Want to learn a language, start gardening, read more, or get into meditation for the new year? There’s a podcast for that …
Radio Lingua was among the first to recognise the potential of podcasts for language learning, launching Coffee Break Spanish in 2006. Now the network has a huge range of free materials for learners at every level – and not just Spanish but also French, German, Italian, Chinese, Swedish and English. Each episode follows the structure of a lesson, with native speakers talking as they would on the streets of Paris or Cologne, and an experienced teacher to explain it all. With episodes running for 20 to 30 minutes, it is easy to make practice part of your daily routine. Absolute beginners should start at season one.
There are many podcasts that rhapsodise about the joys of running, or debate which gels will fuel your best ever marathon – but if you are just starting, you’re probably more concerned with the need-to-know. Run to the Top, hosted by Claire Bartholic is perfect for beginners who are yet to make running a habit. Advice is always offered with the sensible caveat that “no two runners are the same”, and is inclusive of different goals and experience levels (discussion of weight loss, for example, is restricted to dedicated episodes). I have been a regular Parkrunner for years, and take a tip or two from each episode to try on a Saturday morning. If you are not yet at that stage, Couch to 5K really is as effective as everyone says. If you have the specific goal of training for a marathon, Marathon Training Academy comes highly recommended. I myself cannot speak to its effectiveness.
If you have struggled to take meditation from a sticking plaster you reach for in moments of crisis, to a regular practice, Ten Percent Happier may help. Host Dan Harris wrote the 2014 bestseller of the same name about how he came to find “self-help that actually works” after having a panic attack on live television. His podcast includes interviews with experts on how to make mindfulness a part of daily life: from approaching tough conversations to managing work stress and finding self-acceptance. Many of the guided meditations are only 10 minutes long.
Jill McSheehy’s “gardening adventure” began eight years ago, when her family was adjusting to a single income. She wanted to learn how to grow her own fruit, vegetables and herbs to save money, but encountered a steep learning curve. In 2017, she started this podcast to share what she had learned with others. McSheehy’s commitment to experimenting, in her 3,000 sq ft plot in Arkansas, sees her learn alongside her listeners. Recent episodes share the results of her attempts to deter cabbage caterpillars, and growing potatoes, tomatoes and onions.
On this “literary matchmaking podcast”, host Anne Bogel talks to a listener about their “reading life”: the books they never wanted to end, the ones they couldn’t finish, and what is stopping them from reading more regularly – then makes suggestions for what they might read next. It’s refreshingly realistic on how reading can be something many of us struggle to make time for, as much as we may love it. Bogel makes unpretentious recommendations, leading her guests to a book that they can’t wait to read, rather than one they think they should. You will inevitably end up reading more. I loved an idea from a recent episode of a birthday challenge of reading one book for every year of your life – I’ve got three months to finalise my list of 31.

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