Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Podcast Review: LearnFrenchByPodcast

One of the beauties of the high-bandwidth web world is the variety of audio and video offerings that are out there... and because nobody knows really what will work yet, there's a lot of amazing material that is free or practically free. Language Learning podcasts (with support websites) are one such goldmine. And they fall into a number of categories:
- Phrase Books
- Basic Instruction
- Conversational

The way I got started was actually by looking for German and French radio interviews on the web - to listen to two people talking. From there, I started finding lots of interviews, but more importantly I found a lot of very well developed instructional series out there.

In this series, I'll let you know about what I've found out there - what's working and what needs help. Today I start with a good one: Learn French by Podcast.

LFBP is a biweekly program. Each episode is between 9-14 minutes long. It has an english speaking "host" and one or two native French speakers. The podcast is focused around a dialogue that is 1-5 paragraphs long, and lessons are currently either "Beginner" or "Intermediate". Topics are varied from current events to restaurant etiquette to how to talk to a veterinarian...

The structure is unique: They introduce what they'll talk about, they start the dialogue, and pause it to make grammatical points as needed. All english is by the narrator, the French speakers never break into english, and there is no banter or chitchat - it's all business. There are no direct translations - you're encouraged to discern the meaning based on context. Key words and concepts are spelled out, but it's not word-by-word. It's as much about culture as language: In one I learned about the French minimum wage and work week minimums and maximums.

There are PDFs that accompany each which are frankly essential: They are direct transcripts of the podcasts, with breakout boxes for new verbs with their conjucations, and all of the vocabulary words given at the end... some cultural points and a light quiz are also included. This is textbook quality and runs 4-7 pages in length.

Done poorly this would be a dry, pedantic exercise. But fortunately Amelie the main native speaker has a very enthusiastic delivery and frighteningly precise pronunciation (which is not to say she doesn't swallow entire syllables as is the habit in French, but she's VERY clear).

This one is not without cost: For $25 you get all of the PDF lessons to date and for the next 3 months. The audio podcasts ARE free through ITunes, however... so you can see if you like it. At the time of this writing, there are 57 lessons out there, so I think $25 is a GREAT deal.

Given my history with French, I may be ill-equipped to really judge, but it does seem to me that even from the first lesson, there's an assumption of SOME French knowledge - I find myself listening closely to every lesson... And even at the beginner level, there is enough new stuff in there to engage me that I feel challenged, and this is with many years of study (which is admittedly quite stale at this point) So my recommendation is that if you took French in high school (or ARE taking it now), this would be a great resource to bring you along.

Finally, I'd note that they're teasing me with the domain of "" - I'm eagerly awaiting this... If it can help sharpen my German the way it's re-awakening my French, it'll be great.

Update: Here's the direct link to their site:

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