2005). Only the courses for French, Italian, Spanish and German are held by Michel Thomas himself, the rest are held by other teachers.
The structure is as follows: There is one teacher and two students. As a rule, the two students are absolute beginners, although in the case of the Spanish Vocabulary course the two are native speakers of Spanish, one from Spain and one from Mexico. The Michel Thomas Foundation courses have 8 hours, the Advanced ones 4-6 hours, the Vocabulary ones 4-6 hours and the Builder ones around 2 hours. However, they advise you to pause after each word, structure or sentence, repeat it aloud and then press the play button back. For this reason, the official site states that the duration of the course is twice as long as the actual duration. Everything revolves around the idea of being calm and relaxed. You are advised to leave the anxiety of learning a foreign language aside and be as relaxed as possible, because you will learn without making any effort.

I have to make a thing clear: with Michel Thomas you won’t learn a foreign language. You will have a very good introduction, but that’s it. You will learn some essential structures, but almost no vocabulary. Michel Thomas should not be the only resource used. It might be the first, but not the only one.

5. Linguaphone is another well-known audio resource. It follows the same principle as Assimil, with a textbook and audio companion. But they also have a series of products called ‘All Talk’, which lasts about 16 hours and follows the funny story (although sometimes with dramatic overtones, reminiscent of soap operas) of a tourist. Personally, I took the Spanish All Talk course, in which an employee of SnackTrack comes from the UK to Spain for a national conference (like Comic-Con but on agricultural topics). Then she kinda falls in love with a Spaniard, who accidentally finds her daughter (?) at the same conference, then she is fired, all this while she is constantly called by a mysterious gentleman, then someone has an accident and… you probably you already know that the action is a bit embarrassing. Anyway, I found the course useful, even if the action is boring and cringe.

6. Colloquial is a company with products very, very similar to those of Assimil. The only difference would be that, while Assimil can only be covered with audio + textbook, Colloquial states that you can follow their courses only by listening to the audio part, the textbook being optional. Although the company is quite unknown (and maybe even a little underrated), it enjoys a relative appreciation among connoisseurs. Also, while Assimil offers for some languages (such as Hebrew) some ancient textbooks or textbooks written in French (not English), Colloquial textbooks are made recently.

7. Paul Noble. A “copy” of Michel Thomas, as many say. Whether or not this is the case is up to you. He has courses in German, French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. After looking at his website, I couldn’t figure out if Chinese means Mandarin or Cantonese. You can listen to his courses on Audible or you can buy them from his official website (google it).

8. LanguagePod101 is not a resource, it’s actually more resources. There are many Pod101s, from GermanPod101 and ItalianPod101 to HindiPod101 and RomanianPod101. Each resource has its own unique site. It is a kind of Youtube for language learning, and it is recommended to be suitable regardless of the level, regardless of whether you are an absolute beginner or advanced. I used the Pod101 resources for three different languages, being in three different stages (in German I was advanced, in Spanish, intermediate and in Hebrew absolute beginner). I used it as a side resource, not as a main one, because I didn’t think it was a very effective way to learn. Maybe I’m not compatible with this method. However, I found the utility in some videos, especially the Hebrew ones. The cheapest subscription costs 8$ per month, the most expensive: 30$ per month. The cheapest subscription doesn’t let you use their flashcard system.

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