They are an excellent way to work on your, or your students’, listening skills, as you can listen to them as many times as you want to. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also manipulate files so that they are faster or slower, or so that you are only listening to an excerpt of the whole programme.
Podcasts are now available covering almost any topic you can think of. I subscribe to about 30 different series, covering topics like science, films, history, teaching, language, and storytelling. There’s something out there for everyone. You can find some of my favourites, and a list of podcasts designed for English language learners at http://independentenglish.wordpress.com/podcasts.
The majority of podcasts are free, and you can find them in a variety of ways. I find most of the podcasts I listen to from the BBC podcasts page, via the Apple Podcasts app (automatically installed on Apple devices) or through the iTunes podcasts tab, but simply searching on Google will also help you. For example, try ‘film review podcast’ and you’ll be inundated with examples.
Once you’ve found a podcast you like, what can you do with it?
As a student, try these activities:
- Read the short summary of the podcast. Predict three things you think the presenters will talk about. Listen and check.
- Choose ten words, phrases or collocations you think the presenters will use. Play bingo. How many did you hear? If you listen to the same podcasts regularly, you will start to notice the same phrases appearing again and again.
- Play two minutes of the podcast. Stop and predict what you will hear next. Continue listening. Were you correct? Repeat this at a few different points in the podcast.
- Listen to the whole podcast without stopping. Write a short summary of what you heard, or record an audio summary of it. Listen again and see if you can add any extra information. Repetition will improve your confidence.
- Choose a piece of grammar you’d like to improve, like the present perfect. Focus on listening for it. How many times did you hear it? What contexts is it used in?
- Listen and repeat what a speaker is saying. Mumble it under your breath. Repeating this a few times can really help your pronunciation.
As a teacher, you could use podcasts in the classroom or for homework.
- Use a clip from a podcast to introduce a new topic. For example, if you’re talking about the environment, try something from BBC’s Costing the Earth series. For a topic on identity, search for programmes from the BBC Identity series from spring 2016.
- Play a clip from a coursebook listening, then one from a podcast designed for native speakers. Students should think about the differences between the two, for example the speed of speech, turn-taking, and how easy it is to distinguish different speakers. They can then assess how easy it is to understand, and you can offer ways they can work on the areas they had the most trouble with.
- Use excerpts from podcasts to focus on features of connected speech. You can clip them using free software such as Audacity or mp3cut online. This works well as a mini dictation activity.
- Ask students to choose a podcast to listen to for homework. You could give them some guidance or allow them to choose anything they like. For the first ten minutes of the following lesson, students talk about the podcasts they listened to, why they chose it, how easy or difficult it was to understand, and whether they learnt anything from it (language or topic-related). Doing this regularly works as part of an extensive listening scheme.
A few tips:
- As a student, don’t be depressed if you find a podcast difficult to understand at first. Some presenters speak very quickly, and there may be concepts you have not heard before. You have two choices: keep listening and be patient – it may take time, but you will start to understand more; alternatively, choose a different podcasts – there are plenty out there!
- Listen to the same podcast a few times. You’ll notice a lot more language the second and third time you hear it.
- As a teacher, think carefully about the level and speed of the language in the podcasts you select. They can also often contain a lot of cultural information that may be very challenging for students if they are unfamiliar with podcasts or have not had much exposure to authentic materials. Introduce them slowly and consider your aims carefully.
I’d be interested to know what your favourite podcasts and podcast activities are in the comments below. Good luck!