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How Podcasts Can Help Your English Listening Skills
These days you can find podcasts on almost any topic you can imagine, from business to basketball and fashion to farming. For many of us, the charm of podcasts is how easily they fit into our lives. You can listen while you wash your clothes or clean your house, while you eat your breakfast, or travel to school or work. And if you choose a podcast in English, you can improve your language skills at the same time.
Understanding what you hear is one of four critical skills of language learning – listening, speaking, reading and writing. Cambridge English Qualifications like the B2 First or the C1 Advanced assess your ability to understand a series of spoken materials, such as news programs and conversations between friends. By listening to podcasts in English, you’ll learn to understand not only the pacing of how native speakers talk, but also gain experience in how to interpret a story.
Developing a sense of story
Some podcasts feature one person talking directly to the audience (a monologue); others will be structured around a discussion between two or more speakers. Listening to monologue podcasts gives you the chance to understand how stories function in English, which is important when you’re listening to things like news programs that are reporting on a particular event.
The one thing all these podcasts have in common is that you hear people talking. When listening to dialogue podcasts, you’ll get a better sense of how native speakers talk to one another, which is more spontaneous and casual than the dialogues you may have practiced in your English classes. Discussion podcasts are often unscripted and the speakers may interrupt or talk over one another, which means that you'll have to pay close attention – but the satisfaction of understanding a real conversation is worth the effort. If you don’t understand the first time, go back and listen again.
Choosing your podcast
Most podcasts are recorded by native speakers for native speakers, and this means that they can sometimes talk very quickly and may not enunciate clearly. But many podcasts have transcripts available online, so you could read along while you listen if you are really struggling.
You don’t have to start with podcasts aimed at native speakers – there are podcasts for English learners too! Make sure that the podcast is tailored for your level of English – not too difficult or too easy. Check with your friends or your teacher to see if they know any podcasts that they can recommend to you.
Podcasts can be any length – from two minutes to two hours. If you’re just starting out, longer podcasts may leave you tired and frustrated – look for podcasts of about ten minutes long, about a topic that you know or are interested in. Listen to it multiple times until you are confident you understand it. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand and hear everything.
Building your skills
Podcasts can be a great way to boost your vocabulary. Write down any new words you come across so you can look them up later. When you’ve finished a podcast, try writing a short summary of what you’ve heard. This will help consolidate what you’ve learned – and you’ll be practicing your writing skills, too!
Cambridge Assessment English is part of the University of Cambridge. They provide the world's leading range of qualifications and tests for global learners and teachers of English, including Cambridge English Qualifications such as the B2 First or C1 Advanced. Take a look at their free activities to help you practice skills you need for the exam.