5 Questions Answered on Using Podcasts for Learning English

 

Podcasts are awesome.

The word itself (podcast) is a little ambiguous, though. What exactly is a podcast?

Well, quite simply, a podcast is an online audio program. Usually downloadable, and often updated daily, weekly or monthly.

Need a visual explanation?

english podcasts

I listen to podcasts in bed!

There are thousands if not millions of podcasts, in all languages, on all topics and for all different reasons. For English learning, they’re YOUR BEST tool. Why?

  1. You can practice anywhere, anytime
  2. Listening to a lot of English, the right way, is extremely important to reaching fluency
  3. There are tons of options so you can definitely find something you like and at the right level
  4. You can improve your English through learning about other, more interesting topics

 

I am going to try to answer your questions on the most effective ways to become a better English speaker, by using podcasts.

Question #1 – Which podcast do I choose?

The first thing you should do is look for a podcast that is right for your current English level. This will help you improve faster! So don’t skip this part.

What I mean by “right level” is finding audio that you can understand, and more specifically, audio that is just one “level” above your current one. This is called “comprehensible” input, and if you want to learn more about it you should listen to this guy.

The idea is you should be listening to content that isn’t too easy, and isn’t too difficult. You should be able to understand around 80% of the words and phrases spoken. That means you understand most of the audio without reading the transcript.

And don’t think just by understanding the main idea of the audio you are understanding 80%. You need to consider not only vocabulary, but understand why certain grammar is used, how expressions are used, which phrasal verbs are spoken (be careful, phrasal verbs are easy to miss), which prepositions go with which words, etc…

If you find the right level of audio (the right speed, vocabulary, familiar topic)  it will be easier to catch all those little details. Also, if you have some options of podcasts on your appropriate level, choose something you like! Is it good for your career? Or related to your hobbies?

Don’t keep listening to something that is boring. That’s just a bad idea, and you will soon give up all together.

Question #2 – Where do I find podcasts to use?

Well, you should start here, with the Master Podcast List. It has a lot to choose from, and a guide on difficulty level, theme, if the podcast has free transcripts, etc..

And you should also download Stitcher or Apple podcasts which are great apps for finding and organizing your podcasts. After you start getting more accustomed to how podcasts work, you can start searching for new ones yourself.

Question #3 – What is the best way to listen to podcasts?

Well, the principle idea behind the benefits of podcasts is that you can take them with you during your day, and listen to them when you are doing other activities.

If you need some ideas of when to listen, here you go:

In the car, on the bus, at work, at the gym, at the bank, at the store, on your sofa, at the beach, during lunch, in the doctor’s waiting room, in the shower, on the toilet, while grilling meat, at the bus stop, on your motorcycle (one ear only please), at the airport, on an airplane, while your wife/husband is watching bad TV, at school when you’re bored, and washing your dog.

So first you need to get them into your phone or on an MP3. On smartphones download Stitcher. It’s great.

You can also use iTunes if you have an Apple product.

If you don’t have either, you can usually download the MPS directly from the main website of the podcast. And then you can put the file into an MP3 player.

If you don’t have a smartphone or MP3 player, you will have to be creative.

 

how to use podcasts

Makin it work

 

Question #4 – How many times should I listen to each podcast?

One million times.

And if you can’t listen to each podcast one million times, then you should listen to ONE episode or lesson as many times as it takes until you understand close to 100% of everything spoken in the podcast.

Like I said above, there is a lot more to learn from listening than just passively listening to get the main context. Listen a lot! Your brain is a muscle. Pretend the podcast is an exercise for your brain, and the more you repeat the same exercise, the stronger your brain will become.

If you’re not sure when to continue to the next episode, keep repeating the same one. Your objective is mastery of that ONE audio lesson. Be able to hear every word and grammar tenses!

Question #5 – How to MASTER content from a podcast

If you just listen to something once or twice, you will not gain much from it and the new words and content will just pass right through your brain. Don’t waste your time doing this.

And there are other things you should do to if you want to apply what you’re listening to your OWN content. The best podcasts will make it easier for you to use them as good lessons, and they should include:

  1. Transcripts
  2. Be easy to download
  3. Translations if you’re a beginner or intermediate speaker
  4. Content that is informative, funny, inspirational, motivating, and/or educational.

 

The to master the content, do this:

STEP 1 – Listen casually a few times to get an idea of what is being talked about, and to use your listening skills to the best of your ability. This is also a good way to see if you’re at the 80% mark.

STEP 2 – Read the transcript and make notes of new words and expressions. Look them up in an ENGLISH dictionary before translating them into your own language. You want to make sure you are discovering how to use that particular meaning in the same way it is used in the podcast. Many words have multiple translations; don’t confuse them, just focus on one definition for now.

STEP 3 – Now repeat, repeat, repeat. Remember, your goal is to listen one million times to each episode/lesson.

STEP 4 – Find someone to practice the content with. Why not here?  

After you feel that you have mastered the new content through speaking and writing, move on to the next podcast.

STEP 5 – Put your new words into Anki or Memrise so you won’t forget them.

Some more tips:

1) Start slowly. If you try to go from zero listening to 3 hours a day, you will give up fast, trust me. Spend one week finding one podcast you like the most, and also find out the best times during your day for listening.

My best moments are in the shower and in the kitchen while cooking hot dogs and making coffee.

2) If you get bored with something, STOP. Find another podcast to listen to. If you can’t find anything that you like, you got problems. 😉

3) You don’t need to practice speaking with a native speaker. Anyone who speaks even a little better than you can help you clarify the use of new words and expressions.

4) Read the transcript out loud. This is scientifically proven to be effective, as it activates the front part of your brain which is responsible for communication.

5) Try “shadowing”, which is repeating what the speaker says while following along.

6) Use a text editor, highlighting linking words to develop a more American/British/natural accent.

So that’s it. I hope this clears up your doubts about how to use podcasts for faster English improvement. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section below.

Also, if you know of any other good podcasts that aren’t on my Master List, please write about them in the comment section.