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How To Use Podcasts To Learn English

Hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

I’m Alastair Budge.

Today we are going to be talking about a subject that’s pretty dear to my heart.

How to use podcasts to learn English.

We’ll go into why podcasts are just the most underrated resource, how smart English language learners use them, and how you can turbocharge your English language learning game by introducing English podcasts as a tool in your learning toolkit.

I’ll also talk about how you can use a 10 minute podcast to give yourself a intense two hour English lesson where you practice your listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Yes, that’s all just from a 10 minute podcast.

Before we start out though, for those of you listening to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you might get your podcasts, I just wanted to remind you that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for this podcast over on the website.


Okay then, that’s the housekeeping over.

Podcasts and how to use them to learn English.

Well, on one level, the answer is easy. Listen. The more you listen, the more native speakers you listen to, the more your ears will get used to, they’ll get attuned to how native speakers speak.

This means that not only will you find it easier to understand when you hear people speaking English, but you’ll also improve your English speaking as you’ll just have been exposed to a higher quantity of English.

But that’s at a very superficial level. And one thing that I don’t want us to be accused of at the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast is of being superficial.

So let’s go into exactly how they work and how you can use them in a way that most language learners will never do.

Why do most language learners not use podcasts?

Yes, the reasons may vary, but it comes down to one thing and one thing only really.

It’s that they’re hard.

If you listen to podcasts in your mother tongue, you’re properly doing something else at the same time, driving, doing the dishes, running, making craft lager, or indulging in some other fantastic hobby.

And when you try to listen to English language podcasts, it’s hard, right? No matter how good your English is, it can feel like hard work. You don’t understand all of the words.

Maybe you miss something important and you can’t just switch off like you would do in your native language.

So quite often you find yourself giving up or you revert to watching English videos or films on Netflix or YouTube. Maybe you put English subtitles or you might even put your native language subtitles and tell yourself you’re only using them as a backup.

Look, this is all fine and better than not doing anything. After all, a little bit of English is better than no English and I can hardly judge, I’ve been in exactly the same position as you when learning other languages, so when learning French, Italian, Mandarin.

The reason that podcasts feel so hard is that you don’t have any of the other signals. There’s no video, so the visual cues can’t help you.

With podcasts, all you have is one sense – listening.

This makes it so much harder, but also means that if you can understand just by listening, you’ll have a skill that the vast majority of other English learners don’t have.


Well, if you are learning English through things like YouTube or Netflix, your brain doesn’t really have to do a huge amount of work.

You have the video to help you, and this means you can get by without really understanding everything.

When listening to an English podcast, if your first language isn’t English, of course, you have to be focused, you don’t have the benefit of visual cues.

Of course this means it’s a whole lot harder, but it also means that you really have to focus on what is being said, on the language, and you end up learning a lot faster than if you have all these other cues helping you.

Plus, if you can understand with only the audio cues, when you go into a situation where you have visual cues, whether that’s just a face to face conversation or if it’s watching a film, it will seem so much easier. So it’s clear that using podcasts is harder, but a lot more rewarding.

But what are some of the best ways to use podcasts effectively to learn English?

My favourite ways to use podcasts include transcribing, writing down interesting pieces of vocabulary, shadowing and discussing them with a language partner.

I’ll just talk you through my favourite way of listening to podcasts to learn a language, and the way in which I’ve seen work for the most successful English students I know.

This is how you can get a seriously intense lesson, where you practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and all from a 10 minute podcast.


So I’ll explain exactly how this works.

You don’t have to do everything here, but it should give you an idea of the kinds of things that you can do to really maximise the benefit you get out of each podcast.

Okay, so first things first, I’ll find a podcast that looks interesting.

Once I found a podcast I like, I’ll check that it has a transcript.

Ideally, the podcast would be about 10 to 20 minutes long, which is, for me at least, is long enough to get into a subject, but not too long so that I get bored.

