Hey dear linguofriend, this post talks about how to use Amazon Audible to learn a foreign language. 🉑
Audible is the super-popular company, owned by Amazon, producing and selling millions of audiobooks: it is available in the UK as well as in the United States, France, Germany, Spain and Japan, among others.
It’s a chance to listen to awesome content in any language for whatever reason, granted. 🎧
As in a previous instalment I covered the huge leap one can achieve through audiobooks in terms of language fluency, now I’d focus on the best platform to get them. You may wonder: why Audible? 📢
It is a commercial service, aka you have to pay for it. In some countries, it costs more than the competition and sometimes you may have just as valid free resources.
This guide draws from my experience of having tried most audiobook services available, in search of an answer to questions like:
Does Audible work well on both computer and mobile? Am I the legal owner of the books I buy? Should I look for a flat-rate service? Can I speed it up or slow it down? Are my purchases available offline too?
Follow me and you’ll save yourself the whole quest. You’re welcome 😉
#1 If you don’t like what you’re listening, you can return the audiobook with no penalties.
#2 You have plenty of books to choose from, filtering by category, most rated, publishing date and, most important for us, by language. 🉐
#3 The resume of your order: it’s a free of charge, as you get 30 days for free, but still it’s processed as a normal order:
#4 You’re reminded that you can use it on Android, iOs, Windows Mobile, Kindle Oasis, Fire tablet, iPad, Windows Tablet, iPod Touch, personal computer, Apple, Sono speakers, Alexa-enabled devices, Fire TV. 📺
#5 You’re pointed out the rules of the game. They’re very simple.
How Audible works
- 1 credit = 1 book. You get one credit per month with your subscription and, with that currency, you can purchase any audiobook;
- you also gained access to the wealth of Audible Original Podcasts for free;
- if one credit isn’t enough for you, you can purchase of course more. Taking advantage of Daily Deals launched by Audible, you get a discount up to 60% on certain titles.
Some extra info goes in fine print, but it’s worth highlighting here below.
➡️ You can pile credits for up to five months. So, pile some if you want, but in the fifth month please redeem, at least, some credits. 💱
➡️ Remember that 1 credit = 1 book means that you can purchase any audiobook with that credit, be 20 minute-long or 51 hour-long.
➡️ You can unsubscribe at any given moment. What you have downloaded in your devices, remains yours forever, even after cancelling the subscription.
➡️ The 1 credit = 1 book rule, doesn’t mean you’re bound to only have a book per month: you can have as many audiobooks as you’d like: but you’ll get merely one per month at that 7.99 GBP price. 💷
The others shall be at full price, though Audible has plenty of special offers for members. Then, if you happen to cancel your subscription at any moment, you still keep your username and password to access your library! The books you purchased are yours forever.
But there’s more.
Benefits of Audible for language learners
There’s plenty of reasons to get a subscription. Let’s see some.
# An extraordinary catalogue
Audible’s catalogue features a gazillion audiobooks, of all sorts:
- young adult
- history 🏛️
- erotica 💞
- travel literature
- historical fiction
- scientific essays 🧮
- Gothic novels
- cooking 🍲
Some of these are popular books for which Audible purchased the rights, some are uncopyrighted materials, some are original titles. This is for example the first book I picked:
This book, without a subscription, would cost 35.79 GBP: know what I paid?
I paid 7.99 GBP: 78% discount, or, in terms of carbs, I paid the price of the smallest pizza margherita in London. 🍕🤯
You can get recent audiobooks narrated by top actors and voice artists.
My students go crazy when they listen to the voice of:
- Stephen Fry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, just as they are delighted to hear
- Claudio Bisio narrating La Piuma by Giorgio Faletti, or
- Livro do Desassossego, written by Fernando Pessoa, narrated by Areias Herbert.
Which leads me to the next point.
Excellent value for money
If you consider that you pay 7.99 GBP/month, it’s easy to realize one crucial point: there are some books below that price on Audible, but very few. 💰
The vast majority are above 8 GBP, and the best books are certainly three to five times more expensive: thus, if in a month you listen to at least one audiobook, it’s worth the price.
