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How to download free native-spoken podcasts & MP3s in almost any language

| 29 comments | Category: tools

Every Monday I send out an e-mail to the Language Hacking League (you can sign up on the right of the site) with a language hack or interesting website, as well as more precise updates regarding my own language missions.

This particular tip got a great response from people last week, so I’ll share it on the blog too. It’s very easy, and yet overlooked by many people when looking for content in the target language.

iTunes – not just for people with iPods, but don’t search for the language name

iTunes is a free installation and you can sign up for a free account to download podcasts about a range of topics. I am definitely not an Apple fanboy, but iTunes is an excellent distribution means of finding free content to listen to. Since the download is simply an MP3 file, you do not need to have an Apple device to listen to them; any MP3 player will do. On my Windows (Virtual box) installation all podcasts are downloaded to the My Music/iTunes folder and I simply drag them onto my Nexus One’s SD card.

When in iTunes, go to iTunes store and you will see a podcasts option. Many people feel that the most logical thing to do is to search for the language name, say “Spanish”, and see what comes up. If you are an absolute beginner then perhaps you’ll find this content useful, but it’s all about learning Spanish (i.e. it’s not natural native material) and most likely packaged by non-natives. There may be some exceptions, but I generally don’t like listening to these as they speak way too slowly and basically and this won’t give you the pressure to improve as quickly. Natives do not speak like that.

My suggestion is quite different. Back in the iTunes store home page, scroll to the very bottom and you will see “My store” with your country’s name and a flag. Change this to your target language’s country. So if you were learning French, change it to France, Italy for Italian, Japan for Japanese etc.

The iTunes store interface is suddenly translated to your target language, so going any further is much easier if your level is intermediate or above. Click ” Top Podcasts” (handily enough, many languages don’t translate podcasts and may not even translate Top). This is on the left in my interface. Next you will see that country’s most popular podcasts and can browse and subscribe to what looks interesting. These will of course be natives discussing science, news, politics, or whatever you are into, and they will be speaking naturally.

When it has downloaded, transfer it to your MP3 player and enjoy!

International radio station podcasts

When on your computer, listening to live streaming radio from the country where your target language is spoken is very easy. Here is a list of European radio stations. For other countries just Google “[country name] streaming radio”. This is completely free of course. You don’t have to be in the country to listen to its radio!!

If you can’t be on your computer so much, then go to the website associated with the radio stations and see what podcasts they offer for download to listen to on your MP3 player while you wait or travel to work/school. You will very likely need to understand the target language to do this, although you can also copy the URL to Google Translate to help you navigate the entire website easier to see if there are podcasts. For example, Spain’s Radio Nacional has a podcasts download page here.

Almost all major radio stations provide podcasts for their most popular shows nowadays. This can give even more interesting content than the iTunes suggestion above, although these may occasionally be iTunes links rather than direct downloads, so it helps to have the program installed.

News websites are another great source. For German I’d recommend people check out DW’s Learning German site for daily news spoken in slow German, or the rest of the website (audio and video) for natural German. France24 has a great video podcast with international news.

LingQ library

I wrote a detailed review of the LingQ learning system, and one of the things that I appreciated (and that is free) is the Library of material to listen to. The system currently offers 11 languages (English, French, Russian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, Korean) although the amount of content available varies greatly depending on the language.

Another advantage of this is that the transcript is also provided so you can read the text after/while listening to it, but you can skip that if you are more focused on just listening and download the audio to your MP3 player. You need to sign up for a free account first to be able to access LingQ.

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Of course, I would personally recommend listening to podcasts on your way to a meeting that involves actually speaking with people in the language, if possible. ;) Passive exposure does have its benefits, but don’t forget what you are ultimately aiming for! (i.e. speaking! Although if you are actually aiming to be the world expert in listening to others have all the fun, then ignore this paragraph).

If  you have any other sources to access many interesting podcasts recorded by natives in other languages, be sure to share them in the comments!

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  • Troy

    Great tips Benny. I just wanted to add that for those with Android smartphones you can use a podcatcher app like Listen which will automatically download the podcasts wirelessly. What's nice is that when I wake up my Nexus One is ready to go with new podcasts.

    For those studying Portuguese I recommend the podcasts by Radio CBN as well as Semana Tech by Info. I haven't found too many others. It'd be great to hear from others if you have suggestions for me.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the Android tip! I'll definitely check out the podcatcher app :)

  • Mark

    That's a good tip, thanks! Just been off and downloaded a few Japanese podcasts to listen to while I work this afternoon.

