Best Podcasts for Learning a Language


    Thanks to podcasts, there’s an unprecedented variety of resources for learning a language, available on demand. While audio language education dates back to the days of cassette tapes, there are far fewer obstacles to the production and distribution of podcasts. Whether your goal is to become fluent in a language or learn just enough to impress your international clients, there’s probably a language-learning podcast that suits your needs. They’re not limited to major world languages, and the formats go beyond digitized versions of traditional language courses. Here are some of the best language-learning podcasts.

    Established in 2005, Innovative Language was one of the earliest adopters of the podcast format. It offers libraries of short, fun lessons in more than 40 languages, providing options that are accessible for beginners as well as more advanced students. The lessons focus on functional everyday speech, facilitating an intuitive understanding of a language, similar to the way native speakers learn and use their own languages. This approach is a refreshing alternative to outdated language textbooks, which often emphasize grammatical rules at the expense of practical understanding.

    There’s a difference between written and spoken language. When you’re trying to get a handle on how people actually speak, it helps to hear a language in context and go beyond traditional lessons. However, it can be difficult to keep up with programming aimed at native or fluent speakers. The News in Slow series, available in French, Spanish, Italian and German, provides a solution. The show takes brief excerpts from news broadcasts in other languages and slows them down. Alongside these clips, it provides transcripts that highlight important vocabulary so you can follow along and absorb.

    You’ve probably seen a movie or TV show where a hapless character, traveling in a country with an unfamiliar language, frantically searches through a phrasebook for the right thing to say, only to mangle the pronunciation (often with humiliating results). Comedy aside, sometimes you’re traveling and need a few key phrases at your disposal. Thanks to Survival Phrases, an Innovative Language property, you can avoid looking (or sounding) like that character and even ditch the phrasebook entirely. As the name implies, you can learn the essentials you need to get by in 27 different languages, including Arabic, Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Russian and Turkish.

    An enormous advantage of podcasts as a learning tool is their flexibility. Not only can you choose your area of focus and take your learning wherever you go, but you set the pace, fitting in your studies whenever it’s convenient. Through podcasts, you can use the idle parts of your day to your advantage. Radio Lingua’s Coffee Break series lives up to its title, providing lessons in Spanish, French, German, Italian and Chinese that last as long as a cup of coffee (or a similarly short chunk of free time). Though the name and format may suggest a limited focus on basic vocabulary and phrases, the lessons are actually designed to help listeners work toward fluency, however gradually (though advanced lessons are currently only available in Spanish and French).

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