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How new podcasts like ‘JapanesePod101’ are changing the way people learn a foreign language.
Aug. 24, 2006 - Peter Galante is racing the clock. The creator and most prominent voice on the language-training podcast “JapanesePod101” has one hour to tape a 15-minute Internet radio show in a cramped Tokyo recording studio. Though it’s a hot, humid afternoon and paint is peeling off the walls, the Queens, N.Y., native switches off the rattling air conditioning to cut down on background noise and gets down to work with his two sultry-voiced partners, Natsuko and Sakura. “Ohayo, Tokyo,” they say in unison, reciting the show’s trademark opening (“Good morning, Tokyo”). In an hour, studio employees will start gently knocking on the door to indicate time is up. By then, the technology-augmented educators will be sweating—and their 12,000 listeners will be on their way to another installment of their daily language lesson.
Language-training lessons like ‘JapanesePod101’ are a growing breed and among the most popular podcasts on Apple’s iTunes service. Deciding to learn a new language on the Internet is a little like browsing the supermarket: on iTunes alone, there’s a broad selection of audio instruction that includes Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, Korean and English. Unlike most traditional language classes, podcast-language training is typically fun and informal, with an emphasis on practical tips. Shows like ‘JapanesePod101’ and the pioneering ‘ChinesePod’ and 'FrenchPodClass’ might even pose a challenge to traditional educators and publishers in the language-training field. “Podcasting brings the teacher to the students. It might sound simple, but this has major business implications,” says Ken Carroll of ‘ChinesePod,’ which is downloaded 120,000 times a week. “One talented teacher can now reach an unlimited audience with practically no distribution costs.”
Before my wife and I traveled to Japan for the summer, we took traditional classes at a San Francisco language school and listened to Galante’s ‘JapanesePod101.’ The differences were stark. In the classroom, we learned the polite and informal names for various family members, how to describe our pastimes (“My hobby is tennis and reading!”) and how to make small talk about the weather. Here in Japan we have only used a few of those expressions, and in particular we need only one word to describe the hot and humid climate—mushiatsui.
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