Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Steps for Training Your Ear When Learning a Language

When starting a new language, one of the hardest things to learn is to understand a native speaker. It's definitely much easier to read a foreign language than to understand a stream of it when it’s spoken quickly.

When I started learning Italian, TV programs sounded like gibberish. But now, I’m pretty good at understanding Italian speakers and Italian TV and films. Just as with building any skill, it helped me to break down the learning process.

You can do it in these three steps.

1. Listen repeatedly to a short audio or video

Listen to a short audio of which you understand or can guess about 50%. Listen to this same audio segment several times in the next Man listeningseveral days.

This will make your brain familiar with the "music” of the language, its melody and rhythm. Pay attention to where stress goes on words and which words are stressed in a sentence.

You’ll quickly learn to distinguish individual
types of sentences (statements, questions, negative responses, short emphatic answers, etc.). You'll be surprised how repetition increases your understanding of what is being said.

Also, from day to day, your brain continues to processing the sounds that you are learning. After some time, you may find that you'll be able to identify individual words within the stream of sounds that is whooshing by. That's a huge step and a very exciting one.

To get the idea, here are the MP3 audios of Scene 2 from our four languages, French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

Pick a language that you understand somewhat. Then listen to the corresponding scene in a language you don’t know at all. It’ll give you a
taste of audio learning.

2. Watch or listen to an ongoing story

Watch a TV series in your new language. Or, if one in your language is not available, look for a foreign film that's not dubbed. Watch it in short increments.

The ongoing story will provide you with related vocabulary and lots of repetition. The context of the story itself will offer plenty of clues so that you can guess the meaning of what is going on.

3. Learn by immersion with a variety of materials

Now you’re ready to tackle all kinds of different audio and video material in your new language. TV programs in the language you’re learning, films, news audios and videos, a radio station. learning, etc. Increasingly, context clues will help.

A great way to get into immersion is a site like Also a good post to check out is Learn a Language by Listening to the Radio
Also, in an earlier blog post, I list 10 essential grammar items to become familiar with. They’ll help you get a good start with immersion learning.

Language learning is not a linear process

You may want to go back to any of the previous steps from time to time. Learning to understand a new language is not a linear process, it's more like a fun zig-zag, filled with new discoveries all the time. 

Of course, if you can interact with native speakers, you'll want to do that right from the start. They'll make your language learning personal, add direct experience of the language, and give your valuable feedback.

Have fun! And yes, research shows that these “language exercises” have all kinds of good benefits for your brain.

As said by the writer Rita Mae Brown: "Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going."