Podcast Recommendations?

A reader writes:

I recently discovered–and became addicted to–the podcast Streetwise Hebrew. A fantastic language learning vehicle, lots of examples from TV, songs, the GPS voice, etc. I’ve been scouring iTunes trying to find similarly excellent programs in other languages so far without success. And of course I thought to check the languagehat archives, but the topic seems not to have come up since 2009. I wondered if you had any recommendations, or might solicit suggestions from the blog community… For myself I’d be particularly interested in French, Russian, Spanish; but I feel like I could pick up useful bits of any language I had even a little bit of grammar for with an equivalent program.

I responded: “I’m afraid I’m not a pod person, but I will ask the LH community, some of whom I’m sure will have recommendations.” So fire away!


  1. not a pod person

    No, but you are a Jack Finney fan. One wonders.

  2. For the last few months I’ve been bringing my Spanish up to the mark by listening on my smartphone to the podcasts available from Cienciaes.com (“Ciencia para escuchar”), a program for popularizing science themes (divulgación !)..

    Many of the podcasts are about physics (agujeros negros !), but I have listened with improving effect to ones on evolution, butterflies, anthropology …

    There seem to be 3 or 4 main moderators / interviewers who are excellent at keeping things intelligible – for a start, they choose scientists to interview who are good at explaining things. Often there are discussion groups. Everyone involved is easy-going, there’s a lot of laughing and jokes – especially when it comes to pronouncing English names.

    The upside for me (or do I mean downside ?) is that I am often confronted in these podcasts with a vast array of TOTALLY WEIRD Spanish accents, of whose existence I knew nothing. So it’s not like a BBC thing with the occasional Scotsman. These podcasts are never boring, even when it somtimes takes me a while to accomodate the accents in order to understand at least 3 out of every 4 words.

  3. I call these speech patterns “accents” instead of “dialects” because I have yet to encounter any special words that only exist in a “dialect”. It’s not like listening to a dialect of German or English – but part of the reason for that may be that these people are all scientists.

    I have CDs of various Austrian scientists who use special expressions that don’t occur in Germany German (I wish there were a more high-tone way to express the distinction I mean). But the ways these Spanish scientists speak is merely a matter of pronunciation. Every word they use turns out to be familiar, once I penetrate the speech pattern.

  4. Guess this isn’t much of a podcast crowd. There are a lot of podcasts out there for learning Mandarin, and some are very good. “Popup Chinese” is one of the more entertaining – it has a lot of colloquial dialogue, rapid natural speech and even some bizarre situations (zombies, pirates, space travel, etc.). It is heavily skewed towards Beijing, and the content is probably skewed to 20-somethings, but worth checking out.

    ChinesePod also has hundreds of good dialogues at various levels. Both Popup and Chinese Pod charge for premium content, but you can get a good sampling for free.

    Back in 2008 there was a podcast called “Japanese Listening (advanced)” that had good natural dialogues for listening comprehension. I don’t think they have done new content in a while but the old podcasts may still be available on iTunes.

  5. Эхо Москвы has an amateurish, silly, but sometimes engaging podcast about written and spoken Russian called “Говорим по-русски”: http://echo.msk.ru/programs/rusalmanach/

  6. @Vanya: Guess this isn’t much of a podcast crowd.

    Is a podcast supposed to be something other than a short (or sometimes long) radio program ? When I listen to Cienciaes, it’s just like listening to radio. A video clip on youtube is not essentially different – like watching a commercial on tv.

    I’m not aware of listening to a “podcast”. So what would a “podcast crowd” be, other than people who (don’t refuse to) listen to radio programs ?

  7. Those who are willing to expend the time and caffeine to hear about what they (or some of them) could read about more quickly. Now granted, some people can’t read faster than they can hear, so this factor doesn’t apply to them, but there’s still a more active element in reading that tends to keep me awake, whereas listening to radio tends to put me to sleep.

  8. John Cowan, I think a lot of people listen to podcasts while doing something else—in my case, usually dishes or laundry. It’s hard to read while doing much else.

  9. About reading speed, I really hate the recent trend for news sites to publish in video format just with a caption, some talking head taking two minutes to introduce and recount an item that I could have gotten the gist of in 10 seconds if it was written down. Not to mention the 15 seconds of advert that you have to sit through.

    ‘How-to’ sites for computer-related tasks that take 15 minutes of video to walk through a two minute task that would take 30 seconds to read the instructions for — even more so. But people can’t write a coherent text any more, it seems.

    The exception is the ‘how to disassemble your laptop so it will still work after putting it back together’ ones — they are worth the time and video is a good medium for them, also it’s usually easy to locate the stage of disassembly you need help with right now.

  10. The original question was about language learning podcasts. I would have thought that some of the IPA adepts who frequent this site might be interested in listening to actual pronunciations, even at the cost of having to learn some of the languages in which they are used.

  11. Is a podcast supposed to be something other than a short (or sometimes long) radio program ?

    Yes, podcasts usually cater to a more specialized audience. I can’t imagine anyone making a regular radio program for teaching colloquial Mandarin, or reviewing old X-Files episodes. Some of the best and most popular podcasts are improv comedy – which you are not likely to find in written form. The other chief advantage of podcasts is that you can listen on demand. Technically shows like BBC 4’s “Start The Week” and SWR2’s “Wissen” are radio programs, as is “This American Life”, but I prefer the podcast versions that I can listen to during my long drives to Poland. Also the “TAL” podcast is uncensored, whereas the radio broadcast still beeps out profanity.

  12. The other chief advantage of podcasts is that you can listen on demand.

    Yes, but that’s still listening. Podcasts are like TV movies that you program your receiver to record when you’re not there.

    Cienciaes seems to broadcast older podcasts interspersed with live programs. I can’t tell the difference when listening on my smartphone, except occasionally when someone says “Right now, in March 2013” when I’m listening in March 2016. I don’t “download” anything, but merely tune in.

  13. David Marjanović says

    I think a lot of people listen to podcasts while doing something else—in my case, usually dishes or laundry.

    Yes – and that’s why I don’t listen to podcasts: I can’t multitask like that. I’ll stop paying attention and only notice later.

  14. What I am trying to say is, the internet and the pervasive recording and copying of audiovisual artefacts (including texts, which are visual) make it rather unimportant in general to distinguish between “live” and “recorded”.

    You now simply hear and see what you get, whether milliseconds or days lie between local time of the original broadcast and the time at which you get it. Live is dead. The whole business has become bookish (i.e. offline, like books have always been).

    There are a few types of exception to this, I suppose – “breaking news” on election results, say, where you just really really can’t wait for tomorrow’s evening news.

  15. I agree that “podcast” is a fairly silly word, especially since I assume very few people still download podcasts and load them on their iPods. Still, it’s catchier than “recorded audio content” and therefore seems to be becoming the default term for any pre-recorded show you listen to via a device that is not a radio.

  16. Live theater is still live: the movies have not displaced it, and you can’t fit actors inside an iPad.

  17. I get my Shakespeare on the telly.

  18. Even the buskers in Cologne have cottoned on to these developments. Many have a selection of self-recorded CDs with them. I listen to the performance, and if I like it I buy a CD.

  19. This one is promising:

    I have some old interviews from there on my computer, with Jonathan Bobaljik (who has worked on Itelmen) and with Asya Pereltsvaig, which I have yet to listen to. Jonathon Green should be fun, too.

  20. Here’s a podcast on Hawaiian revitalization and Ni‘ihau.

    (With links to other interesting stories at the same site.)

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