An honest, in-depth review of Spanish Pod 101 for Spanish language learners
I’m often asked about my favorite, go-to resources for learning Spanish. As a beginner or even intermediate Spanish learner, it can be hard to find effective material that’s appropriate for your level.
Since no one approach works for everyone, it’s important to test out different things to figure out what works best for you.
To save you a little time, I thought I’d give you some insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly about one option that you should definitely explore: Spanish Pod 101.
What is Spanish Pod 101?
Spanish Pod 101 is a subscription-based service that gives you access to a library of Spanish lessons in a podcast format. Although there is some video available, it’s mostly an audio program with dialogues followed by conversations that break down grammar, word usage, and cultural notes.
(Note: The website automatically loads and plays a video when you visit the home page, so make sure you use your headphones or mute your speakers before going to the site.)
This approach helps you learn and improve your listening comprehension, with the guidance of transcripts and explanations that give context to what you’re learning. It’s like eavesdropping on Spanish conversations and having a friend explain to you exactly what just happened.
Let’s take a look at its strengths and weaknesses, so you can decide if you should add it to your language learning arsenal.
Spanish Pod 101 provides a website interface and mobile app option. You can download lesson audio and lesson notes, and the mobile app has a clean, easy-to-use design.
The lessons are also fairly short, which is good if you’re pressed for time. Generally, lessons are between 8 – 20 minutes depending on the level and topic.
With the premium option, you can choose to listen to just the dialogue in Spanish without all of the explanation in English, view a lesson guide, a line-by-line transcript of the audio, a vocabulary list with audio, plus take quizzes to test your comprehension.
Learn Based On Your Level
Each lesson is designed for a specific level, from newbie to advanced Spanish learners. This is a nice feature, since it can be daunting to listen to a full blown 30-minute conversation when you’re just starting out.
As you progress through different levels, you’ll notice the amount of English you hear decreases. The length of the dialogues also increases, with beginner lessons only covering one or two short lines with lots of repetition.
More advanced lessons have longer conversations and less repetition, although the translation to English doesn’t really go away until you get to the advanced level.
Personalized Learning Path
The dashboard helps you keep track of your progress and lessons. You can see how many lessons you have completed and the amount of time you have spent studying. You can also add your favorite lessons to the dashboard so you can easily find them later.
With the premium account, you can create a deck of flashcards and make your own word bank. It also allows you to organize your words by category for easy studying. Different learning tracks are available for guidance and structure, but you can choose lessons in any order you like.
Mostly Practical Content
There are many lessons that are wonderfully practical and simple, like how to read a bus ticket, how to purchase something in a market, or how to introduce yourself.
There are other lessons and words chosen for the vocabulary lists that are not so practical, like cazador de recompensas (bounty hunter) in the list of common professions. I think the creators were trying to keep learning fun by throwing some random words into the lists but bounty hunter? Really?
Overall, what you’ll learn is from conversations that are based on real life interactions. That is far better than spending time with an app that just teaches you vocabulary you may never use.
One of the biggest strengths of Spanish Pod 101 (in my humble opinion) is the amount of cultural insight they provide. You can select the “culture file” for a country and learn about the traditions, superstitions, and country specific language.
The different learning topics are also separated by country. For example, if you want to learn about “Dining Out” you can choose from Mexican, Latin American, Iberian, or Peruvian Spanish. Since dialects do differ greatly from country to country, this is an incredibly helpful tool.
The Regional Spanish Series is great if you’re about to travel to a country. I personally found the Costa Rica Regional Series super helpful before my trip to Costa Rica a few years back. I learned many local expressions (beyond the commonly known “pura vida”), which made it less jarring when I heard them during my trip. This is a big plus and a highly recommend it.
Now that we’ve talked about what’s great about Spanish Pod 101, let’s look at what could be better…
The Not So Good
It seems different regions are randomly used throughout all lessons and sometimes without warning.
While I appreciate being exposed to different accents and cultures, it can be difficult to figure out which one you’re listening to (especially when using the app version). For example, in the intermediate series it took half an episode before it was even mentioned that the dialogue was about Argentina.
