Tag Archives: Podcasts

The Superlinguists: A Four-Part Radio Documentary About Polyglots and Language Learning

What motivates people to learn multiple languages for the sheer fun of it? Can the average person become a polyglot? How does one go about learning a new language? What are the benefits and challenges of living in a multilingual environment? And what sort of impact can state-enforced language policies have on immigrants and other language communities? These are just some of the topics explored in the BBC World Service’s acclaimed radio documentary series, The Superlinguists.

This four-part series is presented by travel journalist and broadcaster Simon Calder and was created in conjunction with the Open University’s School of Languages. Originally broadcast on the BBC World Service back in July 2019, all four episodes can be found on the BBC Sounds website and are essential listening for those who are even remotely interested in learning a new language.

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Episode 1 – The Polyglots

Synopsis: Simon Calder meets people who keep learning new languages not because they have to, but because they want to. What motivates them? Situations like this – an immigrant hotel cleaner who is moved to tears because you speak to her in her native Albanian; A Nepalese Sherpa family that rolls about laughing in disbelief at hearing their foreign guest speak Sherpa. But do polyglots have a different brain from the rest of us? Simon travels to a specialised lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and undergoes a brain-scan himself, to find out.

Episode 2 – How to Learn a Language

Synopsis: Simon Calder asks how to go about acquiring a new tongue. He gets tips from those who know – innovative teachers and polyglots. The answers are surprising. At school, it is repetitive drills, shouted out loud by the whole class, that seem to lodge the grammar and pronunciation in the pupils’ brains. But if you are an adult learning by yourself, then, on the contrary, don’t stress about grammar and pronunciation, there are better, and more fun things to focus on. Simon has a go at learning Slovenian, can he order coffee and cake after just one lesson?

Episode 3 – Multilingual Societies

Synopsis: What is it like to live in a place where you have to speak several languages to get by? Simon Calder travels to India, where a top university only teaches in English, the one language that the students from all over the country have in common. And he meets people who use four different languages with their friends and family, depending on whom they are talking to. In Luxembourg, it is not so much family, but other situations that require four languages, such as going shopping, watching TV, or school lessons. Simon hears that in secondary school, maths is taught in French, history in German, casual chat in Luxembourgish, and English is compulsory too, so that no one leaves school without being multilingual.

Episode 4 – Monolingual Societies

Synopsis: Presenter Simon Calder is from Britain, where, on the surface, everyone speaks English. In Brazil everyone appears to speak Portuguese, in Russia, Russian. But scratch the surface, and other languages appear, and not just those of immigrants. Simon meets speakers of indigenous languages (like Welsh in Britain), of dialects (like Moselfrankish in Germany) and vernaculars (like African-American Vernacular English, in the US). These speakers all use the mainstream language every day, but code-switch to their variants, questioning whether their societies are monolingual. Is there even something sinister and oppressive to the idea of monolingualism? A tool to control, used by emperors on conquered peoples, and by governments on immigrants?

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The Superlinguists was produced by Arlene Gregorius for the BBC World Service in partnership with the Open University. All of the synopses shown above were taken from the BBC website. 

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This article was originally published on LinguaHorizons. If you would like to hire me to write for your site or blog, please contact me for a free, no-obligation quote. All enquiries will be dealt with within 48 hours. 

Say it in Dutch – Podcast in Slow Dutch

Say it in Dutch banner

One of my long-term goals is to get my Dutch up to the C2 CEFR level, so I’m always seeking out podcasts and other affordable resources to help me improve my listening comprehension skills. That’s how I stumbled upon the Say it in Dutch podcast, a Dutch-language podcast series run by a language school based in Groningen.

Each episode runs for an average of 20-25 minutes and covers a wide range of topics, including the Eurovision Song Contest, sports, seasonal traditions, national politics, Dutch art, and the anti-vax movement. What sets this podcast apart is its use of clips from other Dutch-language media (including news reports and TV dramas), its focus on current affairs and culture, and the fact that each episode is entirely in Dutch, albeit delivered at a clearer, slower pace.

All new words, idioms, expressions, and cultural titbits are explained in Dutch, so this podcast is not ideal for beginners but rather is aimed at those who have mastered the language to at least the B1 CEFR level. Episode transcripts exist but these must be purchased from their store, starting from € 3.75 per transcript.

Take your Nederlands to the next level by checking out the Say it in Dutch SoundCloud account, visiting the Say it in Dutch Idioms blog, or following them on Twitter.

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If you would like to hire me to write for your site or blog, please contact me for a free, no-obligation quote. All enquiries will be dealt with within 48 hours.