What is a podcast?
A podcast is an audio show, sometimes a one-off and sometimes part of a series, which can be downloaded from the Internet and listened to either on a computer, an Mp3 player, your smart phone or even in your car.
You can subscribe to podcasts in the same way that you subscribe to blogs. In fact, often podcasts are shared via a blog. With the right software, you can download new podcasts whenever they become available or manually choose which podcasts you want to download by clicking a link to the audio file. Once downloaded, you can then listen to the files on your computer or transfer them to another portable player to listen to later.
How can they help me with my English?
- Podcasts are available on almost any subject that you are interested in. A student’s interest in a topic is key to both motivation and engagement (ie. how much information you ‘take in’ and remember) so podcasts are a great way to liven up your listening practice as well as encourage you to listen more intensively.
- You will have no problem finding podcasts on the kind of topics that come up time and time again in the Speaking and Writing papers of the IELTS exam. Listening to debates on subjects where experts explain their points of view and justify their opinions will give you plenty of ideas you can use in your exam.
- In addition to ideas, you will hear a wide variety of language you can use to express yourself both in your exam and in real life. You will hear vocabulary related specifically to certain topics in context, as used by native speakers and this will greatly improve your fluency and accuracy.
- You will be exposed to a spectrum of voices, accents, ages and, since many podcasts are produced for an international audience, people with widely varying levels of English. This is authentic English – the kind of English you come across in everyday life because, as we know, you are not limited to native speakers using only perfectly accurate English!
- You will be able to find plenty of written articles online that are related to the same subjects if you want to extend your language practice further.
- Podcasts are so convenient – you can listen to them as many times as you like and when you are on-the-go. For example, you can use your time commuting to work or at the gym to prepare for your exam!
Where can I find suitable ones?
Download the free IELTS Express resource below and try some of the podcasts listed there. Listen to one episode of a podcast and if you like it, continue with the series. If you don’t, choose another. There are countless other podcasts you can listen to! Ask friends, fellow students or your teacher to recommend their favourite podcasts to you.
How do I choose which ones to listen to?
It really depends on your level of English and your reason for listening. Are you fairly high level and just want to improve your listening skills and/or vocabulary in general? Then pick any topic that interests you!
Are you striving for a higher level of ability and need help with your language learning? There are a huge number of podcasts produced specially for students of English.
Are you planning to move to the UK to study? In this case, you may prefer podcasts produced for a UK audience in order to ‘tune in’ to British culture and help you integrate more quickly. If you are more interested in global perspectives, you might prefer a podcast broadcast for an international audience.
Are you preparing specifically for the IELTS exam? Then choose podcasts about topics that commonly come up in the exam, such as technology, education, health and so on. There are also many IELTS-specific podcasts to help with your exam preparation.
Try these activities designed to help you use podcasts as a study resource:
(suggested by Sandy Millin in this British Council article)
- Before listening, read the short summary of the podcast and 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.
Podcasts, like any authentic listening text, can be hard to understand at first. People speak quickly and on topics with which you may not be familiar. Don’t let that put you off! Persevere (ie. keep listening and be patient) and in time you will understand more and more. Try listening to the same podcast a few times. Each time you listen, you will catch a lot more language than the first time.
We have scoured the net for a selection of interesting podcasts to get you started. Click below for the list and get listening!