Thursday, January 29, 2009

Podcasts and language learning

Recently I listened to a podcast version of this video-blog.
It appears that Steve and I have the same interest in language - learning language in order to communicate :-)

While I agree that podcast-only methods of learning a language are not sufficient, I disagree with Steve's thesis that a podcast that has a dialog in a foreign language followed by explanations in the native language is not a good way to learn. It may be true that it's not his preferred methodology (and yes, I have studied ten languages too), but it does work. It doesn't work alone though.

Steven talk about jushttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gift using the language, and learning that way. While immersion into a language work, it's a the 'swift-kick-in-the-butt' method of learning, so it may not be the best method of learning a language, again it depends on your wired way of learning.

If I were to give someone who doesn't speak Greek a URL for weekendgeeks or vrypan|net|radio (Greek news tech podcasts that I listen to), they will most likely be lost for quite some time.

If I were to let them borrow DVDs of my greek movies, they may grasp what is going on from the visual queues.

Now if I were to take them and dump them in Greece, they will learn the language faster. Why? Because when people see that you don't speak the language well they will slow down, they will simplify their vocabulary, and they will use more body language to communicate - something that doesn't happen in passive media.

Language learning is also culture learning. You do get acculturated by watching and listening passively, but sometimes someone needs to explain some history, some background of a custom or idiom.

In language learning podcasts, my take, is that the podcast is only the beginning. It's situational language. You are learning how to interact in certain situations, you learn the vocabulary, and the significance behind it. It doesn't matter if the person on the podcast is a Brit speaking Greek, or if it's a Scot speaking Spanish, or an American speaking Japanese. What matters is command of language. Getting native speakers to speak is one level up from here where you get to hear more difference.

After the podcast, in order to really learn a language you need to use it!
How do you use it? Well...
1. you do exercises
2. you write in it
3. you speak/drill
4. you speak with others
5. you test your listening comprehension skills
6. you receive advice from natives

Language can't be learned in isolation, but you also can't really become fluent and acculturated in a language by skipping to the speak to people, get advice. It's all of the above that work together to help people get language down.

I am not defending established business models of language learning here, nor am I defending the ChinesePod, JapanesePod101 and CoffeeBreakSpanish (I've listened to all of them for a long time). What I am saying is that the views expressed seem a bit simplistic to me as a fellow language learner.
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