Imagine this all-too-common language-learning scenario:
You’re traveling to Latin America for the first time. You took a few years of high-school Spanish way back when and you’re confident you’ll be able to muddle your way through a basic Spanish conversation.
You hop off the plane and… suddenly you’re surrounded by a world of fast-talking native speakers using incomprehensible slang.
Your years of reviewing pluscuamperfecto tense conjugations didn’t prepare you for this!
Research has shown that listening is centrally important to language acquisition. But it’s a skill that many language learners don’t consistently work on until they’re immersed in a foreign country. This can make the transition from “classroom Spanish” to “real Spanish” quite difficult.
Luckily, a number of online language-learning programs built around audio and video materials promise to fix that problem. One such program is our very own FluentU.
Another, the subject of this review, is SpanishPod101.
Read on to learn about SpanishPod101’s audio-based language learning program to see if it might be right for you.
SpanishPod101 Review: Low-cost and Effective Spanish Learning
What Is SpanishPod101?
SpanishPod101 is an online audio- and video-based language-learning program. It’s organized by language ability at four different levels: Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Within each level, you’ll find different clusters of videos called “pathways.”
Each pathway contains a multitude of video and audio resources with accompanying learning materials.
It’s worth noting that although there are many choices available, they’re largely comprised of lessons geared toward learners (we’ll talk more about this later in this review). If you’re interested in more authentic content, you can pair the videos on SpanishPod101 with over 1,000 real-world videos available on FluentU.
While some of the videos on SpanishPod101 focus specifically on grammar or vocabulary, others are geared toward cultural learning. In all cases—even in grammar-focused videos—the emphasis is on listening and responding. In this way, SpanishPod101 is similar to our own program at FluentU: both place listening comprehension in the foreground.
Even in their first Absolute Beginner lessons, SpanishPod101 emphasizes the variety of dialects that exist across the Spanish-speaking world. As students progress into the more advanced pathways, they can choose to hone in on specific regional dialects. For example, there are video clusters for Mexican Spanish, Peruvian Spanish, Iberian Spanish and more. (You must be signed in to your SpanishPod101 account to follow those links.)
Everyone who signs up for SpanishPod101 gains access to a free lifetime membership. There are also opportunities to upgrade to a Basic package ($4/month), a Premium package ($10/month) and a Premium Plus package ($23/month).
The Best Features of SpanishPod101’s Free Membership
Later in this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of upgrading to a paid SpanishPod101 membership. But for now, we’ll focus on the perks of its free lifetime membership.
Here are some of the best features available at SpanishPod101:
As mentioned above, SpanishPod101 is organized by pathways. Each pathway consists of about 10-20 lessons grouped around a common theme.
The “Absolute Beginner” level alone contains more than 50 pathways. For example, you can choose a pathway to practice “going out” Spanish in either Costa Rica, Mexico or Peru. Some other offerings include “Absolute Beginner European Spanish for Every Day,” “Before You Travel: Mexican Survival Phrases” and “Speaking Perfect Spanish at a Restaurant.”
In addition to these travel-focused pathways, you’ll also find pathways geared towards building a language-learning foundation. The “Classic SPod101 Absolute Beginner” Pathway uses real-world dialogues to teach learners basic grammatical concepts such as question words, direct object pronouns, comparisons, telling time and the verb tener (to have).
The pathway system is a huge advantage of SpanishPod101. It allows users some level of freedom and choice in determining their language-learning program. For instance, a learner who’s about to travel to Peru can learn some “emergency Spanish” (just in case), while an absolute beginner more interested in building a broad Spanish foundation can choose a more grammatically-oriented pathway.
At the same time, the pathways offer an important sense of internal structure: each video in a pathway builds upon the previous one, so users can customize their language-learning experience without the sense that they’re just picking lessons completely at random.
Longer Grammar Lessons and Shorter Cultural Lessons
The mix of grammar and cultural knowledge also makes SpanishPod101 a great resource. This is especially pronounced as users move into the “Intermediate” and “Advanced” levels.
For example, the “Intermediate Spanish Grammar” pathway contains 20 lessons, each about 20 minutes long, that cover topics such as the simple conditional tense, the present subjunctive tense, adverbs and indirect object pronouns.
On the other hand, the “Advanced Audio Blogs: Mexico” pathway offers 19 five-minute audio lessons on various aspects of Mexican culture, such as Day of the Dead, Mexican Christmas, Quinceañeras, tianguis (markets) and riding the Mexico City subway.
Users can work through these two pathways simultaneously, balancing grammar with cultural learning to get a fun and customizable language-learning experience.
The Ability to Slow Down and Speed Up
As mentioned previously, SpanishPod101 is an almost entirely audio- and video-based language-learning program.
