Podcasting For Language Learning

Oct 24th

Beyond Anglophone Podcasts was one of the big conversations at our International Women’s Podcast Festival in June. As Josephine Karianjahi, Laura Ubate, Kim Fox, Bella Ibrahim and Rutendo Nyamuda discussed all things non-English and multilingual podcasts; it got us thinking. How effective is podcasting for language learning? 

As we delve a little deeper into the innovations and experiences that come from centring other languages in a primarily English-speaking podcasting world, we’ll explore if podcasting can help you master a new language.

Language learning with podcasts

Podcasts are an excellent learning tool. There is no limit to the things you can learn from podcasting. From current affairs and industry insights to languages, audio offers free learning on the go. 

While you can’t expect to become fluent purely from passive podcast listening, it can be a valuable tool to help you master a new language, reinforce existing skills, or pick up new vocabulary and grammar, for example. 

The benefits of learning a new language with podcasts

  • You’ll become a better listener – learning a new language is a two-way street which requires mastering speaking and listening. Using podcasts to develop your skills can not only improve the way you speak but how you listen too. 
  • You’ll gain a better understanding of culture – an essential to engage in friendly conversations. 
  • They’re entertaining – who said learning has to be boring? 
  • There is plenty of variety regarding the subject matter – it’s the spice of life, after all. 
  • It’s free – the best things in life usually are! 

Start with podcasts that are learning-focused

You have two options when using podcasts to develop your language skills: podcasts recorded in that language and podcasts created to help you learn the language. If you’re a newbie, you’ll be best suited to the learning-focused podcast. Whereas, if you consider yourself an intermediate, listening to podcasts in that language might be well suited to you. 

Avoid distractions

While podcasting is great for listening on the go, learning anything new requires focus. While you can easily pick up on conversations in your native language if you miss bits, it’s not the same with foreign languages. So, avoid doing anything that will shift your focus. Because chances are, if your mind begins to wonder, you’ll be completely lost. But, of course, once you develop your skills, you’ll be able to listen on the move. 

Slow things down

Most audio platforms allow listeners to slow down and speed up the audio. Slowing down the podcasts you’re listening to can be super helpful to help you master specific words and phrases, particularly if the host speaks fast. 

Keep a notebook on hand

When learning new things, it can help to write things down too. When you’re listening, note any new vocabulary you hear. Once you’ve finished listening to the episode, you can go away and research these words and understand how they’re used in context. While it can be time-consuming to begin with, you’ll notice you do it less and less as you develop your skills. 

Make use of transcripts where possible

While not every podcast will publish a transcript, they’re becoming increasingly common. Transcripts are perhaps the most valuable tool when learning a new language and will save you lots of time. If you source the transcript before you listen, you can read along and highlight any words or phrases you’re struggling with. If you’re someone who learns best by reading, using both mediums together can be a game-changer. 

Podcasting in your mother tongue

Not only is podcasting an excellent tool for language learning but preserving native languages too. 

Speaking on why podcasting in our mother tongue, as opposed to English, is essential, Rutendo explained she told podcasters; “we want you to write & speak in your mother tongue, and then we’ll translate into English and not the other way around.” 

She continued, “And if it sounds broken in English, that’s what it should sound like. Because I think most of the time, we think in English and do a lot of the work we’re doing business-wise in English. But, we also need to remember that this is an opportunity for us to preserve our languages and to preserve our cultures and our stories.” 

Whether you’re a listener or podcaster, native-language podcasting has so much value, and we’d love to see more of it! If you’d like to listen to our Beyond The Anglophone panel, you can access it along with a whole host of content from the festival for just £55; click here to buy a pass.