Academic viewpoint: Learning a language through podcasts

As we all know, learning a language isn’t just about sitting in a classroom for 2 hours a week, hoping to absorb the information the trainer provides. It takes a bit more effort than that, but one of the main pitfalls we have is time, or rather the lack of it. However, for most people every day brings some minutes or hours spent unproductively – sitting on the bus or subway, or stuck in traffic – and what better use of that time than to brush up on some language.

Listening to short podcasts is very convenient, since we can use this learning tool at any time, for instance on our way home, during coffee breaks or even on holiday, to improve our language skills. A podcast is an audio file that is generally free and distributed on the Internet. There are now hundreds upon hundreds of short, interesting files that you can save to your MP3 player and listen to, ranging from basic grammar and vocabulary practice to news casts and lectures.

While podcasting is no alternative to a traditional face-to-face class, it provides good support material, and with authentic texts can help in a number of ways. ITunes has many options (go to

How can you use a podcast?

The content of many podcasts is based around a short dialogue, which is repeated for you to be able to listen a second or even third time. Here are some more specific ideas:

• If you’re about to go abroad on vacation, listen to the appropriate chapters of the podcast the day or week before, and learn some of the phrases you’ll need for different situations.

• For higher level students, try to find a podcast about a museum or location you will visit on your travels. Listening to commentaries about that place in the target language is useful and interesting.

• For fluency practice – mimic the voices on the podcast to improve your fluency.

• For specific new language focus – listen to a dialogue and use a dictionary to learn new words that aren’t in the podcast glossary.

• For pronunciation practice – listening and repeating key words and sounds on the podcast to improve accent and pronunciation, as the voices used are authentic speakers of the language.

• For examples of how to describe different lexical items – because of the detailed vocabulary list on the podcast the listener can follow how to give explanations and how to describe items.

• To practice reading aloud – using the PDF versions of the podcast.

• If you are having specific difficulty understanding the audio, you can read and listen at the same time, going through the dialogue a few times until you are more certain of the content. Then you can practise without the written support, developing your ‘ear’ for the language.

Happy podding!

If you want to brush up your language close to home, Cactus runs daytime, evening and weekend language courses in the UK and the US & Canada. For tailor-made, private tuition in your home or workplace, Cactus Language Training will gear a course to your specific needs and interests.

Cactus also runs language courses in more than 30 languages, 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide. Courses are available from one week upwards, at all ages and levels, and can be combined with a range of fun activities ranging from surfing and diving to cooking and wine tasting.

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