Autonomous Learning in Action Series #2 – Ensuring Accurate Input


story.001This week, I want to focus on input. Input is learning through reading and listening. You may have heard these called “receptive” skills as you are receiving information through your eyes and ears.

Emoticon holds his hand near his head and listening something

Don’t be fooled though! These are not passive skills. We cannot and will not learn a language unless we are ACTIVELY reading with understanding and ACTIVELY listening with comprehension. So watching movies with subtitles in your native language can be helpful, BUT it will only work if you are actively listening, rewinding to listen again where you didn’t catch something the first time, and pausing the movie to look things up. Also, movie subtitles are terribly inaccurate, so they can’t be trusted! Listening to the radio or podcasts can also be helpful, but again, only if you are paying close attention to gaining understanding from what you are hearing.

wasting time horThe same is true with reading. We have to ACTIVELY read with understanding for it to help us learn. That’s why choosing books or texts that are at the same level we are is so important. If we are looking up too many words, it’s no longer fun and we likely won’t be understanding fully. Then, we will get bored and quit or not really learn anything, so it’s just wasting time.


Lucky for us, we live in the digital age! There are SO many resources online to help us in our endeavor to learn a new language!

Here’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks to learn French. At the end, I’ll give you some fantastic links for free resources for learning English.


I love stories. I love reading, I love reading aloud, and I love to listen to someone reading to me. I decided to put that love to work for me in learning French. Remember, the only time I get to hear native-spoken French is in my French class once a week. That isn’t enough to make progress, so I got my (digital) hands on a French audiobook that came with a PDF so I could read along while listening. I printed out the PDF so that I could take notes in the margins.

Step One

I listen to a short section while silently reading along. The chapters in the book I chose are short (about 4-7 minutes each), so I listen to one chapter at a time.

Hint: If you can’t follow along, you have chosen something that is too hard for you. You don’t need full comprehension yet, but you do need to know where one word ends and another begins. Also, start with a short section, maybe one paragraph, or one minute, just to get used to the process.

PrintStep Two

After listening and following along the first time through, I stop the audio and read the printed version slowly, figuring out each sentence and looking up any words or phrases I don’t know. At this point, I now have full comprehension of the story. In other words, I can, with confidence, tell someone what happened in that section (not necessarily in French, but in my native language I can summarize the section I listened to).

Step Three

I listen to the audio again while following along, silently reading the print version.

giraffe sleepingHint: This is EXHAUSTING! It really is a LOT of work. You can’t let your mind wander. You have to really concentrate on what is being said and try to understand it in its original language. It’s okay to take a break. Sometimes I go take a nap.

Step Four

If I took a nap or a long break, I review the print version and then listen to that section again while reading along. Then I listen without looking at the print version and I try to hear the words and phrases. I also try to picture the story in my head. That way, I must actively listen and I also know that I understand.

If I didn’t take a nap, I just go straight to listening without the print version.

Step Five

The next day, I review by listening while reading along once, and then listening once without reading along. By this time, I have listened to the same passage 5-7 times and I can usually follow the story without the aid of the printed text.

Vector illustration of chronometer and calendar on white background.

I did this for two weeks (it took me about 45-60 minutes of study per day), and when I went to class on Wednesday, I noticed that I was actually understanding my teacher when he was speaking! That was a BIG improvement for me!

Even if comprehending spoken language isn’t a challenge for you like it is for me, this listening and reading activity can help you with language accuracy. When you read and listen to grammatically correct language repeatedly, you will begin to just know what sounds right. You will begin to use natural-sounding words and phrases. Of course, this means you must be careful to choose audio and text that are well-written, so be sure to get your materials from reliable sources.

Resources for English!

Learning languages online. Audiobooks concept. Books and headphones on the map world. 3d

Here are some recommendations for free resources for learning English. I hope you enjoy them as much as I’m enjoying my French mystery!

Beginner – Raggedy Ann Stories (audio and MP3)

Beginner – Sing Out Loud (for those who would rather sing :-)) (audio and MP3)

Intermediate –  To Build a Fire and Other Stories by Jack London (audio and MP3)

Intermediate – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (audio and MP3)

Upper Intermediate – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (audio and MP3)

Advanced – The Autobiography of Mark Twain (audio and MP3)

Advanced – The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories by Stephen Crane (audio and MP3)

For a larger selection of books, try LibriVox. This is a site where volunteer readers record copyright-free books for your listening pleasure (and learning)! All the titles are free and the text for the books can be found on Project Gutenberg (also free). While these are old books and the language may be somewhat old-fashioned, they are still valuable resources for language learners. You’ll find the great classics here!

And again, here’s what my work looks like:

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In the next post, I will share with you how I am learning to speak with confidence.

About the Author
Lori Michele Kelley

Lori has Master’s degree in TESL and has taught English and Intercultural Communication in the United States, Turkey, South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand. She also develops and conducts teacher development workshops for both pre- and in-service teachers. Riding pillion on backroads with her husband Michael Kelley in the tropics and wherever else there are good roadside coffee shops is one of her favorite things to do. She’s also quite fond of the water and made her husband promise they could live on a houseboat someday.