10 ways in which listening to podcasts can help you to learn a language

Do you listen to podcasts?

Podcasts are a form of audio (and sometimes video) broadcasting on the internet. You find ones that you like, subscribe to them, and then the files are automatically downloaded to your podcast player when new episodes are available.

Some podcasts, such as my English with Kirsty podcast are created specifically for language learners. However it’s not just language learner podcasts that can help you. If you subscribe to podcasts about things that interest you in the language that you want to learn, they too can help you to improve your vocabulary and your listening skills. Here’s how:

1. They expose you to the spoken word

You have to use your ears. Occasionally, podcasters choose to include a transcript, but most don’t. This means that unlike when you’re watching a film, when you’re listening to a podcast, you need to rely on your ears if you want to understand what’s going on. This will help you to improve your listening skills.

2. You have the sound file – the moment isn’t gone for ever

If you miss something on live radio, it’s gone forever, unless the show is recorded. With a podcast, if you miss something or aren’t sure what was said, you can skip back a few seconds and listen to it again. If you really want to make sure that you understood everything, you can repeat sections, or listen to the whole thing several times.

3. You can learn new words

It’s not a good idea to write down every new word that you hear, but your sure to pick up new words and learn how they are used in context.

For best results, experiment with a few podcasts to find out which ones you enjoy. It won’t be much fun if the language level isn’t right for you. For example, I downloaded a couple of news podcasts in Turkish and the shorter one was actually harder to understand!

It’s good to challenge yourself, but make sure that you understand enough for it to be useful.

4. You can learn whilst you’re doing other things

That’s one of the great things about podcasts. You can listen to them when you’re on the train, driving to work, doing the housework, cooking dinner, running, or working out. The list is endless. This means that you can find time to work on your language skills, even when you’re busy with other things.

I used to have a long journey to and from work and I wanted to use this time effectively. Listening to podcasts was a good way for me to use my time, and I always had something to listen to if there were delays and the journey took longer than expected.

5. You’ll hear a range of voices

Audio books are another good way to improve your language skills. However, it’s usually the same voice all the way through. Podcasts are different. Whether you’re listening to an interview show, or a number of different solo shows, you’re being exposed to a number of different voices. This is particularly useful if you need to communicate with people in different parts of the world.

If you know that you need to understand a specific accent or type of English, you can look for podcasts from that part of the world.

6. Listening to something that interests you will encourage you to learn

As a teacher, I find that the best way to encourage students to do more outside the lessons, is to find things that interest them. This isn’t always possible, particularly if you’re preparing for an exam or learning something specific for work, but in terms of improving your general vocabulary, think about your hobbies and interests, and look for podcasts on those topics.

If you told me to listen to a podcast about football, I’d probably never find time to do it. On the other hand, if you found me one about dogs or travel, I’d make time to listen to it, because the subject interests me!

7. They don’t have to be long

Listening to a whole audio book can feel a bit daunting for some people. Although I’ve seen podcasts that were 2.5 hours long, they don’t have to be. If you find listening to English tiring, find a shorter podcast that’s sent out in bite-sized chunks. For example, mine is around 15 minutes long and I know others who use this format to give clear, to-the-point messages. Shorter episodes can often feel more manageable – you can always listen to more if you have time!

8. They provide you with regular input

Sometimes part of the problem is that people don’t know what to listen to. You find a good book, finish it, then don’t know what to read next. Podcasts solve this problem because they are updated regularly and the new content arrives automatically.

9. They can help you to learn specialist vocabulary

If you find a podcast about one of your hobbies, or something specific to your area of work, you’ll be able to pick up more specialist vocabulary that you may not find in more general publications.

10. Some podcasts have communities

Some podcasts offer a place for listeners to get together, discuss the episodes and build a community of people who are interested in the same things. If you find a group like this, you’ll also be able to improve your reading and writing skills – and you might even make some new friends! If you want to improve your English, you’re welcome to join my Facebook group.

What are your favourite podcasts for language learning?

To summarise, as long as you choose podcasts that are the right language level for you and that interest you, they can really help you to develop your language skills.

What are your favourite podcasts for learning another language? Please share them in the comments! Your recommendation might help someone else who wants to learn.

More from English with Kirsty

Kirsty working with students

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4 Comments on “10 ways in which listening to podcasts can help you to learn a language”

  1. Joel says:

    I am quite a big listener of podcasts, however, had pretty much been sticking to listening to learn about a subject. I can definitely see a benefit to using podcasts in another language as a way to build vocabulary and understanding, and something that I will keep in mind as learning a language is something I have on my to-do list.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and good luck with the language learning if you decide that it’s something you want to do. Do you have a language in mind?

  3. Joel says:

    To be honest, at the moment I have no idea which language. However, one person I was listening to on a podcast suggested that when learning a language, you will make better progress if you are learning the language for a purpose rather than just to learn the language. Such as if I was to be visiting a country and decided to learn the language, I would probably be more dedicated to the learning experience than if I was just to pick a language for the sake of learning a language.

  4. I agree – having a reason such as an upcoming trip to another country, a specific interest in the language and culture, or a friend who also speaks the language, will definitely help to keep your motivation going on days when you don’t really feel like learning.


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