Tips & Tricks: Use Forvo

After a couple week’s break (taking my own advice on rhythms of rest), The Prepared Expat is back this week with a short but immensely useful tip on language learning!

Tip of the week: Use Forvo for native speaker recordings of language.

Note: I have no affiliation with Forvo and this is not a sponsored post; I’ve just used Forvo for years, love it, and recommend it to you.

What Forvo is

Forvo is a website that bills itself as a pronunciation dictionary, allowing you to listen to and download recordings of nearly 6 million words in over 430 languages. If there’s a word you want to hear, just search for it and you can listen to it or download it, assuming it’s one of the 6 million words they have in their database. If it isn’t, though, you can request that a native speaker record the word for you and Forvo will email you when the word gets uploaded.

In my experience, 97% of the time Forvo has the word I’m looking for; the 3% is usually specialized or niche words. Even then, when I request a recording, I usually get the word recorded within a week. It’s a fantastic way to get native recordings of language–and best of all, it’s free! (They do have a paid premium tier, but I’ve never used it).

Whether you’re learning English, Cantonese, Arabic, Ukrainian, Bashkir, or Sicilian, Forvo will have something to aid you in your language studies.

How I use Forvo

The most important skill in language acquisition is listening comprehension. There’s a multitude of reasons for this—that’s a blog post for another day—but the short version is that brains naturally learn to understand words before they learn to speak them. Just look at any child; they’re able to understand you far before they’re able to speak. Even in your native language, you can typically understand twice as many words as you can speak. Language acquaintance starts with listening comprehension.

What that means for your self-study is that you need to review and study, not just written language but audio recording of language so that you can practice hearing and understanding the language. Your teacher or textbook may provide you with recordings, which is awesome, but there are always gaps—language that you’ve heard and want to review but for which you don’t have a recording. That’s where Forvo comes in, as you can find and listen to nearly any word in the world, pronounced by native speakers so you can be sure to hear a correct pronunciation (even if it’s different than what the dictionary calls “correct”!)

Another benefit of Forvo is that they have multiple recordings of more common words, so you can hear words pronounced in slightly different dialects or accents. That can help train your ears to hear the same word in slightly (or sometimes drastically!) different ways. I’ve found this especially helpful with words where my language helper records the local dialect, but I want to hear and understand the “standard” pronunciation too.

So there you go! Short and simple: Go to Forvo, create a free basic account, and begin listening to and downloading words! And each time you find a word they don’t have, help other language learners out and request a pronunciation for it! Go a step further and record some of your native language to help other learners out—not only will you serve others, but also Forvo prioritizes getting new words recorded for people who also make recordings, so it’s a win-win.

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