Practicing a Foreign Language Without Native Speakers





Introduction: Practicing a Foreign Language Without Native Speakers

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

The ideal way to learn a foreign language is by conversing with native speakers, but this is not always possible in the USA.

I had two years of German in college and have some reference books in German that I need to use. Eventually I wanted to learn to understand spoken German and to speak some, too. Books are helpful, but can do only so much.

Step 1: Shortwave Radio Helped for a Time.

Radio waves in the shortwave frequencies bounce off of the ionosphere and can reach the other side of the world. The Passport to World Band Radio is a Yellow Pages of foreign broadcasters and their schedules. For a decade or so I listened to German broadcasts on shortwave. Reception was often not very good due to sunspots, static, and weather. Still, it helped me to begin to understand spoken German and to mimic phrases so I could begin to converse with German tourists I encountered.

For the last few years shortwave service to the USA in German has come to an end. This is because of budget cuts and the broadcasters are changing over to digital broadcasts, but those will not be available in the USA for a few more years.

Step 2: Listen to the Bible in German

The 1964 edition of Luther's German Bible (Lutherbibel) is available free of charge at After opening the site, search for "1964 Lutherbibel" in Deutsch ('Sprache' window). Click on 'Suche.'

Pictured is part of the results page. Wait for the page to load. It takes a while. Scroll down to "Alle 66 B� as shown in the photo. The zipped file is a bit over 600 MB. Left click on the arrow in the left pane.

Step 3: Click on the Download Link.

In the last line of the frame you see the symbol for a zipped file. Right click on this line and select "Save target as."

When I tried to download the whole German Bible at this site, the upload speed was quite slow. My daughter has an always-on computer on a high-speed connection. She downloaded it for me over two nights. If you would like a copy, send me a private message and we will see what we can work out so neither of us is too burdened financially.

Unzipped the German audio Bible is 1.5 GB.

Step 4: Listening to the German Bible

I often find I awake much earlier than I would like. I keep an MP3 disc player next to the bed. When I awaken I listen up to an hour at a time. It is good practice for my German and it gets me into the Bible on a daily basis.

I bought this player a few years ago when iPods were more expensive than they are today. But, I can lose or break several of these players for the cost of one iPod. It works for me.

Step 5: Podcasts Are a Big Help.

A good internet connection and a fast computer allow listening in real time. But, you cannot back up what was said or listen again, unless you download programs. Deutsche Welle, like other radio broadcasters in Germany offers Podcasts. The URL is They also offer a set of German lessons in MP3 for tourists.

Step 6: Other Sources of German Podcasts offers a wide variety of German literature for MP3 download. Most of them are free of charge. Often the text files for the same works are available, too. Some titles have a fee attached. You can play a sentence or a phrase over and over until you understand it. You can follow the words in print through the text file.

Step 7: Using ITunes

I get my Podcasts through iTunes. Listening to the Bible is good, but it does not contain some of the vocabulary you will encounter in daily conversation.

Drag Podcasts to a Playlist. Watch the time numbers at the bottom center of the iTunes screen. When you get about 1.1 hours, you have reached the limit a CD will hold. Click on Burn and iTunes will convert the files from MP3 to WAV and record them on a disc playable in any standard CD player.

Step 8: Playing CDs in Your Car

My car stereo is nine years old and is not MP3 capable. I can play WAV file CDs in my car while I am driving. I store them in a CD holder on my sun visor. I have a wireless FM transmitter for broadcasting my player through my FM radio, but the sound is better and it is less bother with the WAV CDs.

Listening to German language MP3 files downloaded from the Internet has helped me gain enough facility in spoken German that I have been able to travel in Germany with only a rental car and a small pocket dictionary. I even interpreted a German language presentation in the Gutenburg Museum in Mainz for English speaking tourists. I also spoke in German for an hour and twenty minutes once when I was asked to bring a PowerPoint presentation on my current home state. It was well received.

Step 9: Something I Have Not Tried. says they offer the opportunity to speak over the Internet with native speakers. I have not tried them. I do know some cities will have groups that get together once a week or so at a coffee house to converse with a native speaker in a language the group is trying to learn.



    • Backpack Challenge

      Backpack Challenge
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest

    21 Discussions

    i would like to recommend the best place to chat with english native speakers over skype!

    its really effective!

    Thank you. This is an awesome 'ible. It is only fair if I fuss that people who live in my country speak my language, that I should attempt to learn their language when I visit their country. Really, fair is fair. And most people are forgiving of butchered language from visitors... :)

    1 reply

    Thank you for your comment. I have usually found that if I listen to enough German regularly, more fluency comes out of my mouth when I open it than I expect. Since the time when I posted this Instructable I have retired from being a full-time pastor and moved to the greater Portland, Oregon area. Once a month from September through June there is a German worship service at one of the Lutheran churches. I help out by reading some parts of the service with my American accent and all. The man who usually does the sermon is leaving for several months, and I will be giving the sermon for the next three services. I have done that a couple of times. The first time gave me a better idea about how to prepare. It went much better the second time. (Most German preachers I have observed, even the native German born, read their sermons word-for-word.) I decided I wanted to look people in the eye and speak to them face-to-face. It means I may make more mistakes, but the interaction and interest is better, over all. Everyone does get a parallel column German and English copy of the sermon slightly abbreviated. Ever since I knew I would be doing these sermons in German, I have been hearing Podcasts, etc. and reading German about an hour a day.