That’s also a good minimum standard to set for ourselves: I used to listen to an average of four audiobooks in a month; those were my best audiobook days.
Nonetheless, I don’t want to go below one per month, or my brain will shrink and disappear. 🤯 And we all need to keep our language skills sharp.
The 7.99 GBP/month is the basic plan: if you’re an avid listener, though, there is more for you. Here’s a review of the different memberships:
|Membership Plan||Price||Audible credits|
|1 Book Monthly Membership||GBP 7.99/month||1 credit per month|
|2 Book Monthly Membership||GBP 14.99/month||2 credits per month|
|12 Book Annual Membership||GBP 69.99/year||12 credits per year|
|24 Book Annual Membership||GBP 109.99/year||24 credits per year|
And there are still a lot of benefits: the Audible Apps come with some nice features, whatever the device
You have an array of statistics about your reading habits. It gives you all sorts of data, which makes it all very interesting after some weeks. 😉 I started competing with myself and that lead to more audiobooks consumed. For a layabout like myself, an effective way to motivate me.
You get recommendations: the “if you liked this audiobook, try this” sort of thing: believe me or not, I discovered a lot of gems this way. 😮
Changeable narration speed
It’s just awesome. 💨 When you want to put your language mastery to test, to speed up the narration is a valuable exercise. And it’s also a good training, when you need to brace yourself for a language official examination.
If you understand native speakers at 1.25 or 1.50 on an audiobook, you’ll have little problems in understanding native speakers in real life: that is also a very recommendable exercise to do before taking the FCE, DELF, DELE or whatever exam you need to sit, as their Listening sections are tough nuts to crack.
But let’s continue with the benefits.
Audible managed to gamify listening to audiobooks: what the heck does it mean? That you receive silly prizes and badges for listening to more than a certain amount of audiobooks or hours. 🏆
Silly, but powerful.
The Audible App is sleek
So, this is how Audible looks on my device:
Exactly: the same book I was talking about before, Accessory To War by Neil deGrasse Tyson. This was chapter 4 (four hours and forty minute already gone). Quite a practical interface to use.
You can easily access any of your audiobooks from a very convenient virtual library.
Ah: there’s also a sleep timer that stops your App, in case you doze off. As someone who listen to audiobooks also in bed at night, it’s a pro feature. 😴
Let me talk about another marvellous feature: Whispersync.
It’s useful to me because I am a two legged-mess.
To enjoy this feature you have to own both ebook and audiobook of the same tome: so, ebook from Amazon and audiobook from Audible.
And as I told you, I love reading and listening to books at the same time: it’s an exercise I constantly do with any of my languages. Now, sometimes I just read, or just listen to audiobooks, for whatever reasons.
I have no headphones with me, hence I read; or I’m jogging in the park, thus I definitely do not use my Kindle. Whispersync comes in my rescue in this cases. 🚒
This morning, for example, I have read the book of the moment (Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos) on my Kindle: I got to chapter 6, paragraph 7, line 19. Tonight, I’ll listen to it while doing groceries, through my mobile phone aaaaaand, surprise surprise, it’ll start at chapter 6, paragraph 7, line 19 automatically. 🥳
The only downside is that you have to make two purchase: one for the ebook and the other for the audiobook. It’s however less downside than what it seems.
➡️ First, because there are amazing discounts for purchasing the ebook of an audiobook you already own. 🤑
➡️➡️ Second, because it solves sooooo many organizational issues for the price of few dimes.
In some countries, some users claimed to have had synchronization issues. I don’t know whether it’s country-specific or some hardware–software incompatibility. As long as you are subscribed to Amazon.co.uk and Audible.co.uk, there shouldn’t be problems.
Me, I never had any sync issues. And I do use it: I read ebooks on my Kindle, beside listening to audiobooks on both my Android smartphone and my personal computer. I asked a friend who uses it with Alexa Echo Show: no problem either, he said.
Now, a good question: on how many devices can I listen to my audiobooks with one unique account?
How many users can I assign to one account on Audible?
Well, Audible has a different way of phrasing it.
You are allowed to install its App on three devices. 📱 That means, no one forbids you to activate three Apps on three devices for three different people.
