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Innovative Language’s Pod101 courses are one of the most talked-about language tools at Fluent in 3 Months (Fi3M) – you’ll find them mentioned on the recommended resources page for most languages.
I’d seen Benny and other Fi3M writers mention it on the blog many times, but it wasn’t until the Fi3M team was given the chance to volunteer for various product reviews that I finally tried out an Innovative Language course for myself.
Rather than start a brand new language, I used Innovative Language’s ThaiPod101 course. I had never found a really satisfactory, affordable online Thai course before. So however great Innovative Language’s reputation was for European languages, I was sceptical of whether ThaiPod101 could really work for me.
To make sure my review would be as complete as possible, I committed to use ThaiPod101 for at least 10 hours, and to try out all of the available features.
So, how did I get on?
When I finished my 10 hours (which turned into 22 hours because I enjoyed myself so much) I recorded myself speaking Thai with my friend who is a native speaker. You can see the video at the end of this article.
Before we get to that, let’s take a look at what’s inside:
Getting Started with Innovative Language Pod101 Courses
Creating an account is super simple. You can do it on the web or download the mobile app for the language you want to learn (see the links at the end of this article).
If you use both the website and the mobile app, your progress will be synced between them automatically.
The number of lessons varies between languages, but some languages have over 2,000 lessons, while the more recently-added languages have a few hundred. More lessons are being added all the time.
There are various subscription tiers in every Innovative Language course, from Basic to Premium Plus. For this review, I used Premium Plus so I could review and comment on all of the features that Innovative Language has to offer.
When you first sign up, you get a seven-day free trial of the Premium subscription. You can listen to as many lessons as you want during that week to find out if it’s the right language course for you.
If you’ve tried it out and decided to subscribe, it’s time to choose a subscription plan. Read on to decide which plan is best for you.
Innovative Language Pod101 Review – Lesson Format
What are Innovative Language lessons actually like? The courses for every language follow the same format. Each lesson includes:
- An audio podcast episode with two teachers who play a recorded dialogue and discuss its related vocab and grammar. Each lesson is about 10-20 minutes in length.
- A PDF file of lesson notes
- A lesson checklist
- An audio clip of just the dialogue from the lesson (Premium subscription and up)
- A line-by-line transcript of the entire lesson recording, even the teachers’ banter (Premium subscription and up)
- A quiz on the lesson material (Premium subscription and up)
- A recording tool to record your voice and compare it to a native speaker (Premium subscription and up)
Innovative Language Lessons as Podcasts: How Do They Work?
Audio podcast lessons are the heart of Innovative Language’s teaching method. For 10-20 minutes, you get to listen to two (or sometimes three) teachers talk to each other, and to you, about the content of the dialogue, the meaning of the vocab, cultural references, and the grammar that is illustrated in the dialogue.
These lessons are very informal, yet structured. The teachers get quite a bit of freedom in deciding how to present the content, but the general framework of every lesson is as follows:
- The teachers explain what you’ll be learning in that lesson, and what the dialogue will be about
- You listen to the dialogue first at normal speed, then (for less advanced lessons) at a slower speed
- The teachers list key vocab from the dialogue with English translations. For certain words, they’ll give more examples of usage than what you heard in the dialogue
- The lesson ends with one final playing of the dialogue
Lessons can also include:
- Relevant cultural facts or trivia related to the dialogue
- Grammar explanation, where the teachers discuss the main grammar rule featured in the dialogue, with examples
The Pod101 Dashboard – Navigating to Your Lessons and Tracking Your Progress
When you log in, you’re brought to your personal dashboard. Here’s what mine looks like:
The “My Pathway” section is where you track your progress and customise your lesson planning. Click “Add a New Path” to choose new lessons to add to your dashboard.
As you complete each lesson in a path, the progress bar on the dashboard will reflect that. I love having this visual representation of my progress. It’s motivating to watch the bar go from 0% to 100%.
There’s a lot to take in on the dashboard, and it might take a little while to learn where to access all of the content of the website. On the left side is a list of Quick Links to access the most often-used features. The most common link I click is “Browse Lessons”. This leads straight to a list of all available lessons, so I can jump right in and pick a lesson that looks interesting.
In the screencap below, I selected Intermediate and was presented with a list of all the intermediate lessons, with completed lessons indicated by a check mark. Doesn’t get much easier than that to find new lessons to study!
Reviewing Pod101 Material when You’re Not Completing Your Lessons
There’s way more to Innovative Language courses than just individual lessons. However, you’ll need a Premium subscription or higher to access them.
Some of the highlights of the extras you get with a Premium subscription include:
- Flashcards with text and audio. You can add words from your lessons to an SRS flashcard deck for review (Note: This feature is only available when you log-in on the website)
- Thai-English/English-Thai dictionary (or the dictionary for the language you’re studying)
- Vocabulary and grammar databases
- Core word lists for studying the most common and useful words in the language (100 words in the Basic subscription, 2,000 in Premium and up)
- A personalised study programme with 1-on-1 attention from a human teacher who will answer your questions and grade assignments (Premium Plus subscription only)
Now that you have a good idea of what’s included with Innovative Language Pod101 courses, I’ll share my personal experience with ThaiPod101, what I enjoyed about the Innovative Language experience, and where I think some (small) improvements could be made.
