Finding the best way to learn a language as an adult can be daunting. We always hear children are like sponges when it comes to languages, and it all gets harder as we grow older. 

But as someone who’s taught 80 year olds, I can 100% tell you that it is not true. Adults can learn languages, and they may have to learn from children a bit. 

This blog post is all about passive listening skills and how to implement it into your language learning plan.

What is passive listening? 

Imagine passive listening as your language BFF – no textbooks, no stress, just good vibes and linguistic magic happening in the background. It’s like having a low-key language party while you’re out and about – commuting, cooking, or even just chilling with your favourite tunes. No need to break a sweat or sit down for a formal study session. Passive listening is all about letting the language sneak into your ears effortlessly.

Passive listening improves communication, pronunciation, and listening. It might seem unnecessary or ineffective when you’re doing it, but passive language skills are fundamental for your language progress. 

Can you learn a language just from listening?

People spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on trying to find the best language learning programs and language tutors. Is it useless? Can you really learn a language just from listening to it?

Well, yes. But not really. 

Listening is a fundamental part (if not the most important part) of language learning. If you cannot hear a sound, you cannot pronounce it. If you cannot pronounce it, you can be understood. 

Here’s a fact. Most language learners do not spend enough time listening. There’s a reason why people learn a language significantly faster when they live in a country where their target language is spoken. That’s because they are surrounded by it. 

However, language is about communicating. Just like a child eventually learns grammar and vocabulary in their native language at school, you will need to do the same to reach fluency. Personally, my parents always corrected me whenever I made a grammar or pronunciation mistake in Portuguese, it didn’t just come naturally from listening, even though that was a massive part of it. 

Passive listening vs active listening.

If there is passive listening, it’s because there is also active listening. 

Active listening is what most people think of when thinking of language listening skills. You listen to a passive, and actively try to understand, whether through taking notes or repeating what the speaker is saying. 

Passive listening, just like its name suggests, doesn’t require any action from the listener. 


One doesn’t work without the other. In class with a tutor, you most likely focus on active listening. However, when you are self-studying, you should absolutely integrate passive listening into your plan. 

How to passively learn a language step by step 

  1. Find content you like

This is probably the most important, especially if you are a beginner. If you don’t understand politics in your own native language, why are you spending hours watching the news in your target language? 

Go on Youtube, Google, Spotify, and type a topic or set of keywords you are interested in in your target language. 

For example, if you like sports, you can type “what is the national sport in …(country)…” or “why is …(name of sport)… such a big part of …(country)… culture?” in your target language. 

You can also practise passive listening with music and movies. 

    1. Do an activity that requires no mental focus. 

Maybe you have laundry to do or iron, maybe you are about to go on a run (okay, this one does require mental focus), maybe you want to meal prep for the week. 

Do whatever is on your to-do list and play the content in the background.

Once in a while, you can repeat (shadow) what you hear but you never need to focus 100%. 

    1. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Do this for 10 minutes every day. Yeah, every day. Remember, language learning takes time, and just like the child that takes months to say their first word, you will need months or even years to really see improvement from passive listening. But you will see your pronunciation and listening improve significantly. So be patient!





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