For some, the humble podcast is already something of an anachronism in the modern technological landscape. Nonetheless, they still have great value in the realm of language learning. In today's article, we'll be looking at what types of podcasts language learners of different levels can benefit from, as well as the many advantages they have over other listening materials.
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🤔 What is a Podcast?
It's first essential for us to be clear on exactly what we mean by a podcast. This is a term first popularized back in the mid-2000s as a downloadable broadcast of audio material --- and typically for free --- via a specific online platform. In the beginning it resided with Apple users, which is where the term originates.
In 2020, however, users can enjoy podcasts from a huge range of sources, including Google Podcasts, Castbox, Pocket Casts, Overcast, Stitcher Radio and many more. Most of these platforms are free, but some offer low-price subscriptions (e.g. Pocket Casts, $1/month) as a way to allow some users to gain access to premium features.
🎧 What are Some Examples of Language-Learning Podcasts?
Truth be told, there are now countless podcasts dedicated to helping people master a range of languages. Broadly speaking, learners should categorize them into two types depending on what exactly they want to get out of listening to them.
Type 1 - Second-Language Dedicated Podcasts
These include podcasts that are made specifically targeting second-language learners. They usually feature a range of content, including lesson-based podcasts which teach you language points, followed by some dialogue or other example that demonstrates it. Language speed and difficulty is tailored to the specific target audience, and is generally slower than those podcasts we will show in type 2.
Prominent examples include "The Fluent Show," "ESL Pod," "News in Slow" (French, Italian, Spanish), and many more.
Type 2 - Native-Level Podcasts
The second type of podcast of which language can take advantage is the more general informational podcasts that are not necessarily made with language learners in mind. These are general-interest podcasts, frequently linked with news, current affairs or other informational content. They are enjoyed by many native speakers, but also provide higher-intermediate and advanced language learners with a platform on which to hone their listening skills, taking them to new heights.
Possibly the most famous example would be the BBC World Service, which continues to operate freely around the world. Others include channels like Radio Mayek (Russian) and Espanol Automatico (Spanish). The latter is an interesting one, since it is aimed at learners, but features a native Spanish speaker (Karo Martinez) sharing her own views and perspectives on things in Spanish without any particular focus on vocabulary or grammar. You just listen and pick up.
🔥 How to Use Podcasts in Learning
The first step is to gauge your current level and find some podcast material that you are able to follow, but still presents some challenge. It's no good listening to things that are way below your current level --- there's no educational value in it.
Once you have a starting point, carve out a period of at least 1 hour per week to listen to podcasts. Many find the time to do this during their ride to or from work, when they're driving, or in gaps where they're waiting for their kids to come out of school, or their clients to show up to a meeting. The more continuous time you can spend listening, the better.
If you are able, take notes while you are listening. This isn't a crucial step, but noting down interesting expressions can be useful if you're trying to also build up your own set of vocabulary or sentence structures. After listening to the podcast, practice the same expressions in contexts that fit with your daily life, so that you can increase your chances of using it in daily life, thus retaining it better.
Don't worry if the podcast has patches of "white noise" at first. In the beginning, come up with a percentage figure of how much of the podcast you can understand. After two weeks or a month of listening, go back to that podcast and listen one more time. Has the white noise become clearer now? If so, it's working! If not, you might need to adjust your level to find something that works better for you.
👍 How Do Language Podcasts Help Learners?
There are several key ways that a podcast will boost your language learning experience:
They're Free (For the Most Part)
Probably the best thing about podcasts is that all the benefits and content they bring to your ears is absolutely free of charge at all times. You'll never have to worry about subscription fees or other additional charges. Just listen and enjoy. Even the paid services, like above-mentioned Pocket Casts) are much cheaper than many other subscription services out there, including YouTube Premium.
You Can Enjoy Anywhere
As long as you have your smartphone, tablet or laptop with you, as well as a good pair of earphones, you can enjoy them anywhere you want. Podcasts are a great way, for example, to bring an easy study experience to your morning commute. If you don't fancy the idea of staring at your screen to memorize flashcards, why not simply plug in a podcast, stare at the horizon and let the benefit flow into your ears?
Boosting Your Listening Skills
Listening is one of the most neglected areas of practice among language learners. We may get some practice talking with taxi drivers and friends who are native speakers in our target language, but very few learners actually take time to listen to something substantial and in a sustained way. One reason for that is an absence of proper material. Podcasts can help to eliminate that problem. What's more, you can find material to suit many different levels, so it's easy to track your progress. As one podcast becomes overly easy to listen to and understand, you can transfer up to a more challenging item that will continue to boost your skills.
In times of increasing stress, it's hard for us to wrap our heads around sitting down to focus on studying new things. Things that can help us in a more passive way, like listening to podcasts, are therefore incredibly useful and valuable. Podcasts don't have to feel like hard work as you're listening to them. They also don't require you to tax your mental capacity too much by memorizing words or answering questions. You can simply listen and enjoy.
🎉 Get started!
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