In the age of books, online courses, classes, and apps all dedicated to language learning, it’s become easy to assume that spending extra money is a natural and necessary part of the process. To learn, you have to invest money in learning resources.
That can be true. It often is true. But it doesn’t have to be.
Instead, if you know where to look, it is often possible to find many avenues for language learning not in new courses or books, but in the things you already pay for and use in your day to day life, outside of your studies.
One of these things, a little website known as YouTube.com, is an untapped treasure trove of listening materials in your target language.
And the best part is that these are authentic materials. This means that in most cases, they consist of videos, movie trailers, documentaries, news clips, vlogs, and more, intended not for an audience of language learners, but for an audience of native speakers. If you’re looking to bring your listening skills up to the next level, authentic materials are just what you will need to make that happen.
Fortunately, to access this near-limitless database of native listening content, all you need is a computer, an internet connection, and five simple steps.
Step 1: Go To YouTube.com
YouTube is one of the most popular websites on the entire Internet. If you’re reading this, you likely visit it daily for anything from the latest news to the most recent viral videos, among many, many other things.
Even if you don’t visit YouTube regularly, finding the YouTube front page should be a piece of cake:
Simply type www.youtube.com into your address bar or preferred search engine, or click this link to go there directly.
Step 2: Scroll down to “Content Location”
Once you’re at the YouTube front page, you’re going to want to scroll down all the way to the bottom of the page. Regardless of whether or not you’re logged in, the page footer should contain a YouTube logo on the far right side, followed by a “Language” dropdown menu, a “Content Location” dropdown menu, and some others.
Now, you might assume that we’re interested in the “Language” menu. However, all that does is translate the YouTube user interface to another language. It does not have an effect on the language of the videos the site presents you with.
To do that, we need to click on the second menu from the left, titled “Content Location”.
Step 3: Select Your Target Language Country
Once you click on that menu, it will expand to show you a list of 90 countries, spanning the entire globe.
Each country name (with accompanying flag) is a link that will bring you to the front page of YouTube for that country. This page will be the most relevant and popular video results for residents of that country. This means that the front page of the “Spain” content location will most often display videos made by Spanish people, the front page of the “French” location will display videos made by the French, and the “Zimbabwe” location, videos by Zimbabweans—so on and so forth.
Obviously, videos that are highly relevant to a specific country will most likely be in the major language of that country. So what you are going to want to do is click on the content location link that corresponds to the country where your target language is spoken as a major language.
Of course, some languages—like Spanish, French, and Mandarin Chinese, to name a few—are shared by multiple content locations on YouTube. If this is the case for your target language, you should choose the content location that corresponds to the dialect that is most relevant to your language learning needs and desires.
You may also find yourself in the opposite situation. Instead of having multiple content locations that correspond to your specific target language, you might not have any at all. The list of content locations only corresponds to countries in which YouTube has officially launched, and does not neatly correspond to the world’s most populous countries, nor any other metric. This would just be poor luck in this case, and you’ll have to resort to alternative methods to getting target language content from YouTube, like typing target language words into the search bar, and checking the results.
However, if you’re learning a language that is the majority language of a specific country, it is likely you will have a content location to choose from.
Step 4: Browse Available Categories and Playlists
After clicking on your desired content location, you’ll be taken to a fresh YouTube homepage. This will look more or less like the homepage you’re used to, with one notable exception—nearly all of the videos on the page will be in your target language!
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most content location homepages are limited to the most popular of the most popular videos in your target language country, usually sorted by category (like trending, music, hobbies, gaming, etc.). Clicking on any of these playlists or categories will take you further down the rabbit hole, and show you even more videos in your target language.
If all of these choices seem overwhelming to you, I recommend that you start with the “trending” category, or the one labeled “Popular On YouTube” followed by your new content location. These are typically located right at the top of your content location homepage.
As the “trending” and “popular” names suggest, these are the videos enjoying peak popularity right now, meaning that you can keep up with the cultural zeitgeist in your target language country, from anywhere in the world!
Step 5: Enjoy!
At this point, the sky’s the limit. Through exploring the videos present on your “new” YouTube homepage, and deep-diving into the various content categories that are on offer there, you now have access to a near-limitless quantity of authentic listening content, all in your target language.
We’re not going to go into all the ways you can use this content for listening practice—that’s the subject of another article. But for now, just click around, explore, watch a few videos, and see if you can find anything you like or understand.
Bookmark your new YouTube homepage, and check back daily. Just like the YouTube you’re used to, there will be hundreds of thousands of new videos added daily.
If you make a serious effort to dig through it, you’re sure to find videos, channels, live streams, and more that you absolutely love, and will enjoy for the entirety of your language learning experience.