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Listening and studying with podcasts is one of the best things you can do to improve your English. In my last post on finding time in your busy life to study English, many of the featured language teachers recommended using podcasts. If you talk to successful English speakers, they will invariably say they listen to podcasts. A lot of podcasts!
But which podcasts should you use if you want to improve your speaking, listening, grammar and vocabulary? In this article, I’ll show you:
Read on to learn which podcasts you should use to improve your English:
What Podcasts Are and Why Podcasts Matter
Podcasts come in many forms, but they are basically audio tracks on whatever subject the host wants to talk about. Podcasts are like radio shows that you can download and listen to anytime.
Convenient, right? Some of the best podcasts for learners are interview-style. These are great to use because you can hear and practice real dialogues.
I’ve used podcasts before to improve my speaking and listening skills (in Japanese! But the resources below are all for English :) ). Podcasts helped me focus on learning specific grammar and vocabulary that I needed.
Podcasts are a perfect resource because:
Where to Find Podcasts
If you have an iPod or iPad (or any Apple device or computer), the programs and apps for finding and listening to podcasts are already installed. Just go to the “itunes” or “podcasts” app or program and search for ‘podcasts.’ Easy!
If you have an Android smartphone, you can download different apps that will help you download and/or listen to podcasts. Some of the most highly recommended apps for Android are Pocket Casts, Overcast, Stitcher Radio and Google Play Music. Here is a article with all the links to learn more about and download these apps.
If you have a PC, you can download the itunes application for free, then search for the podcast or kind of podcast you want to listen to.
Okay, now you have the right apps for listening to podcasts, so let's look at the best podcasts for learning English.
Start With Podcasts for English Learners
If you are just starting out with podcasts or worried that you won't understand a lot in English, start with "learning English" podcasts.
The hosts on these podcasts tend to speak a little bit slower. These hosts are usually English teachers and their podcasts are like lessons that explain vocabulary, expressions and/or idioms. They also teach about the cultural aspects of the English language.
Here are my current favorite recommendations for English learners. I've chosen these podcasts because they all have at least one host with an American or Canadian accent. These podcasts also come highly recommended by many of my successful English students:
1. Voice of America Learning English
If you like listening to the news and interesting stories (and learning English expressions and idioms) I recommend you check out the VOA -Voice of America- podcast.
The news and human interest stories are read slowly, so this is a good place to start if listening to spoken English is hard for you.
2. All Ears English
The next podcast I recommend is All Ears English. The hosts, Lindsay and Michelle have really great energy, and explain concepts and words in a fun and interesting way.
This podcast is definitely one of my students' favorites. Most of the episodes are short enough, about 13 to 18 minutes, to listen to while washing the dishes (unless you haven't washed your dishes in DAYS!).
3. ESL Pod
ESL Pod has been around for a long time, so if you are looking for a lesson on specific vocabulary or a certain situation, check out their list of episodes and you just might find it!
The focus on everyday English is really helpful, and each lesson includes a dialogue read very slowly, followed by an explanation of grammar and vocabulary, followed by the dialogue read at a natural speed.
4. Real Life English Podcast
I really enjoy listening to the Real Life English Podcast, because the hosts make you feel like you are right there with them, having pizza and beer together and laughing and having a good time. They use easy-to-understand examples to explain expressions, slang and idioms.
This is a great podcast to listen to if you want to focus on learning to understand various accents, since Justin, Ethan and Chad are all from different places. Sometimes they bring on foreign English speakers so get ready to hear lots of accents!
5. Uncensored English
Keiran Watters runs this English podcast. He brings on lots of native speaking guests, and the format is mostly casual/conversational style. Great for practicing natural, spoken English.
You can learn all about topics that other podcasters and English teachers might not talk about on this podcast, so check it out if you like a good laugh and don't mind being shocked every once in awhile.
As soon As You Can, Use "Real" English Podcasts
Okay, so what’s a “real” English podcast? Don’t worry, it’s not that the list above of podcasts for English learners is “fake,” it’s just that they are made for English learners.
The teachers and interviewers speak slower. Sometimes very, v e r y, sloooow.
This is great when you are starting out, or just getting used to using podcasts. It’s fine to start out with “learner” podcasts when you are just learning to listen to spoken English.
But after awhile, it’s time to go out into the real world and speak. And that means you will have to listen to native speakers talking. Allfastandaspushedtogether. Whoa! I mean, all FAST and pushed together.
Here are my top 3 recommendations for real podcasts for native English speakers - to advance your English. I recommend these podcasts because they are based around interesting stories and interviews. Humans love listening to stories!:
1. This American Life
Another student favorite! Once students have reached a certain level of listening comprehension, This American Life (from NPR) is a great program to use to listen to stories about people in many different situations.
NPR has lots of other podcasts and radio shows, so if you end up liking This American Life, check out NPR's other shows too.
2. Here's the Thing
Did you know Alec Baldwin has a podcast? Neither did I until recently! I like this podcast because Alec asks his guests really interesting questions.
If you are into pop culture and want to hear more about the behind-the-scenes stories of actors and politicians and other famous people, check out this podcast.
3. CreativeMornings Podcast
The shows on the Creative Mornings Podcast are a bit like TED talks. This podcast features talks by current thought leaders in lots of different industries. You can learn a lot of new vocabulary from this podcast because of that!
One thing: some of the episodes are kind of long (50 or 55 minutes), so make sure to work up to using a podcast like this. You may need to listen to shorter episodes first.
I’ve only put my top three recommendations for native-level podcasts here, because these are MY favorites. But you might not like these shows!
Please, please, don’t give up on podcasts just because you don’t like my suggestions, though. If you listen to these podcasts and don't find something interesting for you, do a search on whatever topic interests you. You can search for any topic you like - parenting, history, new technology, running - anything really!
Check out my follow-up article about exactly HOW to use podcasts to improve specific skills like speaking, listening and pronunciation.
Have you listened to any of these podcasts? Would you like to add another podcast to this list?
Comment below and tell us about your favorite podcast for learning/listening to more English.
Learn to speak real, conversational American English with Sabrina, an American English teacher.
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