I’ll aim for one that’s around 10 minutes. I’ll find a quiet place, turn my phone onto airplane mode, or at least make sure that I’m on Do Not Disturb, so there are no distractions.

And by distractions I’m talking about phone distractions, messages, notifications, whatever, and also real life distractions. People knocking at a door or coming to ask me something.

I’ll then listen to the entire podcast. No dictionary, no transcripts, no pen or paper.

I’ll just listen and try to understand as much as I possibly can.

If I can understand around 80% of it, that’s a good sign. Much more, and I’m probably not learning a huge amount, much less, and it gets a bit annoying to follow.

I’ll listen to the entire podcast, then when it’s finished, I might write down in the language I’m learning, of course, some questions. So for you, you’d be writing everything down in English.

If anything wasn’t clear or if something was particularly interesting, I would just make a note of it.

I don’t tend to pause and rewind when I listened to the podcast for the first time as I want to have as uninterrupted experience as possible.

But you can if you like, it just depends on how patient you are.

Once I’ve listened to it for the first time without writing anything down, I’ll listen to the podcast again, but I’ll do so with my notebook in front of me.

I’ll write down any interesting phrases or words that I don’t know as I’m going along, or if the host uses any particularly interesting terms or structures or sentences that I think I’d like to use in my conversation, then I’ll write those down as well.

This time though, I’ll pause as I go along so that I have enough time to write down interesting words and phrases.

All of my notes are in the target language, of course, and if I don’t know the definition of a word, or if I can’t figure it out, I’ll just leave it there in my notebook.

After I’ve listened to the podcast once again, I’ll have a page in my notebook of interesting phrases, bits of vocabulary, and generally things I didn’t know before, or at least things that I wouldn’t have been able to use in my own conversation.

For a language I’m not so familiar with, or ones where I know that I need to practice my writing, I’ll then listen a third time and try to transcribe the entire podcast.

I normally do this on a laptop as I can type a lot faster than I can write, but if you’re a pen and paper type of person, then that’s fine as well.

One advantage of pen and paper is that you don’t have a spellcheck, o you really need to get it right.

For English, transcribing can be particularly useful as there are so many irregular spellings. So you know, words like dough, cough, plough, they all end in O U G H, right?

If there are any words that I don’t understand in the transcript, I’ll circle them in a big red pen so I know to look them up.

If the podcast I’m listening to has a transcript, and as I said, I always look for ones that do, if it does have a transcript, I’ll have a look at the transcript provided and compare it with my own.

I’ll then go back to my notebook and review the words and phrases that I’d written down. I’ll probably have figured out what most of them mean by now, but if any aren’t clear, I’ll look them up in a dictionary.

What I’ll also do is practice recording myself, shadowing the podcast host.

What this means is that I’ll just pretend I’m the host. I’ll open up the voice recorder on my phone and just record myself speaking the podcast using either the transcript provided by the podcast or the one that I’ve done, if I’m comfortable that it is indeed correct.

This might feel a bit weird when you do it the first time, but bear with it, it is hugely beneficial for speaking.

Assuming that the podcast host is a native speaker, you literally have a native speaker telling you exactly how to pronounce the words and showing you how they would speak that sentence in a language like English, when there’s so much connected speech, this is a fundamental aspect of good pronunciation.

It means that you teach yourself how to pronounce words when words flow from one into another, and it’s a far, far better use of time than doing something like conversation practice with another non-native speaker where you both just speak English at each other, learn each other’s errors, and aren’t actually concentrating on how real native speakers speak.

You can continue to record yourself again and again. Each time you’ll get better and each time you’ll be perfecting new sounds. Yes, it will sound weird at the start, and yes, it’s not as fun as watching the latest series on Netflix, but it does wonders for your speaking confidence and your pronunciation.

So these are things I try and do every time when I listen to a podcast in a language I’m learning.

But there are a few other things as well that you can try.

You can try to write a summary of the podcast.

Now this helps your listening and your writing skills as you need to use terms and language that are different to those that you’ll have heard in the podcast.

Transcribing is a useful practice, but writing a summary of something is actually much more akin to the sort of thing that you would have to do in a real life environment.

That’s how life works, right? You take an idea and you convey it normally in different words. You don’t just convey it word for word.

Secondly, if you have a friend or colleague who is a similar level of English to you, then listen to the podcast with them, do these exercises together, and then afterwards have a conversation about the podcast in English of course.

Talk about what you liked, what your opinion is on it, and discuss any interesting points that came up in it.

Hey, you can even grab a friend now, hit rewind and listen to this podcast with them.

Learning with podcasts can feel like a bit of a lonely pastime, and especially if you’re the kind of person who loves group learning, then try to listen to it with someone else.

So that’s how I use podcasts to learn a language, and these are some of the tricks that some of the most successful English learners I’ve seen have used.

There are a few other, what I call housekeeping tips as well. I’m calling them housekeeping because well, they’re pretty simple, easy to do, but easy to forget if you don’t make sure you do them.

Number one, feel free to slow down or speed up the audio depending on whether it’s too hard or too easy. Most podcast players have this functionality inbuilt, so make use of it.

If you slow it down too much, it can sound a bit weird, like the podcast host has had a little bit too much to drink, but do stick with it.

Number two, and this is the same for any skill you’re trying to develop, set aside a timeevery day or week and actually stick to it.

Look, it’s not revolutionary, but everything I just described, it doesn’t actually take that much time.

said at the start of the podcast, we talk about how you can use a 10 minute podcast to give yourself a seriously intense two hour lesson, but let’s just walk through everything that we talked about, but let’s just walk through everything we talked about before and see how that compares to something else that you might consider.

Let’s say watching a film in English.

I said at the start of the podcast, we’d talk about how you can use a 10 minute podcast to give yourself a seriously intensive two hour lesson, but let’s just walk through everything we talked about before and see how that compares to something else that you might consider, but let’s just walk through everything that we talked about before and see how that compares to something else that you might consider. let’s say watching a film in English.

So let’s go through it then.

So you listen to the podcast once without pausing or writing anything down. That’s 10 minutes.

Then you listen to it again, pausing to write down vocabulary and interesting phrases. Let’s say that’s another 15 minutes.

Then you might transcribe it, which is probably another 30 minutes.

So we’re up to 55 minutes now.

Then you can do the shadowing exercise where you record yourself speaking at the same time as the podcast host. Let’s say you do that a couple of times, which is another 30 minutes, so we’re one hour and 25 minutes.

If you’re listening to it with a friend, you can both write a summary for 10 minutes and then have a 25 minute conversation. This takes us up to two hours and you’ve just had a seriously intense English lesson.

And all you needed was a 10 minute podcast.

Compare this to watching a two hour film on Netflix, and I think it’s pretty clear which one will be more useful for your English.

Using this format with podcasts gives you a seriously intense lesson and all from the comfort of your smartphone. Cool, right?

This is of course, what has worked for me and a method that some of the best English learners I know use.

Yes, it’s hard and yes, it might feel uncomfortable, but using this method will mean that you learn, I would say five to 10 times faster than you would do if you were just brainlessly flicking through Netflix or YouTube telling yourself that you were learning, but in your heart of hearts, you know that you’re not really.

If you have other tips or tricks about how you’ve learned English with podcasts, I’d love to know .

Please do give these tips and tricks or go and let me know how you get on. You can get in touch on the website, which is or in the learn English with Podcasts group on Facebook , so just search, learn English with podcasts on Facebook.

Right. I hope that this has been useful.

Podcasts are just such a fantastic resource, and congratulations on taking the first step on using them to learn English.

If you like what you’ve heard, then hit subscribe and you can use the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast to learn English.

They all come with transcripts and key vocabulary, and they’re aimed purely at English learners at intermediate level and above.

You can get English Learning for Curious Minds in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

You’ve been listening to me, Alastair Budge, and this has been English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

I’ll catch you in the next episode.

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