SpanishPod101 Review: Well-rounded Spanish Audio Lessons but Could Be More Interactive and Immersive
SpanishPod101 is a program that teaches Spanish with short audio and video lessons.
Listening is centrally important to language acquisition but it’s a skill that we language learners often neglect, making the transition from “classroom Spanish” to “real Spanish” quite difficult.
I tried out SpanishPod101’s audio-based language learning program to see it lives up to its promise to fix this problem.
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Description: Innovative Language's Spanish learning program.
Languages offered: Spanish.
Offer price: Some free content; monthly subscription from $8/month up to $47/month
SpanishPod101 offers a wealth of useful audio and video resources for Spanish learners. The choice between dialects and the focus on audio with variable speeds is helpful for beginners. There are fewer interactive features than in other similar programs out there, but the lessons are thorough and have supporting resources.
User friendliness - 7/10
Delivers on promises - 9/10
Authenticity - 8/10
Value for price - 5/10
- Uses high-quality native speech
- Lessons are very flexible
- Grammar and culture notes are included with each lesson
- Assessments for the Premium membership are only writing-based
- Lesson pathways are not very user-friendly to navigate
- Audio lessons use a lot of English
- SpanishPod101: Exploring the Features
- Pricing for SpanishPod101
- SpanishPod101: Strengths and Weaknesses
- SpanishPod101 Review: The Verdict
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SpanishPod101: Exploring the Features
When I signed up for SpanishPod101, the program automatically started me on a one-week free trial of a Premium membership.
We’ll break down the pricing later on in the post but in short: the Premium level membership lets me access all the lessons and individual study features in the program.
I’ll walk you through the features and what it’s like to use the SpanishPod101 mobile app.
Choose between five skill levels or “learning paths”
The program had me first pick my skill level, referred to as a “Learning Path.” You can pick one of five paths: Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate or Advanced.
If you aren’t sure about your level, don’t worry too much about which one to pick. You can change your learning path at any time. And you can take lessons from any learning path, regardless of which one you have set.
Lesson library sorted by type and difficulty
The lessons are organized into pathways that are grouped as either series or playlists, and you can filter the list so you only see pathways in your level.
You should be assigned a curated lesson pathway when you pick your level. The “Lessons” section of the app will let you pick up where you left off on that pathway, or find new pathways to follow.
You can also adjust the lesson library to show you either video lessons, audio lessons or both.
Each pathway consists of about 10-20 lessons grouped around a common theme.
For example, the “Classic SPod101 Absolute Beginner” pathway will cover broad fundamentals while more focused pathways include “Before You Travel: Mexican Survival Phrases” and “Speaking Perfect Spanish at a Restaurant.”
Audio and video lessons
When you enter a pathway’s playlist, you see the audio or video lessons listed in a suggested order. You can listen to or watch them in any order you’d like, however.
The audio lessons are a lot like podcasts. They contain a dialogue in Spanish with English used to introduce the scene and its context.
The dialogues I listened to were demonstrated by native speakers, then repeated slowly and then repeated again at normal speed with English translations.
The presenters then give grammar explanations and cultural notes in English, and then review the vocabulary and translate it.
The video lessons benefitted from also having visual aids and optional subtitles. I found that they tended to be a bit more interactive and engaging, using visual prompts to encourage interaction with the material.
Each audio and video track lets you slow down the speed or speed it up. This was a big help to me as an intermediate learner who’s comprehension skills have usually lagged well behind my reading and speaking ability.
Also, the speed-up feature can help more knowledgeable learners move quickly through explanations of grammar or vocabulary.
Lessons include helpful text and interactive resources
The audio and video lessons are all accompanied by resources like a lesson transcript, vocab list, lesson notes and a line-by-line run-through of the dialogue in both Spanish and English.
You can also download the lessons for later, making it great for on-the-go learning. This lets you incorporate SpanishPod101’s lessons into your daily commute or listen to them anywhere else you might want to get in a bit of language-learning.
Includes assessments to measure your progress
In addition to the diagnostic test at the start, the curated learning pathways have multiple choice assessments. The tests appear on the playlist once every three to four lessons and let you review what you’ve learned so far in the playlist.
