Lesson by Kerin. Updated Jan 5th 2022
This post includes a free guide: How to improve your English with podcasts
Use podcasts to improve your English
At the time of writing this, August is here and typically this means one thing and one thing only where I live – summer holiday time!
Italy pretty much shuts down over two weeks in August and everyone heads to the beach (as I run in the opposite direction! Not only does my pale Scottish skin detest lying on the beach, I can’t think of anything possibly worse than hordes of people on overcrowded beaches, fighting for a spot on the sand, while euro-pop blasts in the background. It is my actual nightmare.)
Anyway Kerin, you’re asking, what does this have to do with podcasts and improving my English? Well, summer holidays are the perfect time to get your podcast game on*! Whether you are going to spend some time at the beach, or by the pool, or go travelling to some far-off exotic place – i.e you’re spending time on a plane, on a train, in the car – podcasts are a fab way to fill up the day*.
And more importantly podcasts are really an excellent way to improve comprehension of native speakers. Something I’m all about!
*get your game on = (informal, British) said when one feels that a situation is about to develop in one’s favour
*fill up the day = (phrasal verb) utilise, spend
Can I improve my English by listening to a podcast?
Absolutely! Listen here to find out why podcasts are great for improving your English
Listen & Read! 😎
Easy to access & they are free
Living in the digital age has many perks (and drawbacks too, many would argue) but as far as language learning goes, the digital age is especially cool: all you need to listen to a podcast is a good internet connection, a phone, or lap-top, or tablet.
Great for busy people
One of the biggest challenges you have is TIME. We all have things going on in our lives and we often feel pulled in many directions. Finding the time to study English is a challenge! (If this is you, you definitely need to read this: 10 Vital Mindset Changes to Improve Your Attitude Towards Learning English).
This is where podcasts come in: you can listen at the gym, on the way to work, out with the dog. It’s up to you. You can do it anywhere. And you can do it short bursts. 10 mins here, 5 minutes there. So they are perfect for the busy lives we lead.
Subjects on whatever tickles your fancy*
*whatever appeals to you or is to your liking
The next cool thing about podcasts is there is literally a podcast available to you for any topic you like: comedy, vegan lifestyle, entrepreneurship, bookclub, news … and some weird stuff out there too – Dental hacks, project moonboat … I could go on! You get the picture. Wherever your interests lie, you’ll find a podcast on that topic.
Great for studying
Now, I suggest you mainly use podcasts just for listening and for enjoyment, but there will be times when you can and should go a bit deeper and do some studying. Podcasts often have a transcript, so you have support for studying. And I’ll speak more about that in the next section.
You can listen to podcasts specifically for English learning
If you feel that it’s impossible to understand native speakers, or you think native speakers talk too fast, break too many grammar rules, use slang and difficult vocabulary that you don’t know, if this sounds like you, ESL podcasts can really help you.
The goal of podcasts created for English language learners are to help you improve your knowledge of English and your ability. They are often a little easier to understand and you can choose your level. They give grammar explanations, vocabulary insights and are another way to teach.
You can access authentic uncensored English
On the other hand, if you don’t have many problems understanding native speakers, but you want to upgrade your English – move closer to proficiency, understand the details, the finer subtleties, with authentic podcasts, that are made for native speakers, you can find the perfect listening practice.
The more you do it, the more you’ll increase your understanding of native speakers. You’ll be developing your listening skills and expanding your vocabulary with new words and expressions. You’ll be exposing yourself to various types of accents and local slang.
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How to improve your English with podcasts
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14 British English podcasts to improve your advanced English listening skills
So as not to give overwhelm, I’ve selected only 14 podcasts that I thoroughly recommend and I’ve narrowed it down even further to being British English.
That’s not because I think British English is better or more important by any means, it’s just a way to break down and start this list. I really believe it’s better to give students a little at a time, less is more!
I’ve divided the list in two categories: the first 7 are podcasts specifically for English learners. It’s really hard to find British podcasts specifically for upper Intermediate & advanced English learners – maybe I need to start one! Even though some on my list are pitched at intermediate level, I still think they are relevant for higher levels, especially for the vocabulary value.
The other 7 podcasts on my list are authentic English, made for an English-speaking audience. In other words, podcasts that are not focused on English language learning but rather on a variety of topics. Let’s go!
7 British English podcasts Podcasts Specifically for English Language Learners
1. Rock n’ Roll English
I recommend these podcasts to my students and they love this guy! Rock n Roll English is hosted by English teacher, Martin and he uses his podcast to teach English through natural English: using stories and having a laugh with his friends. They are genuinely entertaining and useful. Suitable for intermediate to advanced.
