Some of the FSI free language courses are accompanied by audio recordings which were originally on cassette tapes. This means that those recordings are not quite on par with the more modern audio recordings available today.

Comparison: Pimsleur's Japanese (Sample Lesson) vs. FSI Japanese Headstart

If I use lower audio quality recordings in my language learning endeavors, will it negatively affect my pronunciation, and in what ways?

Note that I'm not speaking about the quality of the content, but rather the integrity of the record.

Edit: Of course, there is a point at which audio is of such low quality that it is incomprehensible, so the scope of this question is limited to audio that is reasonably clear.

  • 1
    If an audio recording is too low, it will obviously affect the ability to learn correctly from them, so I don't think a yes-no question makes sense here.
    – Flimzy
    May 10, 2016 at 6:42
  • On the other hand, your provided audio samples don't sound bad. They're a bit noisy, but the voice range sounds mostly unaffected (a bit fuzzy, perhaps, but not otherwise distorted). The squeal noise I heard in the one sample I listened to, and perhaps the static background noise, could be easily removed with sound-editing software. This would reduce the "annoyance" factor, but should have minimal impact on the voices present in the file.
    – Flimzy
    May 10, 2016 at 6:43
  • Maybe a better question would be "How can I tell if the audio quality is hurting my ability to learn proper pronunciation?"
    – Flimzy
    May 10, 2016 at 6:44
  • 1
    In real life listening, speech is seldom crystal-clear and without background noise...
    – user3169
    May 10, 2016 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


When an audio recording has lower quality, it means two things: some information is lost, and some noise is added. Obviously if enough information is lost, there won't be enough left to represent the sounds of the language anymore, so the question is really a matter of degree. But the important question is where do you start having problems.

As information is lost, it becomes harder to distinguish sounds. Actually, the auditory differences between two different sounds can be very subtle; humans who acquire a language are able to distinguish between two phonemes that really are very similar to each other from an acoustical perspective. This means that a low quality recording is potentially lacking in important phonemic information.

This may mean that the learner is unable to notice the difference between two similar phonemes in the language, or that they are unable to distinguish between a sound in their own language and the language they are learning. For example, if they are learning Japanese, they may not distinguish between the English "r" and the Japanese "r" (actually a flap [ɾ]). So they may just pronounce the sound as a sound in their own language, and this pronunciation could become fossilized.

Of course, this will be most likely to happen if the learner is mostly learning pronunciation through one source, the cassette tapes. My recommendation would be never to learn the language through the one source. If at all possible, include some real interaction with native speakers in your language learning routine. Then you'll be getting rich phonological input, and the interaction will provide an opportunity to get feedback about your pronunciation too.

  • I expect you mean "it means one of two things"?
    – Flimzy
    May 10, 2016 at 18:57
  • No, I meant it means both... when you have a low-quality recording like a cassette, there will be both information loss and noise.
    – gaeguri
    May 10, 2016 at 22:27
  • It's possible for a low-quality recording to have only a loss of information, or only the addition of noise, though.
    – Flimzy
    May 11, 2016 at 6:12
  • Example: Very low volume, is strictly a loss of information. Clipping is strictly a loss of information. A barking dog in the background, a squeal, a hiss, static, are just addition of information.
    – Flimzy
    May 11, 2016 at 6:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.