My Experience with ThaiPod101: The Good
There’s so much to love about this programme. I’ll try to be brief, but there’s a lot to say.
Super High Quality Lessons
This is the #1 reason I kept coming back to Innovative Language, even after finishing my review.
Each lesson teaches you a nice manageable chunk of your language. It’s easy to listen to. And the teachers have personalities! Too many audio language courses have teachers that sound robotic.
The vocabulary was easy to remember because it was always taught as part of a complete sentence. If you follow all of the notes and the checklist with each lesson, you’ll come away knowing the dialogue inside and out.
Huge Depth of Content — With Advanced Teaching in Your Target Language
Pod101 lessons go from absolute beginner (for those who don’t even know “hello” or “yes”) through to near mastery of the language. And starting at upper intermediate level, the teachers start to use the target language as the language of instruction! I’ve never seen a Thai course that gets advanced enough for the instructors to teach in Thai.
Huge Breadth of Content — Covering (Nearly) Every Topic Imaginable
The lessons cover nearly every topic and situation I could ever expect to encounter in Thailand. Here’s just a sampling:
- “Classic” situations like how to order in a restaurant, give directions or buy a bus ticket
- How young men are chosen for military service
- Office politics
- Thai gay culture
- How to behave at a Buddhist temple
The screencap below shows some of the lessons available in the intermediate series:
You also get to learn all the different levels of formality of the language. Most language courses – and this goes for European languages too – teach only the most formal way to address people. But ThaiPod101 covers it all: super polite language used with elders, formal ways to speak with strangers, informal ways to address your peers, and right through to vulgar and impolite language used only with close friends. This is true for all Innovative Language courses.
Real-World Relevance — Learn Vocabulary You’ll Actually Use
Finally, a language course that doesn’t focus on lists of colours or obscure office supplies (seriously I can’t remember the last time I said “pencil” or “stapler” out loud even in English). You do get exposed to this vocabulary in certain lessons, but if it’s not relevant to you, you can just skip to the next lesson. There’s no rule about completing lessons in a certain order.
In the screencap below, the dialogue is about buying a bus ticket. It even contains the filler words “um” and “well then”, so you can learn how to say these in Thai. It might not be “proper”, but it really is real-world!
Content is Available Offline — So You Can Learn-As-You-Go
This is a huge plus. I could download a bunch of audio lessons onto my phone with the mobile app at home, then go for a long walk and play the lessons without using up my mobile data.
Personalised Learning Assignments from a Real Teacher
The big selling point of Premium Plus, the top-level subscription, is the 1-on-1 instruction with a real teacher. She sent me weekly assignments to complete, like the one below:
The assignments were a great idea. They really brought me beyond the standard lesson material and made me think more independently in Thai.
My Experience with ThaiPod101: What Could Be Better
Overall, my experience with ThaiPod101 was excellent, and it easily achieves the highest rating possible for this review. That said, there were some niggles.
- With the Premium Plus subscription, I would have liked the tutor to have considered my time and availability, as well as my learning needs. The assignment topics were ideal for me, and appropriate for my level of learning. That said, they were sent weekly, and some weeks I was too busy to complete them. It would be cool if they could ask “When would you like to receive the next assignment?”
- Flashcards are desktop only, unless you download an extra (paid) app. I love using Flashcards to study on my phone, and I would like to see mobile flashcards become a core Pod101 feature.
- The quizzes were sometimes too easy for me, and for this reason I eventually stopped using them. I like to be challenged when I’m learning a language.
Overall, these are small niggles in a world class language resource.
The Moment of Truth: Holly Speaking Thai
Here’s the video of me speaking Thai after using ThaiPod101 for 22 hours of study (note that I was already at intermediate level before I started using ThaiPod101):
Innovative Language Pod101 Review: Final Thoughts
Innovative Language is the most comprehensive language programme I’ve ever come across for improving all of my skills in my target language. I plan to use it from now on as a core tool in my Thai studies, and other languages. In fact, after my Premium Plus free trial ran out, I signed up immediately for Premium using my own credit card.
My Thai vocabulary and listening comprehension skills have greatly improved thanks to this course. I understand a lot more slang words and cultural references, and vocabulary for far more situations than I could previously talk about. I’m finally progressing past the intermediate stage, where I’ve been stuck for a very long time, and am becoming an advanced Thai speaker.
I never use just a single product for language learning (unless it’s for a product review like this), but if I had to, then it would be Innovative Language.
How to Join Innovative Language Pod101
As promised, here are the links for all the Innovative Language courses.
Click on any language below to sign up for the Innovative Language Pod101 course. All courses come with a seven day free trial of Premium features: