Someone had asked me this question before: "Is there an effective way to learn English without hitting the books?" Of course, the one thing that popped right into my mind was the usage of language learning apps on a smartphone. However, the person who asked wasn't quite fond of my answer and I got a pretty clear idea why later on.
You see, the idiom "to hit the books" can have more than just one meaning in English; and it's got nothing to do with books. It's about putting in real effort in order to learn something with a high amount of dedication and clear focus on the final outcome.
Looking at my students, I've also noticed that the take-off of online and mobile trends in today's day and age has also brought more unwillingess to read anything longer than 280 characters. Books have more or less become an eye-sore for the learners of today and even mobile apps require the time to use them in the right way and a fair degree of dedication and persistence to reach higher levels. In sum, finding new ways to learn English without doing any work (basically) is sort of the new trend.
The perfect solution: podcasts!
Podcasts are rapidly becoming more and more popular among English learners. The reasons are obvious. It's like the next best thing to watching your favorite TV shows or listening to music all day. They're conversational, educational, and most importantly, you can just listen to them on the go and not miss a thing.
That being said, here are 5 awesome podcasts that are guaranteed to help you learn English without breaking a sweat; at least not as much as books.
1. All Ears English
Right off the bat, I can say with certainty that All Ears English is going to appeal to probably any learner. It is not your classical educational podcast. Rather, it focuses on things like informal conversation, small talk, and conversation starters through a particular expression, idiom, or phrasal verb.
The fact that it's been downloaded well over 50 million times speaks to its popularity. Episodes are typically 10-15 minutes long and feature two speakers, teachers Lindsay McMahon and Michelle Kaplan.
In a nutshell, the two help learners of almost all levels improve their English vocabulary and conversational skills, as well as things like preparing for the IELTS exam, professional interviews, meetings and presentations; it's basically a one-stop shop for students, professionals, and everybody in between.
2. Voice of America Learning English
This podcast is actually a library of other VOA podcast series that altogether provide a beautiful learning experience for learners of different level and of different interests. Topics in the different series range from culture and history, world news, tech and entertainment, as well as the English language, in general.
They are usually narrated at a slower pace than normal to facilitate better learning. My recommendation is, of course, the Learning English Broadcast. However, it is intended mostly for elementary level learners.
It is why it slows the narration down even more compared to all the other VOA series, using only a limited amount vocabulary and a rather short sentence structure in the conversations provided. They provide a great basis for elementary learners to grasp new vocabulary, particularly idioms, and master native-like pronunciation.
3. British Council LearnEnglish
Created by the world's leading educational organization, British Council's LearnEnglish podcast series is surely not going to disappoint. The currently available 4 series feature around 60 free episodes that focus on everyday topics and are narrated by native English speakers.
The current content is best suitable for beginner, pre-intermediate, and intermediate learners. Unlike some other English learning podcasts, the episodes reach up to 25 minutes in length. However, they are structured in a way that follows the general guidelines of an English lesson.
What I want to emphasize the most is the fact that each episode is accompanied by several interactive exercises to help learners practice the language they hear. The tasks are fairly easy to do and consist of true or false questions, fill in the blanks and word order tasks, as well as answering questions that related to the lesson. What is more, all lesson materials are downloadable in a PDF format.
Overall, LearnEnglish is one of the most comprehensive podcast series I have experienced so far, and therefore, it is a must have on this list.
4. English Class 101
Whereas most podcasts are free up until the point you want premium content, Innovative Language's English Class 101 offers a free lifetime account for all users. Talk about a bargain! The weekly releases incorporate culture and current issues to create fun, interesting, and culturally relevant lessons that are easy to listen to.
The topics range from advanced grammar and vocabulary all the way to talking about monsters and toys, hence providing content for learners of literally any level. They can experience real lessons from real teachers.
Every episode is highly informative and is part of a stacked library of audio and video lessons, each of which is followed by detailed PDF notes for better revision. What is more, the native speakers hosting the podcasts are very energetic, which makes the listening experience all the more enjoyable. As the cherry on top, the mobile app enables learners to easily listen to new content on the go on any device.
5. BBC World Service Podcasts
Probably the most all-encompassing podcast library for English learners is provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Each podcast series is well thought out by English language experts who put most focus on phrases, slang, and everyday situations.
New episodes are published on a weekly basis in a very light format that is only a few minutes long. Typically, there are two speakers involved in a conversation, which ultimately revolves around a particular phrase or knowing what to say in a particular scenario.
My sincere recommendations are The English We Speak and 6 Minute English podcasts. They are very easy to understand and are sure to be extremely beneficial for English learners in terms of vocabulary expansion, proper grammar and intonation, as well as pronunciation, as the speakers speak rather slowly in order for them to be properly understood by learners of all levels.
How to Identify a Great Podcast?
Finding a good podcast to help you learn English is easier said than done, as there are quite a lot out there. I've only picked the best of the bunch but if you'd like to expand on our list and indulge in even more podcasts, here a few quick pointers on how to pick them just right:
Focus: A good podcast should be focused on a specific niche or topicality. Trust me, you don't wanna listen to hours of rambling about random topics that are certainly not going to help you learn English any better. There are plenty of "educational" podcasts out there, so keep an eye out for them.
Structure: If a podcast has a specific focus, then it's most likely to be available in shorter episodes, or better yet, series. This way, you always know that you have extra content to come back to - content that is building up on what you had previously learned.
Comprehension: An important part of a podcast is the level of difficulty or lack thereof that you face in understanding it. Try to find podcasts that are conversational rather than purely educational to get a feel for how native speakers talk, in general, and the dos and don'ts of conversational English.
Challenge: Last but not least, a good podcast should also provide you with opportunities to strengthen what you learn and grow as a learner as the series goes on. This is usually provided in the form of speaking exercises or various written materials for extra practice.
The fact of the matter is: if a podcast hits all the right notes for you based on your taste, time, and learning level, it will surely be reflected positively in your learning outcomes.
20 minutes per day of enjoying your favorite podcast should be more than enough to facilitate your English learning. Combine that with a glimpse into a book or two and you've just revolutionized your learning. Truth be told, your only excuse for not learning English now is the excuse itself.
So, grab a smartphone or a pair of headphones and turn on one of the podcasts from today's list. Until next time, happy listening and happy learning!