I have seen many different opinions regarding the usefulness of, say, having a radio program on in the background while you work, do chores, etc. Some say that simply being able to hear the sounds and rhythm of the language will help promote further growth with listening comprehension (when responsibly paired with actual study and "active" listening at a later point), while others say that the only useful practice is "active" listening practice, where you sit down and listen with the intention of 100% comprehension of the sounds you're hearing.

Is there any evidence to promote either viewpoint one way or another?

  • Are you looking for studies about the usefulness of background listening?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 17:05
  • I'll take studies for sure, but I wasn't sure if it would be wise to limit myself, since I don't know what's out there.
    – eefara
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 18:27
  • I'd say there are two main downsides: (a) the student trains themself to not listen attentively, and it becomes a bad habit (e.g. they instinctively treat recordings on their exam as background noise), and (b) the student may consider the time spent on background listening as study time ("I've done my 5 hours of study for today"), and thereby displace higher quality forms of study. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 22:59
  • Related: Is there any such paper that shows passive listening helps language learning?. (See also this story of someone who tried learning Tibetan by listening to the radio: "What I’ve found is that now, 134 days later, as I listen to the audio each day on my ipod – usually while doing something else – my brain pretty much totally tunes out everything as if it were just background noise or classical music.") Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 11:33

2 Answers 2


Information from Quora :

Passive learning is an important element in the language education approach referred to as Immersion or Total Immersion. Much research has been done on the effectiveness of this method and Education Week has an interesting two-part blog article on this at this article On the site you can download a PDF of the entire research paper by Tara Williams Fortune, which gives additional research sources.

Immersion makes use of incidental learning, which Vahid mentioned. Incidental learning, which is considered passive learning by some, is a common human experience. So, when learning a language, watching the television, using Internet sites, listening to a radio station, listening to conversations, and reading newspapers and journals in the language you are learning will help you acquire new vocabulary and new usage for the vocabulary you already have.

How passive learning works is also dependent on a person's learning style. This is discussed in Dr. Richard M. Felder's paper, "Learning and Teaching Styles In Foreign and Second Language Education" at this page At the end of this paper is a list of academic research papers that deal with learning and learning foreign languages.

  • Could you link the Quora article?
    – eefara
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 14:27
  • 1
    @eefara done...
    – Cloud
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 14:29
  • 2
    I don't think the Quora article is answering quite what I'm looking for. The top answer seems to assume that you're listening with intent to the radio, TV, etc., while I'm wondering how useful not listening with intent can be, if that makes sense.
    – eefara
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 20:21
  • 3
    How is this different than "some random guy's opinion on the Internet"?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 10:32
  • 1
    Also, "learning styles" theory is now widely considered to be a myth.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 10:35

I am a big believer in passive listening for language learning -- in the form of softly playing something in the target language while one is falling asleep. The results may not be quantifiable, and what I know is all anecdotal. Nonetheless, I found the method helpful to myself and I actively encourage my students do the same. Infrequently, some students do take my advice and like it (at least they told me so).

  • 3
    I know the standards for answers on this site are much lower than on, say, Skeptics, but personal opinions don't really count as "evidence". Can you provide some evidence (an expert opinion, or a study), or even a quantifiable personal experience, to back your personal opinion?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 10:36
  • 1
    Sounds like you are asking for evidence-something published in a peer reviewed, scholarly journal. Perhaps a study on kids exposed to a foreign lang. (passive?): pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6494/…? Or perhaps low-stake listening activities as referenced here: pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6868/…. But if a listening activity is done in a controlled environment, is it still "passive" listening? That was on my mind when I initially responded. Anecdotal-sure, backed by 30+ years of language teaching-and learning.
    – YCode
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 18:57
  • 1
    Maybe you may consider adding the links from comment to the answer, and add your credentials (not just a random internet poster, but 30 years of experience of teaching languages - where?) Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 19:21

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