UPDATE (Feb 2017): GermanPod101 has made significant improvements over the past few months which I’ve outlined below.
I recently shared the results of some ancestry research I did of my family through Ancestry.com.
After a lot of digging, I was able to pinpoint a village in Germany where my father’s side came from stretching back centuries. Amazing!
The whole thing really piqued my interest in and desire to speak proficient German.
I quickly found though that there aren’t a whole lot of quality resources for learning the language – in particular, resources that suit my learning style.
In addition to finding a cheap German tutor on italki, a Shaum’s German outline and Rocket German, I looked to Innovative Language’s GermanPod101 as a great alternative resource in a podcast and video style format.
With other useful features.
GermanPod101 is a fairly comprehensive resource with lots of audio and video ranging from absolute beginner level right through to advanced, and it’s one of the best online tools available for German.
The major changes to GermanPod101 content navigation
The haphazard structure that characterized most Innovative Language editions has been significantly improved (finally!).
This is through what they’ve called Learning Paths.
Right now as an example, they have a ‘course’ called Mastering Level 1 German which is 124 lessons over approximately 17 hours. It’s linear which means that once you complete a lesson, you move on to the next one sequentially.
I feel that this was a necessary improvement for GermanPod101 and all Innovative editions.
‘Learning Paths’ and the GermanPod101 dashboard
GermanPod101, like other language editions, has an intuitive and detailed dashboard with a lot of features.
I find the ‘Learning Paths’ feature under ‘Lessons’ to be a very handy place to start (a fairly new addition aimed at simplifying navigation for new learners).
These learning paths provide a more structured and linear path (some people just prefer moving from lesson 1 to lesson 2 to lesson 3, and so on).
But it’s optional.
One problem I found is that the paths aren’t necessarily in ascending difficulty – later lessons appear to be easier than some earlier lessons.
Not a major problem but it’s worth noting.
Within each respective difficulty level, you have a choice between video and audio (podcast style) lessons.
These are graded from Absolute Beginner through to Advanced as well as an Introduction category on German culture and history (not really necessary but interesting for some).
Most lessons are topical and reflect real life scenarios in Germany.
I should also note that unlike some language editions, GermanPod101 has a very even number of lessons across all difficulty levels which means that the content is useful for everyone regardless of whether you’re a total beginner or advanced learner.
While I wouldn’t say it’s the most comprehensive language edition from Innovative, GermanPod101 provides a tonne of useful content and bang for buck.
GermanPod101 audio lesson rundown
Audio lessons are presented in a podcast style by a male and female host, Judith and Chuck.
It’s a combination of banter and lesson dialogue, though you can skip the banter and just listen to the dialogue if you prefer (I do). In fact, one minor criticism I have is that the discussions sound like they’re reading monotone off a script.
They make it sound more boring than it is!
If you’re like me and want to get straight to the native dialogue however, you can easily select it.
You can also click on the ‘Line-by-line Audio’ and ‘Vocabulary’ features to listen to specific parts of the German dialogue, as well as the English translation.
Lessons are fully downloadable too – both PDF and MP3.
This is important and means that if didn’t want to stay on and continue paying the subscription, you could download all the lessons to be used offline (I can’t emphasize how important this is).
You’re not restricted to online use.
The PDF notes on every lesson are thorough too – as with other language editions, it has some of the most comprehensive written lesson material I’ve come across.
It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into making it.
For pronunciation help, you’re able to record your voice and compare it to the native German speaker’s voice (or use their correction service as a Premium Plus member).
The quality of GermanPod101 video lessons
Overall: not bad.
The videos by Alisa (see the image above) are great, educational and fun to watch but there are some downright awful videos on there as well.
Just shoddy quality.
It’s clear that with some of the older videos, they’ve taken a bunch of slides and put an irritating music track over it with high volume that makes it hard to hear what’s being said.
As for the higher quality videos by Alisa, they appear to only cover Beginner and Intermediate levels.
The Advanced level videos are great but they’re actually just more audio dialogues over the top of images/slides.
Thankfully there’s plenty of video material on GermanPod101 – enough to keep you occupied for a long time if you’re visual learner.
Additional GermanPod101 features worth mentioning
In addition to the audio and video lessons for GermanPod101, there are extra features accessible in the top navigation of the dashboard.
Some of them – e.g. the grammar section – are a complete and utter waste of time.
It’s basically just a small page of text with a summary of grammar points.
But there are other features like the ‘My Teacher Messenger’ (only available to Premium Plus members) where you can get direct help from a native German speaker, as well as the Word Bank and Phrase List.
These are basically online dictionaries and quite exhaustive with the ability to click and listen.
You can add content from these to the in-built flashcard app (another handy feature) for later study.
Is the GermanPod101 (Innovative) approach effective?
I shot two questions at Innovative Language a while back when I first began reviewing their series. I’ll share their responses again here.
Firstly, on GermanPod101’s teaching methodology:
Innovative Language believes in practical expressions, aligned to CEFR proficiency levels, in the natural context of native speech. Most lessons, then, begin with a dialogue in which a language skill is introduced in context. The rest of the lessons then go on to talk more about the cultural context in which the dialogue takes place, and the key vocabulary, phrases, morphology, and syntax that allow the learner to carry out the particular language task.
I’m a firm believer in this approach (grammar study is not as important as people think it is).
This explains why their grammar section contains such scant detail!
GermanPod101 focuses on real language and grammar instruction is minimal.
I also asked about the liberty that GermanPod101 teachers have with creating new content and this was their response:
The native speakers who create the content have a lot of freedom to choose what they teach, though we have a few standard series, such as Survival Phrases, that teach roughly the same kinds of expressions across all of our languages.
Innovative Language lessons are aligned to CEFR levels, and we typically ask that teachers try to teach to a standardized set of internal Can Do statements when preparing the dialogues and the grammar and vocabulary information.
While there is definitely some clear consistency in topics covered with the lower difficulty levels, you find that in the higher GermanPod101 lessons (Intermediate to Advanced), the teachers go ahead and employ their own creativity a lot more.
This is great in terms of variety but also leads to haphazard content structure.
GermanPod101 have kept some consistency on quality and content however, and the new ‘Learning Paths’ feature I mentioned above has helped tremendously.
Overall it’s a great tool and one of the better Innovative Language editions available.
If you’d like to try GermanPod101 for yourself then you make a trial 7 day account right here.
Used GermanPod101 before? Comment below! 🙂
Reviewed by Donovan Nagel.