I’d only make sure it’s your spouse, brother, sister, daughter or father.
To share an App which contains your credit card details with someone you don’t trust 110%, ouch.
Where are my audiobooks?
Your audiobooks are in any of or both these places:
- The cloud, ☁️
- your devices, be personal computer or tablet or smartphone. 📱
I personally only download them when I know I’ll spend days in some telecom-unreached corner of the world, which happens four or five times in a year. Either way, once purchased them, they are yours for the eternity.
The book-return guarantee
When you purchase an audiobook in a brick and mortar store, once opened the pack, you cannot bring it back unless there is a serious, evident flaw.
Audible is a whole another world: if you purchased one and didn’t like it, you have one year to return the audiobook. 🗓️ One year. You don’t even have to provide an explanation.
More podcasts? Like there’s not already enough variety. 😓
Well, as a company with immense financial means, when they do things they do them great.
They have put to work some of the most outstanding artists on the planet to produce original materials, among other things: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry are just two examples, but you find here podcasts about anything.
I particularly liked history podcasts. But well, as said, you have plenty of topics to delve in.
Why is Audible great for language learners?
Because there’s plenty to choose from: Arabic, French, Chinese, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian…
So, as a language learner, there are two main ways to make use of this huge opportunity: material purely educational, and material in your target language. 🤓
You go educational
If you are inclined to the pure didactic audiobooks, here you can find:
- pure audio courses,
- audiobook versions of paperback courses,
- materials designed for children,
- self-teaching gems,
You also have big names like Michel Thomas, Pimsleur, Hüber Verlag, Collins and Teach Yourself. 🎧
To get these audiobooks, you go to Browse –> Languages and then you select your language: you soon realized that the biggest bulk of audiobooks falls into the category Other Languages. The problem is that once you click there, they are all mixed.
So for example, in this moment Learn Conversational Bengali is a bestseller 🇧🇩 , but there is no way of telling it from this area because there is no Bengali language section predefined in Audible.
So, the best thing you can do is to use the search box on top.
You listen to unspecific audiobooks in your target language
This is what I use Audible the most for. You can’t get most of those books from the Language section. You have to click on Advanced Search and then to filter by language.
Filtering by Spanish, you get a long list of audiobooks manufactured for a Spanish-speaking audience, such as these two:
I cannot stress enough how valuable is this useful, when learning a language. ❤️ As you can see, you have the option of hearing a 5 minute-sample before to get it.
In this very moment, there are more than 11,000 audiobooks in Spanish (two years ago, they were about 7,000).
For other languages, figures are similar: if you learn French, nearly 16,000 audiobooks are available to you. 🇫🇷 So, no chance to run out of good audiobooks in your target language here.
The cons of Audible
Is Audible entirely positive? Isn’t it too good to be true? Well, I did look around to find issues, as picky as I am. Let me list them below.
Smaller offer on minority languages
There’s a huge deal of material for major languages, but less for minor ones, which is, well, nothing new under the sun. It’s easier to find stuff in Italian than in Swahili: in that regard, Audible reflects market demand. 🛒
Still, unless you take real niche languages like, say, Yoruba or Gujarati, you can find in Audible more audiobooks than in any other platform in any given language, that’s a fact.
Issues with cancellation
I have found over the Internet some negative opinions in this regard: some users had issues in cancelling their subscription and Customer Service didn’t help.
I mean no disrespect, but to me it feels they are fellows with a low web-literacy. I have gone through some of their claims: they kind of typed into Google’s search box “I want to cancel my subscription” and expected a genie to appear on their screen and unsuscribe for them. 🤦♂️
My brother, for example, subscribed to Audible few months ago, spurred by me, only to discover six months later that he wasn’t much of an audiobook listener. He unsubscribed from Audible in less than a minute.
Free alternative resources
Not a flaw from Audible, but if you belong to a certain niche of language learners, you may live without it and make use of two other interesting platforms. See below Librivox and Litterature Audio.
Isn’t any Audible’s competitor worth considering? Well, read on.
