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NCP June 15, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Tools.

Today, language-learning podcasts are all over the Internet. Some are made to be academically sounded and contain scripted dialogs. Others pick up sound clips from the real world such as radio and TV programs. The former are just too fake to our ears, and the latter are usually above a typical learner’s level.

Two days ago, I found a website that contains podcasts in varies languages. Each podcast records a casual conversation between 2 hosts. I clicked on a French podcast and was surprised that the first time I listened to it, I could understand over 90% of the contents. At my current level, I can typically understand only about 30-70% of the contents from my French radio, depending of the topics and the ways the hosts speak.

At first, I thought the main reason could be that the 2 hosts in that particular podcast were non-native speakers. Perhaps the French words sounded more English and therefore became more comprehensible to me. Later, I found out from their website that the hosts of these podcasts are actually language teachers. So, I assume that they purposefully record the conversations in a moderate pace using simple vocabulary. I feel so good being able to understand most of the contents in my first try.

Although transcripts are available, it is obvious that the conversations are recorded without scripting. This is very different from scripted dialogs. I always find it very pleasant to listen to natural conversations while learning a language.

This experience makes me wonder why there are not many podcasts like these out there. Let me call them ‘Natural Conversation Podcasts’ (NCP) for now. Come to think about it, it does not require a lot of costs, expertise, knowledge, or planning to produce an NCP. All you need to do is the followings:

1) Gather around 2 to 3 native or advanced speakers
2) Pick a general topic and talk about it for 5-20 minutes and record the conversation
3) Talk in a moderate pace using simple vocabulary
4) Transcribe the conversation
5) Make it available to others

If we treat step 4 as optional, NCPs are actually very easy to produce. Step 3 is the key to NCP, but it might be a bit challenging at first. Then I think anyone should be able to master it in a while or so.

Having said that, I believe NCPs are not for beginners. But then in my opinion, beginners don’t need podcasts. They need textbooks and programs like FSI or Pimsleur.



1. Richard - June 15, 2007

I would like to see a Cantonese version of the NCP that you describe. I think such a service/product would be useful if it reflected a lot of useful situations such as daily activities like buying groceries, talking about hobbies, etc. I agree that dialogues (in prerecorded textbook dialogues) can be “staged”. Please inform us if you come across a service that has these recorded dialogues.


2. chris(mandarin_student) - June 19, 2007

Terrific find Edwin, I am glad I dropped by, they have Mandarin pods too. Just had a quick listen to one but so far getting most of it straight away, so a few new words to learn (I can look them up so don’t need the transcript). I guess some of the other subjects may be a little harder depending on whether I am familiar with the topic but that is great too (the transcripts are about the price of a cup of coffee anyway) … sorry babbling, I agree a very good idea.

For Mandarin the guys at imandarin.com do very accessible podcasts, although these are scripted. They have a knack of talking just a little bit slower and simpler without dumbing down too much
So they can pull you along in Chinese and make you feel like you are really getting into the language. For some reason despite many other excellent attributes Chinesepod don’t seem to have quite achieved this effect on any of their levels.

3. edwinlaw - June 19, 2007

Yeah, I would love to participate in this kind of podcasts. But I probably won’t have the time to produce one.

4. edwinlaw - June 19, 2007

I think Chinesepod is aimed at business people. They don’t have time to waste. They probably are not very keen on listening to slow conversations. Just my opinion.

5. frenchninja - June 20, 2007

Wow, and an aussie site to boot! Cheers for the link!

I especially liked the first French podcast where they discuss Australian slang 🙂


P.S I just recently got back from France myself! Nothing beats a language-learning booster like going to the country itself 🙂

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