I’ve recorded hundreds and hundreds of language-learning podcasts; different languages, different companies, different countries…
I’m not sure if that makes me a pundit, but I have some strong opinions about the medium, and about the podcasts themselves.
First, I will say that I myself have used language-learning podcasts to learn; namely, the old Amber and Clay episodes of Qing Wen from cPod; Kalyespeak, which I’ve written about. I also took a professional interest in Coffee Break Spanish, which I listened to a little bit of, even though I already spoke Spanish at the time. I also really came to like the FrenchPod lessons, before I was tapped to host them.
Of course, I’m happy to recommend SpanishPod, which I consider to have some of the best work of my career to this point.
Now there are plenty more podcasts out there; big ones, obscure ones, all kinds. Some of them make outrageous claims. In fact, one particular podcast had the slogan, “The fastest, easiest, and most fun way to learn Spanish!” I refused to say this slogan in a podcast, because I didn’t believe it myself. I’ll be specific:
- I did not believe it was a “fast” way to learn Spanish.
- I did not believe it was an “easy” way to learn Spanish.
- I did not believe it was a “fun” way to learn Spanish.
- I did not believe it was a way to learn Spanish.
- A good language-learning podcast uses AUTHENTIC language. Look for native speakers, talking at normal speed, speaking in natural situations, acting out dialogs that were written by and for native speakers.
- A good language-learning podcast has language-learning professionals behind it, or at the very least an obvious commitment that the material presented be ACADEMICALLY CORRECT. This is hard, because non-professionals tend to have a lot of folklore-based beliefs that aren’t necessarily right. Or, in the worst-case scenario, some services may be produced by people who are plain sloppy, but don’t care because they’ve already got your subscription money.
- A good language-learning podcast is ENTERTAINING. Not “relatively entertaining” or “somewhat entertaining.” As target language media, it must be for-real entertaining, so that people are listening for pleasure, not just for study. People must actively enjoy listening, or it doesn’t count. As a corollary, the hosts must be likable; contempt for the host(s) has precluded me from some pretty big products.