Speaking in a foreign language is hard work. Language learners have to think about pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary – and many people know the pain of reading out loud in class very well indeed!
But speaking is only half the battle. Listening and understanding can actually be much more difficult when you are learning English, especially when you think about different accents and varieties. There are over 50 different accents in the UK alone!
Like most things, the best way to get better at something is to practice. This is obviously easier said than done. After all, with work, university, and family commitments, it’s often a challenge to find a spare five minutes for yourself.
That’s where podcasts come in.
Podcasts are digital audio files (or sometimes videos) which can be downloaded or streamed directly from your mobile phones, tablets or computers. That means they can be listened to anywhere, anytime.
So, instead of playing Candy Crush while on the metro, listen to a podcast. Instead of listening to the radio while driving to work, listen to a podcast. Instead of thinking about all the things you have to do while walking your dog, listen to a podcast. You get the idea.
Podcasts can last anything from a few minutes, to over an hour and there is something to satisfy all tastes. Here are 7 podcasts we recommend you start listening to today.
For elementary students
Even if you don’t understand anything, be persistent and practice everyday. Start with short episodes. That way, if you don’t quite catch something the first time, you can repeat it a number of times until you do.
This series of podcasts by British Council is great for those looking to learn the basics. There are four series in total and each episode introduces a different element of everyday English. You can download a support pack, read along with the transcripts and even complete a number of tasks about what you’ve just heard.
Episodes are 20-30 minutes long, so if that’s too long for you, try breaking them down into shorter sections.
For intermediate students
Remember, it’s okay if you don’t understand everything. The most important thing is to get the general meaning. You’ll be honing those listening skills and picking up new vocabulary without even realising it.
This popular series by the BBC teaches you the very latest ‘must have’ phrases and vocabulary in under three minutes. It helps you take your conversation skills to the next level and is perfect for people with busy schedules or a very short commute to work!
Another classic podcast from the BBC, Six Minute English is a podcast that covers a new topic each week. Every episode is accompanied by a question to check your comprehension and some new vocabulary for you to learn. If you find it difficult to follow, there’s also a transcript to help you out.
This podcast is perfect for people who not only want to practise their listening, but also want to brush up on their business skills. With everything from connecting with your audience during presentations to making a sales call in English, there really is something for anyone working in the business world. These seven to eight minute podcasts are free of charge but if you want to access the transcripts or quizzes you will have to sign up and pay a fee.
For advanced students
Once you reach this level, it’s time to start listening to authentic material or shows which are not made specifically for language learners.
You’ll get to hear English spoken naturally with a variety of accents and learn lots of new colloquial expressions.
Our third and final entry from the BBC is the global news podcast. These thirty-minute episodes feature the day’s top stories and are perfect for people who want to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the world. Updated twice daily during the week and once at weekends, you’ll never be short of something to talk about with friends or colleagues.
This is perhaps one of the shows which helped make podcasts really popular. The first series tells the story of Adnan Syed, the man arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his highschool sweetheart Hae Min Lee. Each episode introduces us to a new part of the story and leaves us wondering if he really did it or not. If you enjoy Serial, you should also check out S-Town, which is another great show from the producers of This American Life.
This final podcast is for students who aren’t easily offended and are keen to learn some real British slang. Each episode consists of a guy called Jamie, reading a chapter of an erotic novel, written by his father, while two of his good friends comment on how ridiculous it his. If you have a very high level of English and want a good laugh, then check this podcast out!
Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.
easier said than done (exp): more easy to talk about than to actually do
taste (n): a person’s tendency to like or be interested in something
episode (n): each of the separate installments into which a serialised story, radio or television programme is divided. (Not to be confused with a chapter of a book).
hone (v): refine or perfect (something) over a period of time
brush up on (pv): improve one’s existing knowledge or skill in a particular area
fee (n): a payment made to a person in exchange for advice or services.
check out (pv): take notice of something
slang (n): very informal language
n = noun
v = verb
exp = expression
pv = phrasal verb