By now, most people are familiar with audio books. In fact, in the internet age, a tremendous proliferation of audio books and learning tools has spearheaded a number of very successful ventures, including online free libraries as well as companies like Audible. A variety of courses are available on CD, as well as through downloadable content (mp3 or Audible). There is even a unique device called ?Playaway? marketed on a standalone player.
Where it Succeeds
When done correctly, audio only programs are the most versatile and can be the best option for the adult learner. The one factor you cannot beat is convenience. Wasted time, driving to and from work, the store, etc? can become a rewarding experience with these audio programs. I have personally converted all of my CD audio programs purchased over the years to mp3 format for easier use in the car (it?s easier to hit pause on an mp3 player to think about your response). Best of all, audio programs, by their nature, require native language instruction. Native language cues and explanations are critical to the success of adult students.
Where it Fails
All language courses benefit from accompanying written material, regardless of platform (audio, computer, immersion, etc?). While most audio programs include a small booklet with some basic dictionary style translations or common phrases, there are a relative few that include more than that (save the Living Language series). Once you get into the program, you will want to see how the language looks on paper ? that?s a guarantee. Access to the written material will help you progress much more swiftly. This is an added expense, and finding the proper companion books is not an easy task.
Additionally, audio language courses vary tremendously in quality ? of both the audio quality itself, and the actual lesson content. I have run across at least two programs where the audio quality was not of sufficient fidelity to help anyone learn anything (one of the programs turned out to be defective; the other was just cheaply produced). Unfortunately, without a good number of reviews of specific products, it can be difficult to make the correct decision, so be sure to check review sites before making any purchase.
As with any course, the content of the lesson is paramount. With cheaply produced audio courses, all you get is a person reading a word or phrase with a translation ? over and over again. This continues with little backtracking to previously learned material. These are the types of programs to avoid at all costs. Courses increase in quality from there on up, to include almost classroom style presentations. Pimsleur products are an excellent example of a top quality, classroom style course. Other issues with content revolve around irrelevant material. ?See Jane Run?, etc? will get you nowhere on vacation. Carefully choose programs that include relevant phrases and situations that you may actually encounter!
Finally, there can be issues with the pace of the lessons. Some courses present the material too fast (it?s never a problem if the pace is slower). If the material is presented to quickly, you will be reaching for the pause button far too often, which impedes your progress.
I love this format as a first introduction to a foreign language. The convenience factor is unmatched, and the task of learning a foreign language is well suited to it. But you have to be very careful in choosing the best program. Some audio programs are absolutely terrible, and some are outstanding. Keep a sharp eye on the reviews at various websites. Additionally, you must select at least one dictionary or phrase book to go with your program, if one is not provided. Be on the lookout for part three, where I will explore the best way to select a companion book, or books to compliment your audio or immersion course.