Last week in our language-learning tips course we looked at strategies to develop a good accent in the language you are learning. It’s not always possible to copy the accents of native speakers around you, so this week we’ll provide a powerful method for accessing native speakers in order to emulate their speech patterns – one of the biggest iTunes secrets for language-learners! This content is available to members of the Radio Lingua Club only. Find out more how you can become a member and access our regular learning tips and discount codes.

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RLN Club 06: Keeping it virtually real

[audio:https://radiolingua.com/thevault/rlnclub/lal/week06/langtips-06.mp3]

So, can you remember the three elements of a good accent? Last time we spoke about pronunciation, rhythm and melody, and I explained that the best way to develop your accent was to try and emulate the speech patterns of native speakers. That’s all very well if you happen to live in an area where the language you’re learning is spoken every day. In this episode of our coaching course, I’ll be sharing an idea which will help you access native speakers online through audio and video.

As a child I remember my French teacher at school telling me about this amazing piece of technology called a shortwave radio which allowed you to access foreign radio stations. I saved up my pocket money and after many weeks of saving I bought a radio and the Passport to World Band Radio 1982 which provided the frequencies of stations from around the world. At a certain time of the day (or often night) I could turn the dial on my radio and tune in to crackly broadcasts from exotic locations from Sweden to Morocco. There was something very exciting about eavesdropping on these far-flung radio broadcasts from my home in Scotland, and I remember enjoying listening to the sounds of other languages, not necessarily understanding a huge amount, but letting the speech patterns wash over me as I listened.

Of course now there’s no longer a need to use a shortwave radio to access authentic audio content from other countries. I can switch on my computer or phone wherever I am in the world and immediately access whichever language I want through online radio and podcasts. However, it’s also possible to access video content, and video will help us take our accent study that bit further. Indeed our problem nowadays is that there is so much content it’s difficult to know where to start. If we Google something like “French listening practice” or “clips of people speaking Spanish” we may find something useful, but we may well have to listen to or watch a fair bit of nonsense before we find something which will help us with our accent. So, how can we enhance this experience?

I’d suggest that we begin by taking a look at iTunes. If you’ve been using one of our language-learning podcasts then the chances are that you’ll already be pretty familiar with iTunes and the concept of podcasting. Podcasting has given a voice to all of us and independent publishers have been able create their own radio and tv shows and release them to a worldwide audience. However, if you’re used to using iTunes in the UK or US then you may get the impression that it’s only the English-speaking independent publishers who are feeding their content to the world. This is where my #1 iTunes tip for language learners comes in. We’re all familiar with how ubiquitous iPods have become in the last few years, with over 230 million iPods sold since their 2001 launch. And where there are iPods there are customers ready to buy music on the iTunes Store. Did you know that there’s an iTunes Store in France? There’s an iTunes España, iTunes Deutschland, iTunes México and iTunes Japan where consumers in those countries can buy music, tv shows and films to watch on their computers, iPods or Apple TVs. Unfortunately that content is paid content so you can’t actually buy anything unless you have a credit card registered in the country. However, where there’s an iTunes Store, there’s also an iTunes Podcast area, so just as on the UK or US store where you can download free audio and video content in English, it’s possible to download free audio and video on a topic that interests you in the language you’re learning through the national stores of each country.

To access these stores you need to open iTunes at the iTunes Store and scroll down to the bottom of the Store homepage. You’ll see a link to “Change Country”, or you can click on the flag for your own store. You can then choose from the large number of international stores available. You should be aware that some of the stores are only for iPhone apps, eg. Honduras or Costa Rica. This is because iTunes doesn’t yet have music store available in that country, and therefore there won’t be a podcasts section available. However, many of the larger countries will have their own iTunes Store, so you can click on one of these flags to activate that store. Once the store has loaded you can then browse the podcasts section. There will, of course, still be English language content in the foreign store – lots of native speakers of other languages are using podcasts to improve their English – but you can browse the categories in the podcasts area to find interesting content which would be difficult to find otherwise. When you want to change back to your own national store, simply scroll down to the bottom of the home page again and change your country back.

One particularly interesting podcast solution is the ability to access daily tv news podcasts from major production companies: for example I regularly watch the TV news from NRK in Norway on my iPhone to help me keep my listening skills in Norwegian up to date: I simply subscribe to the podcast and this means that every morning I have the latest news broadcast on my iPhone, just as if I were switching on my TV in Norway. I wouldn’t be able to access this content in any other way.

So, once you have your content, how can it help you improve your accent? Well, if you’re limited to language-learning audio materials which you’ve purchased or downloaded then you’ll be used to the accents of the speakers on these courses. But very often language courses choose speakers who speak slowly and clearly and have fairly neutral accents. Podcasts, on the other hand, are being created by José and Jean-Claude Bloggs and you’ll therefore hear a huge variety of accents and regional differences as you listen to different types of podcasts. It could be said that the materials you find through podcasts are in fact more authentic, more like “real, everyday speech”, something that you don’t hear as often in a language course. Of course, by saying this I don’t mean that language courses are useless: far from it! The language used in most language courses is carefully planned to emulate natural usage, but to do so in a controlled and planned way. When you suddenly find yourself on vacation in the country where the language you’re learning is spoken, the speakers around you won’t necessarily be controlling and planning how they speak in order to make things easier for you. And so it is with podcasts too.

The other extremely useful aspect of video podcasts in particular is that they allow you to study more than just the sound of what’s coming out of the mouths of native speakers: by watching a news reporter or a presenter speak, you can gain some valuable insights into how the language is delivered: the shape of speakers’ mouths as they speak; the way they use their hands while speaking; the position of their body, and so on. Speaking a foreign language is about much more than words: I’ve been told that when I speak Italian I use my hands and arms differently than when I speak in English, so if you want to become a better speaker of French, Spanish, Norwegian or whatever, then it’s useful to see how native speakers of the language speak it.

We’ve not even touched on using these newly-found materials for comprehension yet: that will come later, and I’ll be giving you some tips for improving your listening skills in a future episode of our course. In the meantime, I wish you happy downloading as you discover all sorts of interesting content through the international iTunes stores. If you don’t already use iTunes, it’s a free download from the Apple site and is available for both Mac and PC.

Right-click to download audio (mp3)

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    1 Response to "RLN Club – Learn a language 06"

    • Rory Lambe

      Only thing about changing over to french i-tunes remember where the button is to change back, my french isn’t that good and I was clicking away randomly.
      But loved the idea and it’s like seeing a bit of french culture.

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