Learn about six creative ways to use podcasts in the ESL classroom.
It’s official; we’re living in the golden age of podcasts; you know, those pre-recorded radio shows that you listen to on your smartphone during a long commute or while ironing and folding the laundry (that’s me!). You can find countless podcasts—more than 630,000 at last count—on every conceivable topic, and their popularity is still growing.
Just as with Netflix, the episodes are on demand, so you can listen to them anytime you want, but for free. Hurray!
It’s incredible that in an age of boundless video content on the Internet, audio has managed to gain ground even with young people, who are now more likely to listen to podcasts than to the radio.
The best thing is that you can use podcasts as powerful learning resources, even in the classroom. I’d never really thought about this opportunity until I met Kate Fisher, who introduced me to this magic world.
Use Podcasts in the ESL classroom
Kate is a conversation teacher and podcast host at Conversations With Kate; she interviews guests from all over the world about a great variety of topics; traveling, different cultures, films, and art, among others. Her podcast series is specifically for English learners, who can also find the transcript and lesson guides for each episode, so they can really get the most out of listening.
I was hooked from the start and totally impressed that she also uses a podcast interview as an intimate medium for bringing stories to life.
If you’re keen to learn how to use podcasts in your language-learning journey or use them as teaching resources in your classroom, I’m sure you’ll take a lot of inspiration from this interview.
Kate, before we dive into all the ways to use podcasts in the ESL/EFL classroom, I’d really like to know why you decided to create a podcast series specifically for English learners.
The podcast was almost created by accident. Shortly after I began working with Intermediate to Advanced English Language Learners, some of my clients began asking for additional listening comprehension material. I had been using short videos, including TED talks, but they were all scripted and monologues. That wasn’t helping them so much with the conversations they were having at work or traveling.
At first, I told my clients a few short personal stories, recorded them and created transcripts. After I had told the best stories I could remember, it occurred to me that these were still monologues and the name of my business is Conversations with Kate!
During a mastermind program with other online teachers, Milena Vujnic, host of the English Made Simple podcast (Check this one out, too!), encouraged me to try podcasting. I invited my sister, Kirstin, to be my first guest as an experiment in casual, real-life conversation. She agreed and I have been creating an episode every week for over a year now.
What I like most about your podcasts is that you interview both native and non-native speakers in English. Do you think it’s beneficial for students to hear non-native speakers’ accents? Shouldn’t we just focus on American and British English?
I believe in a concept called Global English. Essentially that means adjusting your writing or speaking so that it can be understood by non-native speakers of English. The focus is on communication and understanding. I believe that is the responsibility of native and non-native speakers alike. Tuning our ear to people speaking English with different accents is helpful for everyone. Since English has become the lingua franca or common language for international business, travel, and diplomacy, it just makes sense. One of my goals is to offer everyone practice in listening to different people from around the world speaking in English.
You also talk about such important issues with your guests as depression, your Camino experience, and what it means being a shy and introverted language learner. They’re quite unusual topics for English learners. How did your audience welcome these interviews?
Everything I do is based on real-life. Connecting with people in an authentic way has always been important to me. I suppose there will always be people who are not ready to address these subjects but most people welcome the opportunity to discuss life experiences.
How to Use Podcasts in the ESL Classroom
Many people say we should listen to the radio or podcast in the background while doing errands or jogging, so we can absorb the language. Do you agree with this? Is this really an effective way to learn a language?
Personally, I find this helpful only if I have a good grasp of the language and I’m doing something that requires no thinking, like hanging the laundry. On the other hand, I think that it’s a good idea to combine this with more focused listening if you have the time for both. I don’t think you can learn effectively if that is all you do. This is why I take the time to create lesson guides and transcripts for every podcast episode. My clients tell me that working with these materials gives them a real sense of understanding and progress.
OK, let’s imagine I’m a language learner and get hooked on podcasts. How could I use them as a resource? Can you give me a step-by-step guide?
I recommend spending at least 10-20 minutes a day listening, writing, reading and/or speaking using the podcast episode. I try to keep each episode around 10 minutes so sometimes the interview is broken into 2-3 episodes.
This is what I recommend to my listeners on the subscriber page of my website:
- Download one of the lesson guides (transcript is included). Preview the vocabulary and transcript (key vocabulary and phrases are in bold).
- Listen to the podcast episode one or more times.
- Review the vocabulary and transcript to make sure you understand everything.
- Make a note of vocabulary and expressions that you would naturally use in conversations.
- Answer the conversation questions in writing.
- Record yourself reading your answers.
- Ask a native English speaker or English teacher to check your writing and audio.
- Try shadowing. That means follow the speaker very carefully and try to say some of the words and phrases out loud at the same time. This helps with pronunciation, word and syllable stress, and intonation.
- Keep a notebook where you can write a short summary of what you heard. Put the ideas into your own words. Try to use some of the new vocabulary and expressions in your writing.
You could also do this on your own when you, 1) access a few free transcripts and lesson guides each month by subscribing to email updates or 2) become a member of my Patreon community where you have access to all transcripts and more.
6 Creative Ways to Use Podcasts in the ESL Classroom
It also would be amazing to use podcasts in the classroom as a teacher. Can you give us some ideas about how to incorporate them into our lessons?
You can adapt the steps above. An advantage to doing this in a classroom is the immediate access to conversation partners and a teacher who can answer questions and make suggestions and corrections.
Both learners and teacher can create their own vocabulary lists and conversation questions for discussion and writing practice. I always use phrases or vocabulary chunks in my lists. These may include collocations (words that go together), phrasal verbs, idioms, or other common expressions.
There are many ways to use the transcript and vocabulary using well-known ELL games and activities. Some of my favorites include sketching on paper or creating skits to activate vocabulary. Like you, I like to add the visual element. Having learners express their agreement or disagreement to statements made in the podcast by moving to different parts of the room is another way to take a break from sitting. Researching the topic online for further discussion or inviting learners to record their own short podcasts are other options.
What are your plans for Conversations with Kate?
I’m currently working on an online course on the topic of my Camino walk. I hope to offer it to both native and non-native speakers of English. By the way, the Camino Santiago is a wonderful place to connect with people from all over the world, and to practice your English and other languages.
I’ve created a 2-week program & workbook that includes my guided support, called Make a Note of It. And I continue to offer 1:1 conversation lessons. Even though I plan to offer more stand-alone resources, I hope to always continue the 1:1 part of my work. Making worldwide connections online and through my travels inspires me so much. As for the podcast, I will continue creating episodes as long as I can.
Thank you so much for your interest in the podcast and this opportunity to talk about it, Alexandra!
You’re welcome. Your projects sound amazing. I wish you luck and thank you so much for inspiring us to use podcasts in our language journeys.
Further Reading & Resources:
Kate’s website: https://www.conversationswithkate.net/ There you can listen to the podcast or find directions on how to listen wherever you access podcasts.
Subscribe to Kate’s monthly newsletter and access 2-3 different lesson guides and podcast transcripts every month. It’s free!
Visit her Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/conversationswithkate and support the podcast series. Change the future of how art and digital content are created and funded.
Receive notification of new episodes on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/conversationswithkate
What about you? Have you ever used podcasts to improve your listening skills? Or if you’re a teacher, how do you use podcasts in your classroom? Do you have any other suggestions?
Let me know in the comments here on my Facebook page.
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