The Best ESL Podcasts for Your iPod

In a new series on Goods, Michelle Schusterman takes a look at language learning podcasts and which might be best for your situation.

http://matadornetwork.com/goods/the-best-esl-podcasts-for-your-ipod/

I hesitated when adding the word «Best» to the title of this article, 1) Because the best method of learning language is not the same from person to person, and 2) Because there are approximately eleventy jillion podcasts available, and I can't claim to have tried them all.

As a former ESL teacher and a person who tried several methods when learning Portuguese, from Rosetta Stone to private instruction to full immersion, I know every student has their own goal in mind when they set out to learn a language. Some of my students wanted to open the doors at work for jobs in English-speaking countries by focusing on business English. Some needed to pass a proficiency test at school, and some wanted to feel confident striking up a conversation. Some just wanted to understand what Chandler was saying on Friends. With that in mind, I dove into the world of ESL podcasts. While archived podcasts are useful, the topics (and slang) can be outdated, so I only included those that are currently being updated.

ESL Pod (English as a Second Language Podcast)

What Level is it?

I would have recommended this podcast to my intermediate and advanced ESL students in a heartbeat. Dr. Jeff speaks slowly and articulately, and each episode covers something different and interesting, from Area 51 to suggesting a nightcap.

What's the Focus?

I'd say this is one for those who want to work on their listening skills. Dr. Jeff is very careful about speaking English normally, but the way he incorporates difficult concepts like prepositions, idioms and phrasal verbs makes it clear to the student what those words or phrases mean. Students learn based on context, not definition, which from my experience results in better understanding. I really can't emphasize enough just how impressed I am with both the website and the podcast — both somehow manage to be articulate, educational and interesting.

How Frequently is it Updated?

At least three times a week — both the podcasts and blog (which is also helpful, and offers transcriptions) are quite reliable.

Just Vocabulary

What Level is it?

Mostly advanced, although some intermediate students could benefit from these as well. The vocabulary words introduced include preempt, quotidian, and scintillate — not exactly everyday English, but good words to know.

What's the Focus?

As the title suggests, it's all about vocabulary. Each podcast is around five minutes and introduces two new vocabulary words. You'll hear the word repeated frequently, listen to several sample sentences, then get the spelling, definition, synonyms and antonyms.

At the end of each podcast, there's a review of words from the previous podcast. Because of the repetitiveness, this is a great one for students interested in expanding their English vocabulary.

In all honesty, this one appears to be intended more toward students studying for their SATs rather than actual ESL students. But I've had several dedicated ESL students who would be all over this podcast. And with so many schools abroad pushing «real» English (aka «what's up» and «wanna»), I'd love it if real English were taught, too. An ESL student who correctly uses «propagate» in a sentence would earn a panegyric from me.

How Frequently is it Updated?

It looks like twice a week, although the last podcast I see was early September 2010. However, there are literally hundreds of episodes, so I'd recommend starting from the beginning. Their website, Facebook and Twitter accounts are active, so hopefully they'll be updating more soon.

Business English Pod

What Level is it?

Advanced, with a specific focus on phrases and concepts frequently used in the business world. The host (who varies per episode) speaks at a medium speed, and articulately. You'll hear a variety of accents as well.

What's the Focus?

Business. Topics covered include networking, interview tips, marketing and dealing with angry customers. A few of the episodes include video, which basically shows a real-time transcription as the lesson moves along. You can also find transcriptions, ebooks and other helpful resources on the website.

How Frequently is it Updated?

It averages about once a week, sometimes closer to a week and a half.

What Level is it?

On their website, the podcasts are split into levels, with episodes for beginning through advanced learners. They also have a section just for business English students, and a collection of videos that focus specifically on pronouncing words found in the episodes.

What's the Focus?

The episodes are very personable and conversational. Each is fairly short — just a few minutes long — and comes with a transcript, worksheets and answers, and other extra assignments. This podcast is excellent for students who want well-rounded lessons; a little listening, a little reading, a little writing.

How Frequently is it Updated?

About once a week. I love that the website tells you when the next update will be — it's on the right, beneath the subscription option.

Culips ESL Podcast

What Level is it?

Intermediate, although many advanced students could benefit from their episodes that focus on idioms.

What's the Focus?

I'd say «real» English — in other words, the type of English you use in everyday conversation. Recent episodes include everything from discussions about superstitions to slang terms for money. Beneath each episode is a list of important expressions used in the chat, and members have access to full transcripts, more detailed explanations about phrases used and quizzes.

How Frequently is it Updated?

They average around four to five podcasts per month, each of which is between ten and fifteen minutes long.

ESL Aloud

What Level is it?

Beginner to intermediate, depending on the episode. Some cover things as basic as spelling words aloud in English, while others work on slightly more advanced topics.

What's the Focus?

Many of the episodes choose one phonetical sound — short A, long E, etc — and provides a lesson on pronouncing those words. This podcast is ideal for students who thrive with heavy repetition. Each episode runs between ten and twenty minutes (occasionally longer), and encourages the student to repeat words and phrases several times after the host.

How Frequently is it Updated?

Until recently, only once a month. There were three new podcasts in September of 2010 — hopefully a sign of more updates to come.

What did I miss? Do you have any great ESL podcast recommendations? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to the list!

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