For students learning English as a second language (ESL), listening to English conversations and narratives is one of the quickest ways to improve their fluency. Outside of the classroom, ESL podcasts provide the perfect opportunity for ESL learners to listen to simple, comprehensible English in an educational format. ESL teachers can help their students practice their listening and speaking skills outside of class by recommending such podcasts.
A podcast is similar to a radio show. Most podcasts have a host who provides commentary about content that may be educational, opinionated or humorous. Unlike a radio show that can only be listened to at a scheduled time, listeners can access a podcast on the Internet and tune in whenever they like. ESL podcasts are created specifically for English language learners. They use simple, understandable language and common English phrases. The podcast host will usually speak slower and provide explanations about English usage. ESL learners can download a podcast and listen to it on their computer or transfer it to an MP3 player. Most ESL podcast also allow listeners to subscribe and have new podcasts delivered automatically.
These are four of the most popular free ESL podcasts in the iTunes Store:
This website, which is sponsored by the Center for Educational Development, provides free podcasts created by two ESL professors of linguistics and education from USC. Dr. Lucy Tse creates scripts and narrates stories while Dr. Jeff McQuillan hosts the podcasts and provides explanations. The podcasts cover a wide range of practical and interesting American scenarios such as “Buying Office Furniture” or “Dining with a Foodie.” In addition to subscribing to the podcasts or accessing them via the iTunes Store, English learners can pay a small membership fee and receive a monthly Learning Guide that includes a podcast transcript, definitions, comprehension questions, additional explanations and cultural notes. The site includes many glowing testimonials from English language students who used the podcasts to improve their English comprehension and speaking ability.
2. Voice of America Special English Podcasts
Since 1959, the Voice of America (VOA) has been broadcasting special English programs that are created for listeners whose native language is not English. These half-hour programs help people learn American English in the context of stories about American culture and events. The programs are composed from short, simple sentences that use a core vocabulary of 1,500 simple words. The narrators also speak at a slower pace and avoid idioms. English learners can listen to and watch free audio and video podcasts on the VOA website or subscribe through iTunes, myYahoo or RSS feed.
3. English Pronunciation Pod
Accent reduction specialist Charles Becker, a native New Yorker, uses podcasts to help English learners improve their speaking ability and pronunciation. Each free podcast focuses on an important aspect of American pronunciation and provides explanations, tips and exercises. The podcasts can be used by English speakers of all levels who want to learn to speak with an American accent. Topics include “Using Contractions to Improve your Accent,” “Silent B” and “Syllable Stress in English.” The website also includes a 52-lesson MP3 pronunciation course that can be purchased and downloaded.
4. Listen to English – Learn English!
This podcast is hosted by Peter Carter. Episodes can be accessed free of charge in the iTunes Store or downloaded from the website, with the transcript of each podcast available on the site. The goal of the podcasts is to help English learners improve their vocabulary, pronunciation and comprehension skills. The content of the podcasts reflects British popular culture, with typical titles including “A Nice Cup of Tea,” “Off to University” and “William and Kate are Engaged.”
If you’re interested in teaching ESL, the demand for ESL teachers in the United States is steadily increasing. For more information about the training and testing required for ESL certification, visit our page on the subject.