The assessments in SpanishPod101 are all text-based, without any listening-based exercises. This might feel a bit strange given the program’s teaching method, but it can be a good way to make sure you’re retaining vocabulary and grammar.
When you complete one of these tests, you can go back through the questions to review which ones you got right and wrong, with the correct answers revealed.
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.
This is helpful for travelers looking to understand the customs in the places where they’re going, as well as anyone who is interacts with Spanish speakers in their daily life and wants to understand their cultures better.
I tried out the “Advanced Audio Blog 2: Mexico” pathway, which offers lessons on aspects of Mexican culture such as Day of the Dead, Quinceañeras, tianguis (markets) and riding the Mexico City subway.
I was able to work through grammar and cultural pathways simultaneously, which made it easier to balance grammar with cultural learning.
There are also cultural notes in the audio and video lessons themselves. These help give cultural context to the bits of language you are hearing, so you understand politeness rules and why certain things are said in certain situations.
Study different dialects of Spanish
Even in their first Absolute Beginner lessons, SpanishPod101 emphasizes the variety of dialects that exist across the Spanish-speaking world.
While different Spanish dialects are all mutually intelligible for native speakers, the differences between dialects (especially between European and Latin American varieties) can be significant enough to confuse learners.
For that reason, I’ve found that being able to study specific dialects to be a very important and welcome feature in Spanish language learning apps.
For example, there are video clusters for Mexican Spanish, Peruvian Spanish, Iberian Spanish and more. As students progress into the more advanced pathways, they can choose to hone in on even more specific regional dialects.
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.
Pricing for SpanishPod101
SpanishPod101 can be accessed in part with a free membership. But to take full advantage of the program, you can opt for one of three different membership tiers.
Each tier lets you either pay for one, three, six or 12 months at a time, with better deals if you pay for more months at a time.
The following is a break down of the SpanishPod101 membership tiers, by price:
A free account with SpanishPod101 lets you access:
- Lessons on 100 core words and phrases in Spanish
- The first three lessons of each pathway
- A course with 50+ survival phrases for real life situations covered in 3-15 minute audio lessons
- A library of 100+ themed vocabulary lists
- A Spanish “word of the day” feature
The Basic membership is $8/month if you pay by the month but runs as low as $5/month if you pay by the year.
In addition to the free features, a basic membership gives you access to:
- SpanishPod101’s complete archive of audio and video lessons
- In-depth lesson notes with translations and explanations for each lesson
The Premium membership to SpanishPod101 costs $25/month if you pay monthly and as little as $15/month if you pay yearly.
In addition to everything from the previous levels, the premium membership features:
- Lessons on 2,000 core words and phrases in Spanish
- Line-by-line transcripts of audio lessons with translations and breakdowns of the Spanish
- Exclusive review and dialogue tracks for every lesson
- Vocabulary lists (with audio) for every lesson and pathway
- HD quality for video lessons
- A personalized word bank where you can save words for future review
- Spaced repetition flashcards to improve your language retention
- Study tools like multiple choice tests, pronunciation practice tools and quick daily lessons
The Premium+ membership level gives learners access to ongoing, personalized instruction and assessments from a Spanish teacher.
The Premium+ membership costs $47/month if paid monthly and as little as $26.33/month if paid yearly.
Premium+ membership gives you access to:
- 1-on-1 interaction with Spanish teachers
- Weekly assignments covering a wide
- Hand-graded assessments of speaking and writing skills
- Personalized assessment from Spanish specialists
If you’re looking to try out SpanishPod101’s Premium membership before paying for a membership, new users are currently able to access all lessons and premium features for free for the first 7 days after signing up for an account.
SpanishPod101: Strengths and Weaknesses
Where SpanishPod101 succeeds
High-quality native speech
The recording and performance quality of the audio lessons in SpanishPod101 is at a high level. And the speech feels like authentic conversations, particularly at higher levels of difficulty.
