How To

Listen and Learn With Podcasts

By Nick Kolakowski
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 25, 2007

In the beginning, the iPod let you listen to every CD you owned, even when you were stuck on the Red Line. Then Steve Jobs said, "Let there be video," and lo and behold, you could watch "Lost" die a slow, overwritten death on a two-inch screen. But while people seem content to load their little devices with as many songs and TV shows as possible, podcasts (think of them as radio programs that you download) tend to be neglected.

Which is really too bad, because some of the more educational ones can help give you a truly brainy rep -- if you listen to them regularly. The free podcasts below can teach you how to say, "Where'd my job get exported to?" in Mandarin and why, psychologically speaking, listening to that Regina Spektor single makes you burst into tears.


This isn't your parents' language instruction; the various hosts liven things up with a hefty dose of occasionally risque humor. You'll be up-and-bantering in no time with lessons updated throughout the week such as asking for the time, phone call etiquette and World Cup terms. A quirky Saturday show fills you in on Asian cultural mores. Learn, for example, why Shanghai keeps getting compared to the Wild West.

Pros: Teaches practical Mandarin; your waiter at Chinatown Express will truly believe you can talk the talk.

Cons: Given the language's complexity, you could quickly find yourself stuck on "Drive faster!"

Find It:

Grammar Girl's Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing

"The quick and dirty tip here is that you use 'farther' to talk about physical distance and 'further' to talk about metaphorical, or figurative, distance." Hey, you knew that. But just in case your grammar knowledge has gone a little soft, Grammar Girl is here to make sure your apostrophe placement doesn't make you look like a total idiot.

Pros: Creator Mignon Fogarty has an engaging style that doesn't make you feel bad about misusing the word "badly."

Cons: She still can't help with your terrible spelling.

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