Is it Possible to Learn a Foreign Language just by Listening?

Is it possible for you to learn a language just by listening? This is something that I think many of us would love, love, love, love to be true. I can just learn a language by listening; I don’t have to do really anything if I just spend enough time listening, then, you know, I’ll be able to speak; I’ll have learned the language.

So, some ways we might do this are… Could be watching… Watching TV in that language, you’re trying to learn and just think: “Well, I’m… I’m learning. I’m learning stuff just by watching.”


Another way is you move to a different country, and you spend time with native speaker friends, and you don’t understand anything, but you’re like: “Well, I’m learning. The more time I spend doing this, I’ll get to a point where I can just speak the language.”

And that is a situation that I, myself, have been in many times in my life. If you put all the time together, I would say I probably wasted a couple of years of my life, taking that approach, just thinking you learn by listening. Now, don’t get me wrong, you do learn how to understand what people are talking about if you take that approach. You know, you’re the only one who doesn’t speak the same language that everybody else speaks, you’re the only one who doesn’t speak it, after a while you do understand what people are talking about, so you can often guess from the situation. But that doesn’t mean the same thing as being able to put a sentence together, and join in the conversation in that language.

Because although you kind of understand what people are saying, you just haven’t developed the skill of moving your tongue and saying the words of the other language. So I would say taking that approach is a very, very frustrating, and slow, and ineffective way to learn any language. And that’s based on my personal experience.

If the language that you’re hoping, trying, wishing to learn is very close to your language, then, of course, you will understand much, much more of what is being said, and you’ll be able to guess many of the words. But if the language is completely different to your native language, it’s a really ineffective way to expect to learn a language, because there’s just not a lot you can guess. The words are very different; the grammar structure is very different.

And have you ever been in that situation when you’re the only one who doesn’t understand anything? Well, I’ve been in that situation many times, and I don’t know if this happens to all people, but this happens to me. After a while, you stop listening. And, at least, I do, and I start thinking about my own things in my head. So you’re there, but you’re not even listening. And you have to ask yourself: Is this the same thing that’s also happening if you’re watching a movie that’s spoken in a language that you don’t understand? Are you actually listening to the words, or are you just reading subtitles in your own language that you understand? So that’s an important part of it as well. Is that time you are listening to the language you want to learn, are you using that time with your ears, really awake and switched on to what people are saying? Because I think most of the time, when you don’t actually know that language, you’re not fully listening because you don’t understand anything. You’re really concentrating on something you don’t understand; it’s a very hard thing to do for more than a couple of minutes.

So, learning a language just by listening, in my opinion, is a very frustrating, slow way to learn a language. Of course, we all learn to like this when we are children, but that’s a very different situation, because when we’re babies, we’re always surrounded by this language, we’re the one that doesn’t speak, and the people around us interact with us and get us to say words one by one, and then, you know, language comes slowly, comes slowly, comes slowly. But as adults, we don’t get that kind of attention, one-to-one from the native speakers, and we just don’t have that long.

difficulties when learning a language

We don’t have that long to be not understanding things. So, if you’re in that situation, or thinking that you’re just going to learn a language by listening, I want you to stop frustrating yourself, stop lying to yourself, and get to the point where you’re like: “Well, how am I actually going to learn this language?” if you want to learn. “How am I actually going to learn it?” And the way that you learn is by being active. And there are so many different ways you can be active when it comes to learning a language.

Rather than just taking in by watching or by listening, you actually have to be putting the effort from your side into learning that language. So the ways that I most like to be learning a language in an active way by writing, I just find it very helpful for me to use my hand when I’m learning something. Even if I never look at it again, I do like this with a paper, throw it over my shoulder. For me, it’s very helpful to write things down again and again. Sometimes it’s very helpful.

Other ways of being active, are of course, doing speech practice, having someone you can speak to. But if you don’t have anyone to speak to, don’t worry, because you can speak to yourself. You can speak, and speak, and speak to yourself. When you’re reading this article for example, you can write comments. It means interactivity.

These are many many ways to be interactive. And I encourage you to take notes of the lessons as well. Just keep doing it, be active, and that is what’s going to get you out of that frustration of: “I’m learning a language, but I think I’m learning a language, but I’m not getting any better.” Because if you just watch, watch, listen, listen – it’s not going to take you where you want to be with learning your language in a quick enough, fast enough time.

So what I want to do now is invite you to leave a comment, if you’ve got any tips for learning a language in an active way!

Thanks 🙂

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