Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Podcast Review: Coffee Break Spanish and My Daily Phrase German

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.


Charles said...

Hi! I found your blog randomly. I too am kind of a language addict. Well, obsessed is probably more accurate.

In any case, I agree with you about Coffee Break Spanish. I don't feel like I learn a whole lot, but I am so in love with their voices. They both have such beautiful voices that keep me coming back.

I just don't like that Marc mispronounces the words sometimes. Nothing extremely offensive, just a little strange. He voices intervocalic S's for example.

Anyway, if you ever decide to take on Catalan or Portuguese, talk to me! ;)

Or if you just want to geek out with me on Skype about whatever language stuff, that'd be awesome. My screenname there is carlofaccino.

Jimmy said...

Thanks for reading, Charles! Yeah,, Mark does occasionally have "unique" pronunciations.

Portuguese!!! Sounds like fun! I have a friend from Brazil who would probably go nuts if I took that up.

I'll add you to Skype too - us language geeks need to stick together!

Mark said...

I enjoyed reading your review and it certainly made me laugh to think that we're almost as cute as "puppies and kittens"!

I'm curious about the complaint from Charles re intervocalic S's. Is he referring to my English or Spanish? In a phrase like "¿quĂ© pasa?" I'm fairly certain I don't voice the s!

And Jimmy, I'd be keen to hear more about my "unique" pronunciations. If it's my Spanish pronunciation you're referring to, I would point out that I've lived in Spain as opposed to any parts of Latin America, so my Spanish is more Spain Spanish...

Anyway, good luck to you both in your language learning and I hope you continue to enjoy the podcast for whatever reasons!

Jimmy said...

Oh my goodness - a celebrity! Thanks for the comment Mark. I confess I don't know what an Intervocalic S is... or if you do them. And being an American, I'm so used to Latin American Spanish that beyond the Castillain "C"s, there's also a different "accent" over there - it's perhaps a little flatter - so you may be doing it perfectly, but it's interesting to my ears.

I'm glad you took the puppies comment in the spirit intended!

Mark said...

Lol... We're thinking about using it as our new tagline: "Coffee Break Spanish - almost as cute as puppies and kittens". Not really. But it would be funny!

You probably get this a lot, but how many languages do you speak (confidently)? Just curious. I am a bit of a language addict myself, with French, Spanish and Italian all pretty good, fairly good German, Norwegian and Portuguese, some Catalan, Swedish and more recent dabbling in Polish, Japanese and Mandarin.

Jimmy said...

You're definitely above me: I do French very well, German and Spanish are passable, and Japanese and Mandarin are my new learnings. My language addiction really didn't start until 2 years ago (you know what I still need to tell that story on the main page... thanks for reminding me!).

Jimmy said...

Forgot to mention my College Russian too!!! It keeps popping up.