This is a sort of a double review - both are products of Radio Lingua International and are from Scotland. And therein lies their charm for me... but more on that in a minute. Here's what they are:
Coffee Break Spanish (www.coffeebreakspanish.com) is a weekly 20 minute podcast with Mark the teacher, and Kara the student. So far there have been around 25 lessons, starting from the very basic and getting more complex. At first, I felt it was too basic for me but now that they're in the 20's, it's getting to be more useful for me. The structure is to set up situations and offer phrases and grammar: It's not a conversational class, and there are no native speakers. Really, it's quite traditional in form. It's very much targeted at the leisure traveler who wants basic tourist vocabulary, and how to understand the responses.
The fun bit is that with Kara as the learner, you get some banter, which always livens up a podcast, and some built in targets for you: Can you get it better/faster than Kara? Sometimes I wonder if she's playing it down a bit to help us all feel better.
There are accompanying PDFs, which are 3-4 pages in length and include all grammar covered as well as full verb conjugations. These cost money, however, while the podcast is free free free. I'd imagine that they're quite worth it, however.
A sister podcast is "My Daily Phrase German" (www.mydailyphrase.com), of which there are now 50 lessons, and 50 more to come. Each lesson is a mere 5 minutes long and covers 2-3 basic travel phrases in German.
Grammar isn't covered, it's really "learning phrases", not full language learning, but that's all they're advertising. The instructor, Catriona, is Scottish, and does German with an Austrian accent (from what I can hear). The podcasts are free, but for just $25 you can get a PDF for each lesson with phrases and vocabulary (and extra vocab), and an extra weekly podcast with additional phrases.
Now, to review them together, you need to accept some things: This is not "language on your terms", both of these are phrasebook learning guides, geared toward getting you some survival skills for holiday. Both emphasize relaxation and enjoyment as a key to absorbing the lessons. Neither podcast is particularly focused around attaining native speaker fluency, nor slang, nor overly familiar forms of address. In summary, they're the equivalent of a Berlitz Course.
The production quality really is very high, and you get good materials for free. The add-on materials are quite good. IF you were in the market for phrase-book style learning, these are ones to beat... I recommend them for beginners for sure!
But it's time for my confession: Despite the fact that they're both a bit below my current language levels, and aren't tuned toward my particular style of learning, I listen to both regularly and religiously. Why?
Because Mark, Kara, and Catriona have the most listenable voices with that wonderful Scottish lilt. The production is unhurried and relaxing, and they really make things sound pleasant at all times. I listen to these and it feels like a really pleasant conversation is happening at the table next to me and they don't mind if I listen in. It may just been my Scotchophilia, but I have played these for other people and the consensus is this: The only way these could be any cuter is if they were done by puppies and kittens.
I don't mean to demean the very good work they do - because they do make very clear lessons. But I'm listening for all the wrong reasons and it feels SO GOOD.