  • Hghplus

    There are also podcasts for Asian languages such as Japanese.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Glad to see people using the tip so soon! :)

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    Great tip. I have been listening to podcasts aimed at Spanish learners and some are painfully slow and don't help me with the fast Argentine speakers here. I'll be looking for some real podcasts later today. Has anyone found any travel related podcasts in Spanish?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    You could search for key words when you have it set to Spanish speaking countries, like viajar, viajero, mochilero, etc. – alternatively you can go through iTunes categories. I haven't investigated too much, but I believe there would be a travel category!

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    Such great tips as always!!! I had never thought about listening to podcasts in Spanish. I just always listen to the language guides for Spanish. Awesome!

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/ Erin

    Thanks for the tip. I couldn't get Argentina to work but for Spain there are lots of options in the Lugares y Viajes category.

  • http://twitter.com/_Pablo_ Pablo Fernández

    Argentina works fine for me, myself being Argentine and living in my home country, but we don't have many podcasts. Most of the offers there are Spanish podcasts (from Spain, that is). Podcasts aren'T too popular in this country, so most of the “big” broadcasting companies don't offer them at all.
    There's even a section of English podcasts in our iTunes site, featuring some from the US catalog. You aren't missing much with Argentine podcasts. I myself only listen to very few of them, 90% of my podcasts being from the US/UK, Germany or Spain. The Argentine podcasts i used to like the most was Miravos.tv, which was about “technology for beginners” but featuring lots of humor and “stories” so it was fun to watch even if you didn't learn anything new. It still exists today, but the quality has decreased in the last months.

  • mcdreamer

    Great tip. I've been doing this a lot for both Esperanto and Japanese and it really helps (even in Japanese the word is still just “poddokyasuto”!!). For those learning Esperanto check out the excellent http://www.podkastaro.org/ site which aggregates feeds from lots of Esperanto podcasts in one place.

    By the way, great site Benny! Hope you've passed the C2!

  • Quokka

    Is there something similar for Ubuntu users ?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    There is an open-source podcast opener, but it wouldn't have iTunes' interface to browse multiple languages as described here.

    However, you CAN install iTunes via Wine! I'm not sure if it will work with the latest version of iTunes, but it will for older versions, which give the same multilingual access. The only reason I didn't initially do that is because one drawback is that it can't synch with an iPhone (which won't be an issue for getting podcasts).

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the tip! I'll let you know about the B2!

  • Quokka

    I managed to install an old version of iTunes. Unfortunately, when I try to access the store I get a blank screen.
    Thanks for your reply nevertheless.

  • Katie

    So this is great advice, and you know I'm a fan, but I have to defend listening-reading based learning for a bit.

    First of all, listening and reading doesn't mean limiting yourself to antiquated literature, never spoken in the real world. Along with using LingQ (which I seem to use only sporadically, if at all, but this changes) and all sorts of materials on the web, all you're doing is building a vocabulary so you can even have that conversation. There's just nothing wrong with holding off on trying to speak.

    If I were living in a country, I'd be more aggressive about it, because I'd have no choice. I'd want to assimilate.

    Here in the States, I live in complete Anglo-isolation, so I actually do meet with conversation partners once a week, in French and in Spanish. Out of all the time I spend building my vocabulary, these two hours are probably the least productive. The benefits are simply that I can practice what I know, and get used to hearing the language as it really sounds. But as per your advice, I jumped right in on French, much sooner than I had intended to originally, just trying to be open minded to new experiences, and all I can say is I feel so bad for my tutor, as he and I both sit in a cafe, trying to find meaningful ways to put sentences around what little I know. It really has a become a test of my attitude, and I “know” there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so I stick with it, but it's not as needed as I thought, at least at this stage.

    This isn't to say it's not necessary at all, ever. It's just pointless when you have no idea what to say. Spanish hour, in contrast, is a joy for me. It is my reward, for all that time I spent building my vocabulary, which is still an ongoing process for me. But I get so much more out of it.

    On the bright side, my French torture hour serves as motivation for me to learn more during the week, to try to get beyond all the mmms and ahs, or doncs and puises, if you will, and it certainly did give me the kick in the butt I needed to do that. So I'm not going to give up. But it also goes to show which part is more productive: fumbling along with what little I know, or feeding my brain.

    I'm just not fond of these clinical words like “content” or “input.” They make the learning sound dry and boring, when it's really quite fun. There are so many great resources out there for learning languages, as you point out, most of them free.

