With Internet blogs beginning to challenge traditional print media, it was only a matter of time before a new medium broke radio's traditional choke hold on free audio programming. Enter podcasts, the downloadable MP3 audio files that feature mixes of music and chatter created by amateurs worldwide. Although many of these podcasts so far have been little more than running commentaries on daily life or digital mix tapes from computer-savvy teenagers, the format should lend itself nicely to disseminating free educational content.

In Japan, many are taking advantage of this new medium and bringing a high-tech twist to age-old language learning. Almost a dozen active educational Japanese podcasts have appeared in the last few months, ranging from basic lessons on daily greetings to advanced vocabulary builders.

Users can download the files for free from the iTunes Music Store or other Internet sites and listen at their convenience, rather than be tied down by fixed radio or TV scheduling. As most lessons are around 15 minutes, listeners can pack a couple for the daily commute.