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Audacity is also a great *player*


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In addition to its audio editing functions, Audacity is a great *player* for language study.

Audacity has been mentioned many times for audio editing purposes, making flashcards, etc. But probably, few who haven't used it know how good it is as an audio *player* for in-depth study. For example, once imported an audio file becomes a waveform display spread out before you, so you can get a hold of it: with a click you can specify a starting point and then start/stop with the spacebar. With a mouse-swipe you can highlight some snippet for close study, repeating it effortlessly with the spacebar. Also, there is a zoom-in function with which you can move in and isolate some difficult detail, avoiding the distraction from the other fast-moving sounds.

Most of what traditional music players do is manage whole files, while language study, certainly at the beginning, involves penetrating into the details inside. Much as a word processor makes text accessible, Audacity lets you touch the audio.

This morning, I opened some text in my favorite Chinese text editor/dictionary application. Then in order to play the associated audio, as my mouse skipped over the conventional audio player program and chose Audacity, I consciously realized how important it has become as a player, as such. I place it across the bottom of the screen, only tall enough to show the one desired audio file.

Edited by querido
edited to add some stuff
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I use Audacity regularly to reproduce sound recordings, especially for shadowing practice. I select chunks of anywhere from two to twenty seconds duration and run them on continuous repeat (shift-spacebar) and speak along with the recording.

I think many Audacity users may not be aware of the continuous repeat "loop-play" functionality, it certainly took me a long time to find out about it. The trick is to hold down the shift-key while you hit the "play" button (or space-bar).

And a couple of other tips: You can zoom in on particularly difficult points in the recording and introduce a short silence at key spots to help with repeated shadowing of smaller bits before you tackle longer consecutive chunks of fast speech.

I have also used Audacity to temporarily slow down ("Effect/Change Tempo" ) especially difficult bits and shadowing them at a reduced pace before doing them at natural speed.

Edited by lokki
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Another valuable trick is to use it if you're doing pronunciation drills with a tutor. I'm sure we've all had that experience of going, eg 'qù' - '不对!‘ - 'qù' - '不对!‘ - 'qù' - '对了!‘ - when as far as you're concerned you've just said the exact same thing three times. Audacity will let you paste your right and wrong versions next to each other and listen to them repeatedly so you can try and identify the differences.

It's also useful for letting a tutor listen again to a certain sound you made, for those 'that was wrong, but I'm not sure why' moments.

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Another tool that I've used is Transcriber. The bottom pane is a navigable waveform like Audacity's, but it also has a top pane that can break the waveform into sections. It's normally used for creating transcripts, but you can skip the transcribing and just break the audio into the sections you want to study. Switching sections is then just a single mouse click or cursor key. There is an option for infinite repeat of a section or of a highighted region.


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:D Awesome! I just noticed your mention of Transcriber, right after I created a new thread regarding it.

I thought I was the only one on the planet using that useful tool for language learning.

I wrote a brief article about Transcriber, which includes a 30 second video, demonstrating the results of segmenting the audio around certain difficult words. The process is very quick, and you can zoom in on the waveform.

The cool thing is after you segment the difficult parts of the audio, they can be permanently associated with the transcript, so you can easily focus on those difficult parts again later.

c_redman, have you aligned any texts with audio files in Transcriber, for later review? I've done this with a couple Chinese audiobooks so far.

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Because my listening skills are so poor, I mainly use it for deciphering texts I don't understand, and which don't have transcripts. I split the audio up at the sentence level, and then repeat every sentence until I can understand it and type it all in. It's great for studying with a tutor, because I can jump directly to places I have a question about. I also export the transcript to html format and print it, so we can go over that as well, correcting character mistakes, etc.

Another tool I've played with a little is Transana (they offer an older free version). The learning curve is steeper, so you won't get far without doing their tutorial. It's nice in that it can also handle video as well as audio.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm very surprised at what appears to be a lack of software to let language learners collect material (text/audio/video) and synchronize the text to the audio. Transcriber and Transana let you align an audio to a text, but they don't really help you align Chinese with the Pinyin with the English. Once all that material is aligned, I think it could really help out a learner.

Plus you could cross reference new material with old material you've already read.. like when reading something new, and you see a word that seems vaguely familiar, you could instantly see the places in other books you've read where that word or phrase appeared.

Little things like that could help learning process along, and really personalize it to the user.

Does anybody know of such tools? Like a "corpus" manager, or learning studio or something?

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