Learning Languages with iTunes


Anyone who has seen me in person the past few weeks knows I am busy on Thursday nights.  From 7:30-9:30 I take German classes at Sacramento’s Turn Verein.  Every week I look forward to this night of hanging out in the community center’s library stuffed full of 19th and 20th century German books and maps.  With a small group of other adults we practice conjugating verbs, rehearsing dialogues, and in the case of this past Thursday drinking imported German beer in preparation for Oktoberfest.

You might be wondering why I would take German classes.  As one friend commented to an “Off to German class” status update I posted on Facebook, “Wouldn’t Spanish be a lot more useful as a teacher?”  Yes, it probably would, but I am not doing this for my career or anyone else.  I am selfishly doing it for me…or “filling my cup” as my principal would say.

Now realize I didn’t randomly choose to take German.  When I was in 8th grade at Turlock Junior High School the Spanish classes were full and as a new student I was assigned to an open spot in a Beginning German class.  Very quickly, I found that these 50-minute long periods were a nice escape into what seemed like an alternate universe.  I loved it!  My German lessons continued on into high school were during my junior year I was a foreign exchange student.  Had I not been such a pragmatic thinker, I probably would have persued a degree in German rather than Biological Sciences.  However, the need for people with German degrees is pretty slim.

After 14 years of not speaking German, my skills have grown pretty rusty.  When we moved to Sacramento I randomly happened to make a new friend who was taking German classes at the Turn Verein, the German-American club that has been here since 1854.  This fall I signed up for my first class.  Its been great.  I do however still have one problem – I speak German only on Thursday nights.  I can read and write German fairly well, but my speaking and listening skills are very poor.

Immediately after my first class I started looking for a way to work on my listening skills during the week.  After a few clicks through iTunes I found Deutsche Welle’s (Germany’s national radio broadcaster) collection of German language podcasts.  All of these programs are available for free and some are geared specifcially towareds language learning regardless of your current knowledge of the language.  While its a little cheesy, I have become a huge fan of Radio D Series 1.  Each day I listen to three episodes on my way to and from work.  I am almost done with Series 1 and my search for more episodes has led me to Deutsche Welle’s German Language site where there are a ton of other products for studying German including a online interactive program. Now keep in mind that everything I have mentioned is FREE….yes, that’s correct…FREE!

Nearly every day I see a commercial or print advertisement for Rosetta Stone.  While I am sure this program is great, it isn’t cheap.  I wonder how many other free language courses are available though iTunes?  When I mentioned the free podcasts to some of my German classmates they were alll very suprised these programs even existed.  If you are interesting in learning a foreign language I highly suggest checking out iTunes (and the corresponding author’s website) for resources before you head over to Rosetta Stone.


Photo: Bier by Chris Stickley on Flickr


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