    One suggestion I have discovered on the Internet from language teachers is that reading aloud 30 minutes a day in your second language is strongly encouraged as a way to make one's tongue and mouth work more smoothly.

    Another great tip I've heard about is watching a movie or TV show you have already seen in English dubbed into the target language. Since you are already familiar with the story, you know what's going on (as opposed to a foreign movie in the target language where you have no clue what's going on). Many DVD's are dubbed in Spanish and/or French, other languages may be more difficult to find. Also "The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast" by A.G.Hawke is a great step-by-step book setup for any language, though it does require you to have other reference material. Many of the recommendations in the book are similar to this instructable, though these instructions are far more technically savvy. Great Instructable!!!

    5 replies

    There are foreign language tracks on movie DVDs. In the USA these are usually Spanish and sometimes French. If either of those are your languages to practice, you are in business. Sometimes you find a DVD with a German language track at Borders or Barnes and Noble, but the price is quite high compared to other DVDs. If you go to Germany you can find DVDs of movies you saw in English, but with German (as well as English) tracks. But, their video system is PAL, not the VHS standard our equipment plays. We bought a PAL compatible DVD player and a couple of movie DVDs there, but their players use 230 volts, not 115. Then you need a voltage converter. The rate of speech in German Podcasts is a good normal rate. The speed at which people talk in German movies is faster and less distinct than Podcasts--very difficult for a learner. Thanks for the tip on the Hawke book. I will check on it.

    You can also peruse dealers like for "region free DVD players" that sell for between $29 to $70 US. They play any region DVD player and automatically adjust between PAL and NTSC. Pay attention to the reviews on Amazon. If the 1 star reviews are almost the same number as the 5 star reviews, pick another brand.

    You may have heard the saying "too smart by half." We were in Germany and I wanted to buy some DVDs with the audio in German so I could practice better. We also bought a DVD player there, too. Of course the power requirement is for 220 volts, not 115 volts. So, when we returned home I spent more money on a power converter that changes 115 volts to 220 volts. I would have been smarter to do what you suggested. Thank you.

     Deutsche Welle ( is a  German language News Radio station with a live stream that I've been using to learn German. has a list of other streaming radio stations in German.  I like Deutsche Welle because it's more of an NPR format.

    1 reply

    I also have given preference to broadcasters that enunciate clearly.  The news channel at Nord Deutsches Rundfunk is very good, too.

    Falls ihr mal Probleme mit dem Deutschen habt, schreibt mir einfach, dann helfe ich euch gern.
    Aber bitte schaut erst nach, ob die Antwort nicht schon im Dictionary steht :-)

    1 reply

    Recht herzlichen Dank für das Angebot.  Oftmals verwende ich Leo, ein elektronisches Wörterbuch aus der Uni zu München und finde es mir zehr hilfreich.  Auch habe ich eine Duden (4. Band--Grammatik) und zusätzlich verschiedene Wörterbücher.  Alles Gute!

    Livemocha is nice at first but it gets boring later. It works a little like rosseta stone but I found some mistakes in the lesson and they never explain to you how the grammar works. Finding a native speaker is pretty hard, I found a really good one who ive been friends with for more than a year but I also found a lot of other users who use livemocha as a dating site... :(

    Another useful tip is to listen to songs in target language. I'm a teacher of English so I recommend my students to listen to songs by Frank Sinatra,Madonna,Elton John,to name just a few. Nice instructable! Thanks.

    1 reply

    Thanks. The language I try to practice is German. English is my first language. I have tried listening to songs sung in German. I often find them difficult to follow. Similar sounding words are too much alike to distinguish with certainty. Sometimes the grammar is clipped to fit the music or to make a rhyme. I do better with Podcasts. An exception is finding the lyrics in German on the Internet and having them to compare as I listen.

    What a fantastic idea, i stopped taking calls on my land line. I don't have caller ID activated yet, so i only take calls on my mobile phone lately... because of all the prank callers wanting to learn German. hahaha.
    Not that i would keep anyone from learning another language, i'm actually thinking about learning Swedish.
    I'd listen to

    What you might do is search the Internet for "Swedish MP3." Do a search for "Radio Sweden" to find Sweden's national broadcaster. Most countries have one. Often the broadcaster offers helps for people who want to learn the language and study the culture, maybe even free language courses.