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Using language podcast services: pros and cons

Studying with online language podcast services is increasingly popular. It’s an attractive modern option that can offer a lot more than traditional textbooks and classes.

We shouldn’t assume that they’re necessarily better than other methods though, so here’s a quick list of things to consider before spending your money.

The best way is likely to be a well thought-out balance of online and traditional study methods.

Advantages

  • It’s nearly always cheaper than taking traditional classes.
  • It’s available anywhere. This is particularly relevant if you’re not living in a country that speaks your target language.
  • You can study in your own way. Self-directed study is often very motivating and effective.
  • There are usually different levels of subscription, giving you more choice in how much progress you make vs how much you pay.
  • It’s often easier to cancel a subscription than get a refund on classes.
  • It’s a fun way to learn. The lessons / shows are usually engaging and enjoyable to listen to.
  • There’s often additional background material available, such as culture and current affairs, which is an important part of studying a language. There’s rarely any history coverage though, which would be good in my view.
  • You get way more listening practice than any textbook could give you.

Disadvantages

  • It’s not actually available anywhere. You need an Internet connection, or an mp3 player to take lessons with you. With a textbook or class notes, you only need the textbook or class notes, wherever you are.
  • There’s a lack of structure. A common complaint for these podcast services is that they’re ‘random’ - you have to make your own haphazard way to progress.
  • For East Asian languages, it’s often difficult for these language podcast services to provide good instruction on writing, or even reading. This is such a crucial part of studying East Asia, but so far podcast services don’t address it very well.
  • Progress isn’t guaranteed. It’s very easy to just listen idly to the podcasts without actively studying the material. You don’t have to engage with other learners, which is usually a good source of motivation, and you don’t have to take tests, which would force you to absorb the information.
  • Whilst it is usually cheaper than classes, you don’t get regular access to a teacher, who is likely an expert and may be a native speaker. Where language podcast services do offer this, it costs at least as much as traditional classes, and is conducted over the Internet - not as good as face to face contact.
  • It’s perfectly possible to study on your own with textbooks. This still has the advantages of following your own course, but is very cheap and consists of a one-off payment rather than a subscription fee.
  • It’s hard for language podcasts to provide effective speaking practice. Classes are probably still the cheapest way to get this.

Language podcast services for East Asian languages

Chinese

Japanese

Korean

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