The Whole World Audio Extravaganza

Even though I’ve lived in Israel since 1980, I’m still pretty much an Anglophone. Give me a book in Hebrew and maybe it will be finished sometime this year. Give me a book in English, most likely it will be done by the weekend.

The same thing happens to me when listening to audio. Having grown up in the American Midwest, where speech is slow and deliberate, speaking and listening to Hebrew is something of an uphill struggle in 1st gear. While still at uni back in the 70’s, my Hebrew professor warned us that Hebrew is spoken quickly, but in our classroom environment he never duplicated experiencing a conversation between native Hebrew speakers.  Whenever I’m around native Hebrew speakers, I know they’re slowing down their conversation so the non-native speakers can keep up.

But I digress.


Somewhere around 2006 (which is, not coincidentally, when I bought my Rio Carbon 5G) I discovered BBC’s podcasts, which covered a huge breadth of topics, from history to comedy to interviews to documentaries, in addition to the World Service news programs. Granted in 2006 the weekly roundup of available programs for listening was only huge. Jump to 2009-2010 and “huge” has become “gargantuan”. The number of available podcasts, which range between 7 minutes to 50 plus minutes, now number somewhere around 260 and are not only in English, but there are also special programs for speakers of Gaelic, Russian, Persian, Arabic, Chinese and other languages. There are programs covering environmental issues, online life, medicine, the arts, sports, religion, fishing, farming, food, philosophy, women’s issues, Bollywood, music, etc., etc., etc. (Due to licensing restrictions, many music programs are limited to UK listeners only.) With an average of 30 minutes per program, that’s about 5 and a half days’ worth of podcasts one can download and listen to each week! Additionally, most of these podcasts also have their own webpage on the BCC site, so if you want more information about the program you’re listening to, you can look them up on the web. Going even further, some podcasts even have entire Open University courses based on them.

And among all this, bless them, BBC4 worries that they’re not doing enough to promote podcasts. (Though you might want to click and read the caption on that photo.)

The podcast that has captured my imagination, along with about 3 million other people, is “A History of the World in 100 Objects“, or AHOW for short, which is a marvelous marriage of history, archaeology, art, sociology and museum-hopping, some of my favorite subjects. Besides the podcast, which the BBC has said will be available forever, there’s a highly informative website that accompanies and fills out the listening experience. The second series of 30 object starts next week, so if you haven’t listened or experienced this program yet, you can catch up with it this weekend.

Most of BBC’s podcasts are available for listening and download only for a week following their original broadcast. Besides AHOW the other exception to that policy is BBC World Service’s Documentaries, of which there are now over 500 episodes. The range of topics covered is again enormous and, given my love of language and the subject matter, the two below I found especially wonderful.

Yiddish – A Struggle for Survival Part 1

Yiddish – A Struggle for Survival Part 2

(Disclaimer: please note that the BBC Documentary website allows embedding of these two podcasts in your website under these terms and conditions, however, the script they use is not compatible with © All Rights Reserved BBC)

If you have a special podcast that you’d like to recommend, please leave a link in the comments.


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