How to learn from audio books, podcasts and more

If you don’t have time to read: here’s how to learn from audio books, podcasts, text-to-speech articles, Youtube lectures and videos in the background.

It’s a hard life, a conscious choice, but I can’t imagine living without it. For the past 8 years, I’ve been mostly learning and enjoying fiction via audio. Here’s how to learn from audio books, podcasts and more.

When driving, washing dishes, commuting, shaving, moping the floor… There are so many occasions where looking at a book is dangerous, but listening is perfectly fine (stay focus on the road though…)

With time and dedication, you can start an audio stream and pickup where you left nearly instantly.

Don’t forget also the 2X feature on most readers: if the content is too slow for you, just speed up and finish in half the time. To me it feels better than starting a book and putting it down forever because of some bumpy chapters in the middle.

Also, don’t worry, Listening can be as effective as reading. But that depends on your taste of course. I still keep a stack of physical and virtual books. It’s just that I have less occasions to sit down than plugging earphones and keep moving. Somehow opening a book is a great way to attract people around to interrupt you 🙂 Don’t forget to make the learning stick like with any media.

Daily Commute: 2 hours (= 2 big podcasts episode, or 20% of a regular size audiobook, or 5-10 articles, etc…)

Daily Chores: 1 hour (= 3 small sized podcasts, or 10% of a book, 3 long articles)

Weekly listening time: around 20 hours. That’s 2 medium books, 1 big book or lecture. That’s a lot of podcasts or articles. And it could be much more if you use the X2 feature.

Audio Books

Buying and learning from audio books is super easy. You can subscribe to some services like Audible. Or buy them by the unit on Google Play or Apple Books for example. Even get 6,000 french narrated books for free here http://www.litteratureaudio.com/.

If you can’t buy right now, but still need to get access to some pages to evaluate a book; you can search for a site with the words “audio”, “book” and “bay”, to find a torrent of content.

I usually buy the physical versions of the books I liked, so I can skim through, look at illustration, or simply keep a token of appreciation.

Here is a list of some of the books I listened to over the years. It’s a mix of lots of styles.

Pay attention to: duration (8 hours is easy, 27 hours requires dedication over a couple weeks), narrator (some narrators are out of breath or wet mouthed all the time, it’s horrible, unless you are into ASMR), audio quality (constant background noise, or low quality makes it super hard to listen).

Quick Tip on Audio Books

How to know if there is an audio version of a book? I use google, or Goodreads “other edition” button to find out.

How to find audio books version to learn from on Goodreads

Podcasts

I love to learn from podcasts too. The quality is very very irregular though. I recently stumbled upon https://www.listennotes.com/. It’s a fantastic way to find answer on specific topics.

What is great for Podcast listeners, is that the technology was designed pre-youtuber-super-analytics-optimized-clickbaits. It means that Hosts can’t really tune their content to perfect click rate. They need to produce high quality content to really build an audience.

The downside is ads. It’s hard to skip when you are busy and just listening.

Quick Tip on Podcasts

Do not subscribe to a podcast before you have listened to a few episodes and you are ready to receive a constant flow of new episodes. Because if you are obsessed with finishing what you start, it’s pretty hard to clean a list of constantly updating 50 minutes weekly episodes.

Youtube

You need Youtube premium to listen to videos in the background.

But you can do 2 things: 1/ leave the screen open and just listen (with the risk of clicking out inadvertently) 2/ use a youtube to podcast converter.

Articles

I’ve used Instapaper for many years now. It’s one of the best tool out there to learn from audio. And it’s free. You can send any article to Instapaper from your browser (plugin, or manually paste the url). I also send long emails (like daily lessons), by forwarding to my unique Instapaper email.

Then in the Instapaper App, you can simply click “Pronounce” and a robotic (but OK) voice will read through the article for you. You can adjust the speed (though 1x is enough because the diction is not natural enough to speed up safely).

There is a game aspect to it for me. I had 60 unread over the years until I found the text-to-speech feature. Then I finished my list in a week. It was a fun challenge.

Quick Tip on Instapaper

Sort by “Shorter First” or “Longer First” and listen based on the time you have (the App shows you the reading time). The choice is based on your availability. I prefer this to random or last-in-first-out sorting. It’s better for atomic reading. I don’t like to abandon an article in the middle and resume without context later on.

Lectures

Coursera, Udemy, iTunes U and other courses are video based. In some occasions, for low intensity lessons, you can actually lock you phone and just listen to the audio.

Otherwise, I find that The Great Courses are remarkably designed for listening. Especially Greenberg’s lectures on music.

Radiophonic plays

If you are not in the mood for a focused, intense 10 hours fiction; you have the fantastic option of BBC Radio plays (or the French equivalent). The actors, the sound design, the music are a joy. You don’t need to focus that much, and it’s usually less than 2 hours long.

It’s a great way to buffer between 2 serious listenings.

Examples

Did you know that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a BBC Play before being a book and movie?

Death in the Clouds: A BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatisation

Neverwhere: BBC Dramatisation

And that was how I learn from audio books, podcasts and more 🙂

Author: Jean-Baptiste Rieu

Trained software engineer and now product manager. Living in South-Korea, working on post-purchase experience @Coupang, the first e-commerce company here. Blogging mostly to practice writing, and to engage with others on life in Korea, products, engineering, books and anything worth geeking about.