Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning languages through free podcasts is worth a try

Die Welt BerlinAmong the most challenging aspects of living in another country is learning the local language. Many things can be dealt with by just paying higher prices to avoid having to live like most of the locals, but with learning the language there is no short cut.

Fortunately for those of us whose native language is English, we can often get by just fine not even learning the local language, easier in some places than others. Still, I’ve not heard anyone claim that their day to day life isn’t better, more interesting, and actually cheaper, for having learned the local language.

Podcasts for everything, it seems

I’ve previously written about how podcasts (which are free, and usually commercial-free, audio programs that sometimes also have video) are a great way to learn about the local culture and/or expat scene of whereever you are heading or living. Listening to one of these recently on the topic of learning the local language (Japanese), I got curious about how many podcasts there were out there devoted to helping people learn languages, and it turns out there are many.

I’m planning on spending this summer in Germany and I’ve been meaning to brush up my language abilities before I arrive, so I was thrilled to see about 20 or more different podcasts available to learning German (hosted in English). At least a few consisted of only 6 or 8 episodes, likely due to the host becoming discouraged by low audience numbers early on and then giving up, but many of them have more than 100 episodes and are still producing new ones.

Needless to say, learning a language is at least partly a linear exercise, so it’s best to find one with many episodes and then start from the beginning rather than starting with the new ones.

Searching for other languages I can see that there are free podcasts available for pretty much all of the major languages, and for many of the more obscure ones as well. In other words, if you want to learn Spanish or French or Russian you’ll have many options to choose from, but even if you want to learn Lithuanian or Dutch or Indonesian you’ll find at least one to try.

Try as many as possible before starting a full program

I downloaded the first couple of episodes of three of the German podcasts so far and they all approach the task quite differently. Some seem more about teaching the common words and phrases for a one-week holiday there, while others are full-on language courses. Since they are all free, it seems wise to try an episode or two of as many as possible, and then carry on with those that fit you best.

Of the German options there is also one called Slow German where stories are told at a deliberately slow pace, and then translated, so you can get used to hearing longer chunks of the language than just one phrase at a time. I’m sure there will be new ones in the future that take different approaches, and those with enough time are probably wise to use several different podcasts to bring it all together.

There may also be a “you get what you pay for” aspect to this, so it’s probably unrealistic to expect that a free podcast will be a perfect substitute for a $500 professional course. On the other hand, those high prices are a huge deterrent to many of us who don’t need to learn a language for professional reasons.

Finding language learning podcasts

Since most people use iTunes as an audio hub for listening on iPods and other portable devices, it’s easiest to just go to the iTunes Store and type in the words “learn (language name)” and see what comes up. For major languages you’ll have many choices, and once again I’ll stress that it’s important to find a series that already has many episodes recorded. Podcasting is a lot like blogging in that many people start it and then give it up shortly thereafter because the rewards are hard to see for some time.

If you use a music service other than iTunes then hopefully it also has ways to search for free podcasts by topic. For anyone else, simply Googling “learn (language name) podcast” is bound to bring up nearly all the appropriate results, and you can almost always download episodes directly from the individual websites of any podcast.

Have you used a language-learning podcast? Was the experience good or not? I have high hopes that this will work for me, partly because I already listen to many podcasts each week as part of my normal routine.


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