2. Luke’s English Podcast
If you are specifically looking to improve your comprehension of British English and pick up natural British English as it’s really spoken, Luke’s English Podcast is a good place to start!
3. The English We Speak
These are short podcasts from the BBC about real English phrases or items of slang and they are quick, content based and again very useful.
4. 6 Minute English
Aimed at intermediate levels, each episode in 6 Minute English is oriented to everyday vocabulary and features a dialogue between two people. The content is useful, it may be a bit boring, or let’s say not so challenging, for real advanced learners because the English here is spoken at a slightly slower speed than usual.
However, in addition to audio, you can also find the transcripts, vocabulary and the question of the week so this podcast series is definitely worth trying.
5. Dramas for English language learners from BBC World Service
This one is fun! Dramas for English language learners from BBC World Service. Improve your English with retellings of stories classic and new. Each episode is between 6 and 10 minutes long.
6. Learning English News Review
News Review shows you how to use the language from the latest news stories in your everyday English. Published every Tuesday by BBC Learning English.
7. Splendid Speaking
I’ve included Splendid Speaking because it is one of the few ESL podcasts aimed at more advanced English learners, looking to take their speaking skills to the next level.
However, it can be focused on exam strategies and often the guests are students, so non-native speakers, but each episode offers constructive feedback on guest presentations and fluency, giving listeners the ability to spot possible mistakes along the way. Therefore, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is definitely worth a look.
7 British English podcasts made for an English-speaking audience
Now for native English speaking podcasts that are NOT for ESL purposes – this was tough to keep it just to seven. But here we go!
1. Today in Focus by The Guardian
Today in Focus is my all time favourite podcast! Listen to the story behind the headlines for a deeper understanding of the news. Highly recommend!
2. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews
This is fun. And yes, they talk about film and their reviews are worthwhile, but what you are really listening to is the conversation between them. The chemistry between the hosts is great: witty, engaging, intellectual, occasionally argumentative and it is an enjoyable podcast.
3. Sh**ged Married Annoyed
Shagged. Married. Annoyed. is one of the UK’s most popular podcasts, regularly hitting No1 in the charts and breaking a world record for being the only podcast that has been in the top 10 for a whole year. The only way Rosie and Chris Ramsey can have a conversation without being interrupted by a toddler or ending up staring at their phones is by doing a podcast. They’ll be chatting all about life, relationships, arguments, annoyances, parenting, growing up and everything in between. Each week they will answer questions from the public and a secret celebrity.
4. Desert Island Discs With Kirsty Young
This one holds a special place in my heart! It involves famous people imagining that they have been stranded on a desert island with only eight music records (discs) for company. So it’s a wonderful storytelling podcast. It’s actually a lesson that Elisa, one of our EDA teachers, does regularly with her teenagers and then we started doing it in conversation class too in our school in Florence. It’s really amazing the stories people have about different songs and what those songs mean to them in their life. Some really interesting conversation comes out of this.
5. The Penguin Podcast
A great listen for anyone who is interested in books and ideas! Conversations with some of Penguin’s leading authors and creative thinkers, as they seek to understand how they write and where their ideas come from.
6. The Guilty Feminist
Another favourite! Join comedian Deborah Frances-White and her special guests as they discuss topics “all 21st century feminists agree on” while confessing their insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that underlie their lofty principles.
7. Off Menu
It’s funny and it’s about food – what’s not to like? Comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster invite special guests into their magical restaurant to each choose their favourite starter, main course, side dish, dessert and drink. Ever wanted to eat your dream meal? It’s time to order Off Menu.
How to improve your English listening skills using podcasts
Whether you choose to listen to podcasts for English speakers or podcasts for English learners, there are several steps you can take to ensure that you are successful and that you get the most our of your time.
Download our free guide and follow our simple steps. The guide includes these 6 practice activities with instructions:
- listen for enjoyment
- how to listen for gist; the key ideas and messages
- how to use podcasts for paraphrasing practice
- how to increase your vocabulary
- how to listen for global meaning; the finer details
- how to develop your pronunciation awareness
There you have it! Please let us know what you think of these podcasts, how you yourself use them to study AND most importantly, tell us which podcasts you already listen to and which ones you’d recommend and share with our EDA students.
Take action: choose one of the podcasts from above and listen to an episode!
The bottom line – it’s like anything else – practice makes perfect and it will get easier if you do it often and consistently. Happy listening!