Listening or Reading? - Reading While Listening is the Answer!

by Anthony Muhye

There is a great debate in language learning that has been raging on for ages. The big question presents itself thus – are we supposed to learn new languages by reading? Or is audio the most effective method? Some would argue that text is definitely the way forward.

“Hey, but I hear that audio is just as effective,” someone always chimes in. It simply isn't set in stone, and many believe that neither side will ever have the final word on the subject.

Fortunately, studies in the past decades have allowed language experts to reach an incredible conclusion – it's not about deciding between one or the other. It's about using the best of both worlds to achieve desired results and provide students with constant reinforcement of one method through the use of its counterpart.

They've named it reading-while-listening (RWL), and it is actually the future of learning a new language. RWL as a language-learning method has been studied extensively, and its amazing advantages have not only given experts something to think about, but also provided students with the chance to strengthen both aspects of their learning (listening and reading) at the same time and with less effort.

Among these are the following:

1. Focus

Reading-while-listening has been proven to boost concentration on the text at hand (by forcing the student to eliminate background noise and focus on the audio they're listening to), and is seen as an excellent alternative for younger children and adults with limited attention spans.

2. Pronunciation improvement

It is one thing to read a word and another to say it. After all, is colonel pronounced as it is read? What about choir or queue? All complicated words that we may say wrong over and over before we hear them from somebody else. RWL ensures that we find out how to pronounce a word as soon as we read it. Great, huh?

3. Increased motivation

The aforementioned studies which have taken place in recent decades have definitely shone a positive light on this language-learning method. Children in Taiwan were subjected to a study for 26 weeks, in which two groups were taught English were different methods – one with RWL and the other without (Chang, C-S. (2011). The effect of reading while listening to audiobooks: Listening fluency and vocabulary gain. Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, 21, 43-64). The results said it all: the RWL group greatly outscored their non-RWL counterparts, and their motivation to learn future lessons grew further than the other group's.

4. A boost in fluency

Fluency, according to, is the “ability to speak or write a specified foreign language with facility”. This trait determines how well you can link words to form phrases and sentences, more than how you pronounce them. It is what allows you to speak with natives at all. The aforementioned study in Taiwan concluded that RWL helped students acquire a better fluency than simply reading, thanks to the fact that the narrator's voice will remain in our memory and come back to us when we need it.

5. Closer to native skills

Last but not least, it is important to note that simultaneously using reading and listening can give you a better idea of how natives talk and think that only one of the two methods won't accomplish on its own. Reading and listening will train you to learn to adopt your new language as a native would, and you will begin improving your language skills like never before.

In conclusion, reading-while-listening is a fresh, efficient method to learning a new tongue, and the most innovative teachers and companies are already using it to teach their students. The future is now with RWL!

About the writer

Anthony Muhye is a writer and Spanish teacher working for Storyling, a language-teaching startup that has created an amazing tool for learning several languages. There, you are able to listen to stories while simultaneously reading them, as well as translating stories entirely or partially to make things simpler. Reading while listening has never been this easy!


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