I’ve found that extremely slow, exaggerated or unnatural Spanish speech doesn’t help much when trying to learn to understand native speakers in everyday conversation.
SpanishPod101’s audio is mostly very natural and sounds like native speaker language more often than not. The performers perhaps do at times speak a bit more clearly than they would in everyday speech, especially in easier levels.
Flexibility with lesson plan
SpanishPod101 does not lock you into a single linear learning track. This is a useful feature for anyone who’s learning Spanish for a very specific purpose (like travel or work).
This is also very helpful for anyone who’s picking up their learning where they left off years ago, since you can follow learning paths at multiple skill levels
In my case, I found I preferred following learning paths at both the upper beginner and intermediate levels since my Spanish knowledge is uneven and I remember some grammar rules better than others.
Grammar and culture explanations augment the audio learning
Grammar and culture explanations are both built into the lessons and have extra lessons and materials dedicated just to those topics.
This I found especially valuable because grammar explanations can sometimes be missing from audio immersion programs.
While immersion is sometimes focused on teaching by example only, explanations are important when working with rules that don’t exist in your native language.
And cultural notes help you understand politeness rules and similar practical information about using the language effectively with native speakers.
Where SpanishPod101 comes up short
Assessments are entirely text based
The assessments are a feature only offered at a Premium membership and above, but after trying them I think they seem somewhat disconnected from the way the program works.
Despite the lessons themselves being audio and video based, the assessments don’t really test you on comprehension or anything other than reading skills.
While SpanishPod101 is mostly an audio and video listening app, the opportunities to test out your skills are limited overall.
The different pathways and lessons could be easier to navigate
The SpanishPod101 mobile and web app lets you sort the playlists and lessons by difficulty and whether they are audio or video based.
But there aren’t really any other ways to sort the pathways other than searching specific terms. Most of the time, looking for new lessons means browsing a large list to find what you’re looking for.
The audio lessons contain a lot of English
If you’re looking for a fully immersive video and audio experience in Spanish, the SpanishPod101 program might not be exactly what you had in mind.
While explanations for the grammar and culture are useful for learners (especially if you’re a beginner), the English in the lessons sometimes feels excessive and it’s a while before your listening skills are really challenged.
As an immersion-based online program, FluentU can be a good supplement to SpanishPod101.
FluentU’s approach is more about learning a language in context, through the medium of authentic videos from around the Spanish speaking world.
These videos include news reports, tutorials, travel vlogs and all kinds of video content made by and for native speakers.
The videos on FluentU come with interactive subtitles that let you click on any word or phrase for an instant definition, pronunciation guide and sentence examples.
After watching a video, multimedia flashcards and fun quizzes help you review what you’ve learned. This sort of interactive multi-skill review may help make up for some of what is missing in SpanishPod101’s review system.
Between the focused audio lessons (along with grammar and cultural lessons) of SpanishPod101 and the immersive video learning method of FluentU, you’ll have a well-rounded Spanish study system.
SpanishPod101 Review: The Verdict
SpanishPod101 offers a wealth of useful audio and video resources for Spanish learners.
The extensive English explanation means that it’s not a fully immersive method, so the audio lessons are more helpful if you’re at a beginner or intermediate level of Spanish.
The dialect choices mean it’s very helpful if you need to communicate in a specific group of speakers or if you’re planning to travel to a certain region of Latin America. And the focus on audio (and variable speeds) will help learners keep their comprehension skills up to speed as they learn.
The interactivity in the app is not as extensive as many Spanish learning programs out there (particularly ones with more game-like learning systems), but the lessons are very thorough in their explanations and come with a a lot of extra resources to help you.
In my opinion, the Basic membership is likely not worth it — you get all of the lessons but none of the really valuable resources like line-by-line audio replay and practice tests. If you plan to upgrade, the Premium membership will get you the most bang for your buck.
That said, the free membership is a good place to start, particularly for complete beginners. It will give you a sense of how the audio lessons flow and whether this will be an ideal method for your learning style.
All in all, SpanishPod101 a well-rounded learning method for honing your listening comprehension skills while learning about the Spanish language and the different cultures that speak it.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)