October 26, 2013 | Review Period

Linguistic Acoustics

How you listen to your language matters.

I am far from expert on sound systems and headphones and all that, but I wanted to weigh in with the observation that sound quality really matters when you are trying to learn a language. Fuzziness obscures vowels and consonants alike, and inevitably frustrates. I simply can’t hear the components of certain sounds if I am listening on a low-quality device, or if I am playing lessons over standalone speakers rather than directly into my ears.

I am reminded of this right now by the recent radical improvement in my language-listening experience. Some months ago I had worn out all reasonable headsets in my home and office, but I don’t like going to electronics stores, so I kept not buying a new one. For many weeks my audio experiences for my Pimsleur and VocabuLearn lessons had an unpleasant tinny quality. 

My Badass Language-Learning Headset

My Badass Language-Learning Headset

When the left side stopped working altogether, I was finally forced to undertake the half-mile trip (yeah, I know—lazy!) to Best Buy and buy a new headset. I can’t believe how rich and wonderful everything now sounds.

Over the years of this project I have had big headsets and small ones, good ones and not-so-good ones, but the Yurbuds sport earphones from the Ironman series, shown here, have so far been my favorite. I don’t know how they rate in the larger scheme of listening quality—perhaps not so high, since they are cheap—but they allow me to hear subtleties of foreign words while not blocking out all ambient noise.

If you are inclined to do language lessons while crossing streets, I think ambient noise is useful.

The little rubbery earpieces on the end are very comfortable, so they don’t make the various parts of my ears hurt, which almost every other headset I have ever tried does. I must have wimpy cartilage or something.

One thing I like about my headset packaging is that it looks pretty badass and is kind of inspiring both for running and for language-learning. It even says “Inspire” right across her face!

Also, the earpieces stay in while I run! I use this thing all the time for simultaneous running and Pimsleur. I had stopped this particular bit of linguistic multitasking for a while, but I’ve picked it back up again, and it is going fabulously.

Speaking of which, earlier this week a multitasking tip of mine about combining exercise and language-learning made it into the women’s magazine Redbook

This project has gotten some other press lately as well, including being listed in MoveHub’s “100+ Travel Apps and Resources for 2014.” Thanks, MoveHub!

Comments (4)

Alex • Posted on Sat, October 26, 2013 - 3:55 pm EST

Yeah, I agree. I use headphones for my Pimsleur lessons, and it’s important you have some good ones if you’re going to use them. Sometimes the most expensive headphones are going to suck, and sometimes the least-expensive ones are going to be best. You just gotta trust your ear.

Personally, I’m not picky with headphones, as long as they work in both ears I’m okay, but I’ve had some weird experiences with them. Whenever one of the earpieces breaks, it’s the same one every time. I know because I’ll listen to music with the broken pairs and I’ll only hear a certain part of the mix, the same one every time.

I can’t remember if it’s technically the left or right earpiece, but either way, it’s always the same one. I do not understand this at all.

Anyway, it also helps to have a few spares lying around. Mine tend to last a long time… and then they mysteriously break in exactly the same way every time.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, October 26, 2013 - 4:02 pm EST

VocabuLearn is impossible with only one side working, because one language comes out one ear and the other comes out the other. So you miss a whole language and it becomes useless.

Pimsleur can be done one-eared. Not pleasant, but at least possible.

I should have gotten spares…

дети и рак • Posted on Mon, January 20, 2014 - 7:45 am EST

Hello, would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style on seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask! wish you luck in New Year!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, January 26, 2014 - 3:27 pm EST

Thanks for the compliment! This was a custom design; I had some unusual functionality that the standard platforms wouldn’t have accommodated. Good luck!

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