Platforms other than Audible
In and on itself, it has some pros: lots of audiobooks to choose, the App works fine, the price isn’t abusive; nothing extraordinary though. Storytel is a small-sized player in a game dominated by a giant, which is Audible, and it comes with one virtue:
👍 Storytel being originally Swedish has a broader offer of audiobooks in Swedish than the other services I have tested. If you learn this language, you may want to consider it.
… and, I am afrait, too many problems:
👎 For language learners, the offer seems abundant at first, but once you deep-dive in you realize a fair chunk is low-quality. One wonders if there has been a quality check on such stuff before to upload them to their portfolio.
👎 The platform is reliable, but I have found different glitches on its App, using it on two different mobiles. Never happened with Audible.
👎 Being the parent company Swedish, the platform in the northern countries is available in each of their language. But as soon as you fare far from there, you find yourself with WIP websites. Singapore, UAE or others can just have a website in English, and if you’re a Belgium resident, the language choice is restricted to Flemish. Hard to believe.
👎 It’s more expensive than Audible.
👎 Customer service needs a major overhaul. I have been a paying customer for several months and I tried to reach the customer service: by email, phone and Twitter, both the Spanish and the Swedish company. Well, I’ve still been waiting for a reply.
(Just for comparison: I reached Audible twice, by email. Once they replied in eleven minutes, the other in two. Two minutes. Beat that.) 😱
I hope in time Storytel become a big fish in this tank. For the moment, as a short-in-time language learner not incline to experiments, I wouldn’t even bother trying their free trial period.
With Kobo, Rakuten has been trying to emulate Amazon Kindle; with Kobo Audiobooks, well, Audible:
- A monthly subscription which gives you a credit to get one audiobook,
- the option of buying books aside from the subscription,
- integration with eBooks and its eReader. 📱
Is it a good product? Well, Kobo isn’t bad, but again: no match for Audible. Cons are:
👎 The selection of titles is far below Audible’s.
👎 The audiobook availability may vary greatly from country to country. The platform is lean, but translations to other languages are sometimes haphazardous.
👎 The offer for language learners is extremely limited.
👎 You can’t return an audiobook if it is not of your liking.
This is a huge, wonderful project in which you can take part too.
Yep: Librivox is entirely created and handled by volunteers. They take materials in the public domain and make audiobooks out of them, narrated by their own voice. Its pros:
👍 It is free.
👍 You can either stream or download audiobooks on your devices. 📥
👍 If you love to discover stories the world has long forgotten, here you can find some gems.
While I encourage you to browse their catalogue, I also have to warn you about its limitations:
👎 “Public domains” means free from copyright in the USA. In short, anything published after the 1930s is most likely not there, as there’s still copyright in place. You can find Dickens, you can’t find Follett. Which means the next flaw.
👎 Literary works from bygone eras are of little interest for most language learners. I wouldn’t recommend Librivox unless at a C1 level already in your target language.
👎 Language complexity isn’t the only issue: if one loves, say, finance or technology and would like to leverage those to improve their language skills, there’s no way you could do it here.
👎 Offer is abundant in English (over 32.000 works), not so in other languages: French comes second with some 800; Italian, for instance, features as little as 258 audiobooks. That makes it little suited for native English speakers.
👎 If you’re acquainted with Audible’s quality, you might find some of Librivox’s audiobooks amateurish.
👎 No streaming.
👎 No mobile App available.
This is Librivox’s little brother: the platform Litterature Audio, created and maintained by a fantastic guild of French voices with a deep passion for classic literature. It comes with a prehistoric, non-responsive layout but we have to give it its dues:
👍 More than 8.000 French audiobooks.
👍 It’s free.
👍 Most recordings are surprisingly good!
👍 Audiobooks come with a rich product sheet: resumes, info about the translation, images, references to related songs. You can even comment and send a feedback to the narrator!
👍 You can sort by author, narrator, genre, country of origin of the work, century and you have an easy access to the most voted, the most downloaded, the most recent.
👍 You can download single chapters.
Alas, we have limitations too:
👎 If you have skimmed through the text without reading carefully, it’s worth repeating: it offers just French audiobooks.
