Language Websites I Really, Really Like.

It’s time for some positive energy.

There are a lot of language learning advice on the web, and most of it is bad.  I’ll make a list of some bad advice in a future post, but I for now I want to try to keep it positive.  So here are the sites I like…

Language Musings.

This blog is written by Tristan in Melbourne, Australia; I suspect he uses the blog to workshop the book he is writing.  He’s trying to inspire people to take the plunge and start learning language, and give them a few hints that he’s learned along the way.

I started corresponding to Tristan a while ago, I think he had seen some of the ol’ SpanishPod stuff.  He told me about his life in IT, and his dream of getting a Master’s in Linguistics.  I gave him some American-style advice (i.e., vague and irresponsible) about doing what would make him happy, so he went out and did it, and sent me a photo of himself at his Master’s ceremony!

Anyway, his advice is solid, and this enthusiasm is catchy.  I feel like I spend all of my time telling people what NOT to do, explaining why students fail, or why methods fail.  I feel like when I tell people what they SHOULD do, they tend to ignore me, or find ways to make it impossible.  My students (and more irritatingly, my colleagues) tell me that I am just good at language learning as if it were some kind of superpower; and that regular, normal people are doomed to never learn, so why bother with JP’s advice.  Tristan, on the other hand, goes out of his way at every stage to prove that he is a regular person like them, and that language learning is a reasonable goal for regular people to accomplish (although I am beginning to suspect that he really is a superhero).

Dear Dimsum and Learn Chinese Weekly

These blogs present Mandarin words and phrases.  As you may know, I have some experience with websites that present Mandarin words and phrases.  Here’s why I like them:

  • Posts are bite-sized.  They present the item, define it, and then give an example or two.  That’s all we need!
  • Vocab is relevant.  They pick words and phrases that I actually can see myself saying.  Not some list of forty fruits that I don’t eat.
  • Academics are solid. Vocabulary is presented in characters, in pinyin, and then defined simply in English.  Additionally, everything is right.
Apparently the Hanban likes these posts as well.  (The Hanban is the Chinese government agency charged with teaching Mandarin to the world).  However, they are not capable of writing their own good lessons, so the Confucius Institute (the Hanban’s agencies in other countries, including here in the USA) have taken to plagiarizing Learn Chinese Weekly.  Apparently they do not see how much face they lose in the eyes of Westerners by plagiarizing; on top of that they’re telling the world that their own materials are not as good.

My Spanish Notes and ¡Qué boquita! No seas pelangoche

Both of these blogs are written by Rodney, whose name I’ve seen all over both sPod and SP101.  My Spanish Notes is his collection of interesting words, phrases, and idioms that he comments on;  ¡Qué boquita! No seas pelangoche is a collection of vulgar Mexican slang, which is totally awesome to read.  Most of the items that Rodney presents on both blogs, I am already familiar with.  But that doesn’t stop me from reading every entry; sometimes they are items that I only know by osmosis, and his presentation clarifies and explains things in a way hadn’t thought of before.  Sometimes I know the words, but the way he presents them is so entertaining, that I want to read it anyway.  And sometimes the words and expressions he presents are just plain new to me.  Learn something new everyday!

I think what makes Rodney’s writing compelling is that he presents the information as a person, with a perspective.  There’s an ethic in American and European teaching that says that academic information must be presented cold, clinically, isolated, standardized, and absolutely objectively.  The problem with that is that nobody nobody nobody wants to learn to speak cold, clinical, isolated, standardized, objective language.  We’re people.  People want warmth; people want to have fun and get a little satisfaction once in a while.  That’s the tone I try to set in my classroom, and that’s the tone that Rodney sets in his blogs.


This is my favorite podcast to listen to on the entire internet.  If I had to choose between listening to Kalyespeak or listening to myself on one of my old SpanishPod lessons, I would choose Kalyespeak every time.

The word “kalyespeak” means “slang” or “colloquial language” in Tagalog.  They present short dialogs in Tagalog, translate them, and then explain them, following the old ChinesePod model, just like Japanesepod101 did.  The difference, however, is that the Kalyespeak boys are constantly clowning in a charming way.

Listen to this episode.  I crack up at the intro.  I crack up at the dialog.  I crack up at the translation.  I crack up at the grammatical break-down.  I crack up at the cultural segment.

I crack up every single time Cris yells “my gad!”

I’m filipino american, born in the USA in the 1970s, when heritage languages were taboo.  I grew up as a monolingual English speaker, dying to learn Pangasinan and Tagalog.  So to a certain extent, I feel like I, specifically, me myself, am the target audience for this podcast.  I have no idea how Kalyespeak plays to non-heritage learners; I have no idea if other people get the humor, if they understand Filipino English, if they can stand all the clowning.  But me, I LOVE it.

I was lucky enough to meet Mickey and Chris when they came to visit us at Studio Fiesta, bringing us all pasalubong.  Every so often I ask them to give me a job in their podcasting company, because I know a thing or two about podcasting, but they’ve always turned me down.

In a way, Kalyespeak is an amateur both because they are, indeed, amateurs, in the sense that they’re doing it for love, rather than money.  But also in a sense that they blow off some professional standards:  the segments run long, they do inside jokes, they over-explain, their audio quality isn’t crystal… but then WHO CARES???? The shows are so damn compelling… some of the “professional” outfits (including my own), can sit down at these guys’ feet and learn.  It’s easy to buy microphones to get perfect sound; it’s not easy to write a dialog as brilliantly simple and delightfully edgy as this one.  Notice that in that one they teach such a dialog so effortlessly WITHOUT EVER ACKNOWLEDGING THE GAY SUBTEXT, just letting it be.  Who gets away with that!?  Who even THINKS of that?  Have they never worked for suits before?  Could that possibly be any funnier or more memorable?

And the point of all that:  I totally know how to say “Don’t say it… show it!”  in Tagalog.  Brilliant.

4 thoughts on “Language Websites I Really, Really Like.

  1. Pingback: The Truth About All Those Language Learning Podcasts « you don't have to read v2.0

  2. Pingback: New Blogs: The Next Generation « you don't have to read v2.0

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