Language level: upper intermediate & advanced / B2 & C1
- Time needed: 15-20 mins
- Focus: how to use podcasts to improve your English listening skills, develop your comprehension of native speakers & improve studying habits
READ & LISTEN 🎧
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 pass the time of day.
And more importantly podcasts are really an excellent way to improve comprehension of native speakers. Something I’m all about!
“Podcasts are an excellent way to improve comprehension of native speakers.”
Why podcasts are great for improving your English
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 is 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.
7 British English podcasts to improve your advanced English listening skills
So as not to give overwhelm, I’ve selected only 7 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! Later down the line, I’ll do a post about American English podcasts and other nations too.
I’ve divided the list in two categories: the first 4 are podcasts are 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 of my list are pitched at intermediate level, I still think they are relvant for higher levels, especially for the vocabulary value.
The other 3 podcasts on my list are authentic English, made for English speakers.
Another reason for making a short list is because it’s important that you choose podcasts that interest you. Something I like, you might find boring. At the same time, if you don’t know where to start, these suggestions can help.
Disclosure – it may look like I am sponsoring the BBC – I am not! I just happen to really like these podcasts.
I basically give these podcasts as homework to my students – and my students love this guy. Rock n Roll English is hosted by English teacher, Martin and he uses his podcast to teach English through natural English – so using stories, having a laugh with his friends, and they are genuinely entertaining and useful. Suitable for intermediate to advanced.
Very vocabulary based and super down to earth*. Love it!
*down to earth means with no illusions or pretensions; practical and realistic
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.
6 Minute English
Aimed at intermediate levels, each episode 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.
I’ve included this 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.
Now for podcasts that are NOT for ESL purposes – this was tough to keep it just to three. But here we go!
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.
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. And it’s really amazing the stories people have about different songs and what those songs mean to them in their life, and some really interesting conversation comes out of this.
I’m just going to read the blurb for this one, because it says it better than I could, but what I will say is, I love this podcast! But then I do love books – so if you’re into reading- meh!
It’s the 20th year of BBC Radio 4’s show Bookclub, so for bibliophiles it doesn’t get much better right now. Its archive of more than 200 episodes are available as podcasts, all featuring host James Naughtie in conversation with some of the greatest authors of our times, followed by questions from an audience of readers. Past guests include Muriel Spark, Jonathan Franzen & Elizabeth Strout and a list that disappears into the horizon. Priceless.
How to Improve Your English Listening using podcasts
Listening to podcasts: Best Practices
Follow these simple steps to make listening to podcasts as effective as possible:
- Try to make listening to podcasts part of your English learning routine. The MORE you do it, the MORE EFFECTIVE it will be and the MORE PROGRESS you’ll make.
- Make time in your schedule. Stick a post-it note on your computer. Remind yourself to do it.
- Make it relevant. Choose something that interests you. If you like what you are listening too, you’ll be more inclined to do it regularly, If it’s boring, you’ll never do it!
- Try just simply listening to podcasts to build your listening skills. (Not using the transcript). Do this when you are out and about, on a walk with your dog or doing your shopping! Try to summarise what you heard, identify the key points and key vocabulary.
- Go deeper at times. You can use the transcripts to check your understanding and find new vocabulary. Read as you listen which will help you identify pronunciation patterns and you can see the ways we connect English, the words and sounds, and you can then mimic that to sound more natural when you speak.
- If it’s too difficult, and I mean, you don’t understand anything – leave it alone and choose another one. There is nothing more demotivating than not understanding a word. So don’t do it to yourself. But on the other hand – don’t give up! If you’re not ready to follow a certain podcast, try another one, or stick with the ESL podcasts and choose the right level for you. Bear in mind also, that often you may not understand because of cultural references, so it may not be the English itself. Sometimes I like Tina Fey, American comedian. Some of her references, I don’t get because I don’t know who or what she’s talking about.
Don’t give up! Stick with it – do it regularly, and you WILL see results.
The bottom line – it’s like anything else – practice makes perfect and it will get easier if you do it often and consistently.
Take action: choose one of the podcasts from above and listen to an episode!
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.
Please write your ideas in the comments. Happy listening!
ps. Any words or expressions in this article you need help with? Just ask in the comments 👇