Each audio/video track is equipped with handy slow-down and speed-up buttons. These allow you to replay the track at 50% or 75% of its original speed, 25%, 50% or 75% faster or even twice or three times its original speed.
The slow-down feature is immensely helpful for users who feel that they’re between levels. A learner transitioning from intermediate to advanced pathways can slow the audio down to understand rapid spoken Spanish while building confidence and comprehension skills.
On the other hand, the speed-up feature can help users move quickly through English-language explanations of grammatical concepts or vocabulary, in order to devote as much time as possible to the Spanish immersion aspect.
All of the lessons available through SpanishPod101 are fully downloadable, making this program great for on-the-go learning. You can incorporate SpanishPod101’s lessons into your daily commute or listen to them on a plane, in the gym or anywhere else you might want to get in a bit of language-learning.
Who Should Use SpanishPod101?
While SpanishPod101 offers plenty of content for all levels of Spanish learners, it isn’t for everyone. If you fall under the following categories, you’ll benefit the most from this program.
People Planning a Trip to Spain or Latin America
As mentioned, SpanishPod101 is heavy on listening comprehension. Its pathways are also organized into regional dialects, with specific resources for Mexican, Peruvian, Costa Rican, general Latin American and European Spanish. This makes SpanishPod101 a great way to prepare if you’re traveling to one specific region since you can focus on its typical slang, vocabulary and accent.
Many of the pathways are oriented around travel-based “survival Spanish,” covering topics such as ordering in a restaurant, going grocery shopping, asking for help and navigating public transit. This also makes SpanishPod101 a great resource for travelers!
Almost all of SpanishPod101’s lessons, even from the Absolute Beginner level, feature native speakers talking about cultural and social practices in their home countries. As users progress into more advanced pathways, they can learn about Spanish holidays, festivals, local music, art and history in a variety of Spanish-speaking cultures.
Those drawn to FluentU for its wide variety of real-world video offerings will likely also enjoy SpanishPod101’s culture-heavy content.
Upper-Beginner to Intermediate Learners
SpanishPod101 has a wealth of Spanish-language resources, but it’s not intended as an immersion program. Even the advanced level contains English-language interventions, explanations and translations. The audio files, while recorded by native speakers, are still clearly intended as language-learning materials.
These features make SpanishPod101 a great resource for intermediate learners, but advanced speakers or those wanting to use authentic resources to learn might miss the “immersion” experience and real-world resources offered by other programs, like FluentU.
In fact, as we mentioned before, FluentU makes an excellent supplement to SpanishPod101 if you enjoy learning with videos. That’s because while SpanishPod focuses on teaching, FluentU uses authentic videos made by and for native speakers to reinforce your learning in a natural and fun way.
Every one of FluentU’s videos comes with interactive Spanish subtitles. Just click on any word for an instant definition, grammar info and examples. After you’re done watching the video, multimedia flashcards and fun quizzes will ensure that you remember what you’ve learned.
The videos are organized by level (beginner through advanced), genre and format so it’s easy to find the ones that work for you. The program will also keep track of what you’ve learned and suggest new content based on that info.
You can use FluentU anywhere with the mobile apps for iOS or Android.
Between the grammar and cultural lessons of SpanishPod101 and the gamified learning method of FluentU, you now have a well-rounded, totally entertaining Spanish program wherever you go!
Should I Upgrade to SpanishPod101 Premium?
SpanishPod101 has a vast library of premium content that users can access by upgrading to a paid membership. However, much of their content is also available through their free lifetime membership, as noted above.
A Basic membership ($4/month) will gain you access to SpanishPod101’s complete archive of audio learning materials. For more features, you’ll have to upgrade to a Premium membership ($10/month).
The Premium membership also has some pretty cool language-learning features, including flashcards, line-by-line transcription and translation of audio materials, lesson-specific quizzes and daily one-minute mini-lessons on a variety of cultural and grammatical topics.
Our verdict is that the Basic membership is likely not worth it—if you plan to upgrade, the Premium membership will get you the most bang for your buck.
That said, the free lifetime membership is a good place to start, particularly for complete beginners.
Curious about the Premium membership but not sure if it’s your speed? Luckily for you, SpanishPod101 offers 30 days of its Premium membership to new members for just $1.
SpanishPod101 Review: The Verdict
SpanishPod101 offers a wealth of audio and video resources for Spanish learners.
It’s particularly helpful if you’re at a beginner or intermediate level of Spanish or if you’re planning to travel to a region of Latin America.
We recommend that language-learners integrate the free resources on SpanishPod101 with the multitudes of authentic, real-world language-learning content available on FluentU.
All in all, it’s a fantastic way to hone your listening comprehension skills while learning about the Spanish language and the different cultures that speak it.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.