    Anyway, I just noticed you had said something about listening, and I had to defend it. That is, I think if you were learning a language outside of the country, you'd see its value a whole lot more. I don't see it as developing fluency, but it sure gives you a head start.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the comment Katie. You know I am personally more keen on putting the priority on speaking, but I realise this isn't the case for everyone ;) Note that I learned a lot of my Portuguese in Paris, before ever moving to Brazil – by making my focus on looking for imaginative ways to find Brazilians.

    Glad to see you are forcing yourself to speak French! Even if you are struggling with it, the very fact that you have that pressure looming will push you to make progress much quicker than you would do otherwise – you'll get through this awkward stage very quickly because of it :)

  • Troy

    One problem with speaking more than you know is “inventing” and subsequently _memorizing_ your own wrong way of saying things in your target language (usually by translating from your native language)

    It's embarrassing after 13 years to discover that I still have a few wrong phrases that I invented early on and used so much that they became ingrained (and my friends were too polite to tell me). On the other hand, even children do this when they are learning their native language, so maybe it is unavoidable. I guess if you choose to speak early, you have to ask your friends to correct you all the time. Benny?

  • Jen

    Great tip. In this we can learn how the intonation and speed are handled by native speakers. We never learn this in traditional methods of learning.

  • Katie

    I'd love to know an answer to this myself. Surely I must do this, especially in Spanish, and my friends are too polite to tell me. I like to think that as long as I keep working at it, that these things would just iron themselves over time. Maybe?

    Small update: I hadn't gone to French Torture Hour in a couple of weeks, due to the Big Dread, but in those two weeks, I crammed like crazy learning new words and phrases (highly recommend Yabla.com for French learners), and holy smokes, it was my best conversation yet! I couldn't believe how much I learned in two weeks, and how much of it I could actually use, even correctly (!), and my tutor said he noticed a drastic improvement as well.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I ask for corrections in all my languages at all levels, but not “all the time”. My friends will correct my most serious mistakes and always be cool with less important ones. When I speak fluently they'll correct me on the final edges I need to work out. To convince them to help me, I just ask.

    One correction every few minutes is enough to give you a constant flow and not interrupt a nice conversation. In the early stages making a tonne of mistakes is inevitable and the importance is to be understood. I will “invent” ways of saying things and be wrong until I'm ready to iron out these problems.

    Just working at it will not iron them out. You need feedback. Even knowing how to say something doesn't mean you'll actually say it that way due to influences from your mother tongue. I like to constantly improve my level on all languages, but aiming for perfection is not realistic in my opinion.

    Good job Katie!

  • Esteban

    Thanks Benny by all your advice. I have found a website where you can learn a lot of languages as podcasts and pdf’s transcripts. It’s Russianpod101.com. Just change the language name and you will have other languages as Spanishpod101.com.

  • Emintx

    Benny, I have been using this tip (downloading from iTunes) until about 3 weeks ago–now I am using a free program called RadioSure. It is a tiny program for accessing online radio stations with more than 17000 stations available and is “sortable” by country, language, or genre. The best thing is, you can make MP3′s from most of the stations. I lovelovelove it. The quality is consistently better (sound, lack-of-static, and professional sounding voices), the options of material available are of a better variety, and, frankly, it is much easier. I still have tons of podcasts already downloaded and can look for new ones anytime I want, but I am so impressed with this and enjoy the content so much, that I have stopped using the podcasts. If nothing else, it is a great additional resource for folks who need more input. :) :) :)
    (I learned this from a friend in Mexico who speaks fluent English, yet has never set foot outside of his local region.)
    I hope this tip helps some other folks.

  • Emintx

    Benny, I have been using this tip (downloading from iTunes) until about 3 weeks ago–now I am using a free program called RadioSure. It is a tiny program for accessing online radio stations with more than 17000 stations available and is “sortable” by country, language, or genre. The best thing is, you can make MP3′s from most of the stations. I lovelovelove it. The quality is consistently better (sound, lack-of-static, and professional sounding voices), the options of material available are of a better variety, and, frankly, it is much easier. I still have tons of podcasts already downloaded and can look for new ones anytime I want, but I am so impressed with this and enjoy the content so much, that I have stopped using the podcasts. If nothing else, it is a great additional resource for folks who need more input. :) :) :)
    (I learned this from a friend in Mexico who speaks fluent English, yet has never set foot outside of his local region.)
    I hope this tip helps some other folks.

  • Natalia S.

    Sorry for the double post! :(

  • Natalia S.

    Sorry for the double post! :(

  • Hendrix

    Thanks Benny – your iTunes tip is gold!

  • Ethan

    Any tips for a Catalan podcast? It’s harder as Catalonia (or even Andorra) doesn’t have its own section.