👎 It’s 99% classic literature, which makes it suited only to very advanced learners of French fond of humanities.
👎 You can’t stream.
👎 No mobile App is available here: you have to play audiobooks with a player of your choice. Evidently, none of the features of Audible are available.
The Mountain View juggernaut is trying hard, but can’t match Audible. At the moment, it rather seems the audiobook version of Google Plus, aka, afailure. 🤔
The Google Play Books app, which allows you to both read eBooks and listen to audiobooks, is plagued with ads. It’s hard to sort out the books you’ve read / listened with those you have pending, or those you’re prompted to purchase.
Then, its portfolio is way smaller than Audible’s, especially that of interest for a language learner: graded readers, educational materials and the like? Naught to zero. 👎
In Google Play Books, there is no subscription: if you want to listen to an audiobook, you purchase it as a standalone title. While freedom from subscription is a good thing, Google’s prices might back you out. 😨
Old classics are cheap, but novelties bring the average price high up: take the last Obama’s, which costs 23 GBP at the moment. If you bring that amount to Audible, you purchase three audiobooks instead of one.
So, I’d consider Google Play Books, but only if you:
- listen to no more than two or three audiobooks / podcasts in a year;
- don’t mind the lack of language-related materials.
FAQ about Audible for eager language learners
Q: Can I share Audible audiobooks with my family?
A: As of today, not through Amazon Household. However, please see above the chapter “How many users can I assign to one account?”.
Q: Can I purchase an Audible audiobook with no membership?
A: You can, though you’ll pay full price for it. 💷
Q: Can my Echo device play my audiobooks?
A: Sure! However, make sure your Audible account is merged with your Amazon one, otherwise Alexa wouldn’t know where to pick your audiobooks from.
Audible Original Podcasts, at this time, can’t be listened to on Alexa devices but they’ve been working on it to implement it soon.
Q: Can I download my titles to listen to them offline?
A: ‘course you can! On iOS, Android, Windows phones; on Mac, Windows, Linux computers. Easy-peasy.
Q: Do I have a wish list in Audible?
A: Yep. I accumulate in my Wish List all the books I’d like to read soon, but still have no monthly credits to purchase them. 📚
Q: On what devices can I use it?
A: As far as I am aware, you can have Audible on any device, as mentioned above.
In my family, we use it on a Samsung Galaxy J5 with Android 6, a Huawei P40 Lite with Android 11, a Lenovo and an Asus laptop with Windows 10, an iPad and an iPhone with iOS 14.3, with no issue. 📱🖥️
So, is Audible worth it, for a language learner?
Audible is definitely worth. But let me summarise briefly here the whole point of this post.
- Would like to keep practising a language you already know or pick up a new one,
- are already familiar with Amazon and appreciate it,
- want to access the biggest collection of audiobooks worldwide (more than 220.000 audiobooks, copyrighted and uncopyrighted, contemporary and not), not to mention podcasts, the series Audible Originals and a specific section devoted to language learners that is a true gem for all of us in a hurry,
- don’t want to waste time with mediocre Apps, downloading files -> moving them -> changing formats -> experiencing synchronization issues,
- want to access your audiobooks by streaming, or store them for offline listening on computer, tablet, mobile or Amazon Echo,
then Audible is the answer. 👍
You have nothing to lose anyway: subscribe to the 30 day-trial, get an audiobook for free, download the App and see how it works for you.
You’ll be debited the 7.99 GBP only after 31 days, with whatever membership you choose. If it turns out you learn more on paper books, you cancel your Audible subscription, end of the game. 👋
Conclusions about Audible
So, this is my review of Audible for language learners like you and me. Have you ever used it? I’m curious to know your take on it.
Now, I do have a question for you: If you haven’t put so far audiobooks in your linguistic diet, why so?
Please let me know in the comment below, I’m eager to know your point of view.
By the way, audiobooks and Audible are excellent tools to learn a language, but they are not the only ones. Have a look at my other posts, such as:
If you have found this review interesting, would you please share it? It’d help this website grow. 🙏
Thank you for having taken the time to read this. Hope to see you soon here again 😉 and happy language learning.
Your personal language consultant,