What Is Passive Listening?

In a prior post on language learning, I talked about active listening. I mentioned passive listening but didn’t elaborate on it, so I thought I’d talk about it a bit now.

Passive listening is listening to your foreign language of choice in the background as you do something else. You basically tune into a radio station (talk radio works the best for this) or a nice long video (again, a sort of talk show format is preferable) and let it play while you do something else. I started doing passive listening during my second year of Russian when I realized I had a ton of trouble understanding native speakers even when they were talking about the simplest things. (Shout out to Voice of Russia, the station that helped make my Russian learning possible.)

This leads me to my next point: if you’ve tried active listening and haven’t had much success with it, the problem could be that you haven’t had enough exposure with passive listening. I didn’t start doing anything remotely related to active listening until I had done about a year and a half of passive listening. That’s a year and a half of listening to Russian people talk and talk on the radio for hours nearly every day. After enough of that exposure, everything clicked in my brain and I could understand spoken Russian.

Now, passive listening is not a panacea for language learning problems. It’s not the only thing you should be doing. You still need to study vocabulary, study grammar, study pronunciation, and speak the language out loud to real people. Passive listening is just one thing you should do on your way to fluency.

I still engage in passive listening. I bring my headphones to work every day and listen to Kommersant FM or Ekho Moskvy or, if I’m feeling adventurous, Golos Stolitsy (the third option is a radio station based in Kiev, Ukraine that broadcasts in both Ukrainian and Russian). As I said, it’s not the only thing I do related to Russian—but it’s an integral part of my routine.


5 thoughts on “What Is Passive Listening?

      1. Glad to hear it! It frustrates me when I see people speaking out against passive listening. I know it may not be the quickest method in the beginning, but I find it produces excellent results long-term. And in your case, it sounds like short-term, too!


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