While this is great (I didn’t even know they had Argentine Spanish because it’s not advertised on the site), it’s also super confusing if you’re not aware of the differences in vocabulary and accent from this region. A simple country flag next to each lesson would help eliminate this issue.
I will say, however, that the series is overwhelmingly Mexican Spanish. So when in doubt, assume the vocabulary you’re learning can be understood in Mexico. Particularly the more informal dialogues where a group of friends are getting lost looking for a friend’s house or there’s an argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend (yes, these are actual conversations you’ll find and they can be pretty entertaining at times.)
Many of the lessons are great, but other made me feel like I was listening to a cheesy high school radio production with poor attempts at humor and obvious reading directly (and robotically) from a script.
I think they were going for the laidback, light-hearted feel, but some of the tracks were downright cringe-worthy. Especially the introduction series that gives you information about the program. Por favor do your ears a favor and just skip that part.
My suggestion would be find a host you like, and listen to their lessons. I personally am a fan of JP and Liliana, because they sound natural and provide great insights into culture, grammar, and word usage. Any lessons with the 2 of them together are a big plus.
It’s a little difficult to figure out, so I’ll show you how to search by host:
- First, you’ll have to click the search icon and type something in the box for the Advanced Search option to appear.
- Once on the Advanced Search page, click Show filters.
- You’ll now see a drop-down box with a list of host names. Select your favorite and click the search button.
- While we’re here, you can also get really specific and search within the lessons to find a word, topic, or grammar subject.
Too Much English
I like that the lessons are leveled and are very accessible to anyone, but I think they are relying way too much on English instruction. At the beginner level, the lessons are at least 95% English and even the upper intermediate level has English explanations. This can be frustrating if you’re trying to improve your Spanish listening comprehension, and just as you get into the groove it’s broken up by reverting back to English.
My suggestion would be to listen to the entire episode with explanations once, then spend more time just listening to the Spanish-only versions of the dialogues you’ve reviewed before. This will give you the listening practice you need to improve your aural comprehension.
No Speaking Practice
Spanish Pod 101 is great for improving your listening comprehension and even pronunciation. If you read the subtitles in the videos, or have the premium version for flashcards, it could also help with reading comprehension as well. However, writing and speaking practice are non-existent. This is true of many apps, but it’s worth noting if you think you can just listen your way to fluency without ever speaking to a human.
The price of the membership levels quoted on the website. At first, it seems it’s a very reasonable $4 – $23 per month, until you go to check out. Here are the levels offered on the website at the time of this writing:
So, I decide to go with the premium plus subscription at $23/month.
But when I go to check out, I find that the premium plus option is actually $47/month unless I make a 2-year commitment and upfront payment. Not cool.
A simple “as low as” before the quoted prices, or quoting the highest price and advertising “save more with X-month membership” would be a better way to communicate this in my opinion.
But the good news is, they often run promotions that give you a nice discount on joining.
And, even though it’s pretty sparse, you can start with a free account to test drive it before you sign up…
The Bottom Line
Overall, Spanish Pod 101 is a great resource for learning real-world Spanish and tuning your ear to understanding spoken Spanish. It’s a great tool for listening comprehension at a pace that is appropriate for your level.
I would recommend Spanish Pod for beginner to intermediate learners that are looking for more exposure to hearing native Spanish speakers in a variety of contexts and subject areas.
It will help you get used to hearing and understanding Spanish in a conversational tone, and not the textbook examples with excruciatingly slow speech using extremely formal language that you may only encounter when transacting business and travel tasks in Spanish.
The availability of the app and short lesson length also make it easy to learn a little while you’re on the go, so it’s ideal for busy language learners as well.
If you’re looking for a more guided or structured approach, however, you’ll need to supplement Spanish Pod with other resources.
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¡Hola! My name is Tamara Marie. I’m a language coach specializing in brain-friendly methods to learn foreign languages faster. I speak English (US native), Spanish (advanced), and Brazilian Portuguese (beginner). I’m a Latin music & dance addict and passionate about helping people learn languages.