The 12 Best Podcasts to Help You Learn English [2020]

by learn a language journalist

As some British pop stars told us in the 1980s, . But the internet has changed everything, and now podcasts might be his second life!

Everyone loves a good podcast. They can entertain and educate you during any activity that does not require your full attention. What did we do before there was an endless supply of great podcasts to listen to while out for a jog, or cooking dinner?

If you are learning English and would like a few podcasts to help, you are spoilt for choice! Here some tips for getting the most out of them, and our picks for the most helpful ones for your level.

Why should you learn English with podcasts? 

It’s worth taking a moment to ask what makes podcasts worth your valuable study time.

They are easy and convenient  

Podcasts make the most of time that would otherwise go to waste. That’s why everyone loves them! It’s also the main reason they are so great for learning a second language. They’re a great way to increase your contact with the language without much effort. Think of them like English learning blog posts, but for your ears!

No matter what stage of the learning process you are at, it is helpful to get as much exposure to spoken English as possible. Podcasts allow you to tune into the language anytime and anywhere: while you’re out for a walk or driving your car. What could be more convenient than that? 

They help you develop listening skills

As you already know, there is a big difference between textbook English and “real English” as you hear it on the street. Podcasts can give you more experience listening to conversational English as it is really spoken. 

So many podcasts aren’t scripted and are taped in someone’s bedroom. They’re great at capturing the “messiness” of everyday speech. Get used to listening to podcasts where the speaker talks with “umms” and “ahhhs,” and it will be easier to understand when people do this in real life.

They can teach you specialist vocabulary 

There’s a podcast for every interest, every opinion and every profession. If you listen to podcasts relevant to your area of expertise, you will gain specialist vocabulary in your own field. 

This is especially true when you reach an advanced level and can listen to podcasts intended for English speakers, rather than only those for English learners. 

They can help you improve your pronunciation

Getting used to the sounds of English is essential for improving your pronunciation. Podcasts allow you to become very familiar with the rhythm of English sentences. Hearing English conversations with podcasts will help you when you come to speak English yourself — even if you are only half paying attention! 

They are free

You might be investing quite a lot of money in tools to help you work on the skills you need. Listening is one of the most crucial skills in mastering any new language, but this is where podcasts are most helpful — and almost all podcasts are free. That’s one less thing to need to pay for! 

6 effective strategies to learn English using podcasts  

If you’re listening to a podcast in your native language, it might be in the background while you’re doing something else. That’s a great way to spend an afternoon! If you’re listening to improve your English skills, however, you might want to do something a little differently. 

Follow these simple steps to make the experience as effective as possible.

Start with podcasts that focus on learning 

There are probably more podcasts in English than in any other language, and some of them are truly great entertainment.

 With so many great English language podcasts available, it can be tempting to jump straight into listening to ones created for English speakers. This might be a good strategy if you are already an advanced learner. If you aren’t ready yet, then this will be a very ineffective way to learn. If you get lost, you will probably stop paying attention, and then will not be taking in any new vocabulary.

There are some excellent, free podcasts designed for English language students, as this article will show. These are a much more effective place to start! 

Listen with the text accompaniment 

Many of the best podcasts designed for studying English come with a written version which can also be downloaded. Try reading along to a podcast, and you’ll be learning how to read and pronounce at the same time!

It is very difficult to tell how English words are pronounced just by seeing them written down. In fact, this is one of the most frustrating things about learning English. Reading along to a podcast is an easy way to get used to the strange English pronunciation rules that we all battle against! It’s also great to make sure you don’t miss anything important. 

Make a note of new vocabulary

Podcasts are an excellent way to gain new vocabulary in subjects you are interested in. But these new words aren’t going to stick unless you engage with them! Simply write down any new words you hear. If you aren’t sure what they mean, pause the audio and look them up. Since you have already heard these words in context and made an effort to absorb them, you are likely to remember them.

Slow it down

Native speakers talk so quickly! Everyone learning a second language has been frustrated by this at some point. 

Another useful feature of podcasts is that they can be played at slower speeds. Even if you only miss a word every few sentences, experiment with listening to your podcast slowed down. This will give you time to write down any new words you hear. You might also gain a better understanding of how each word is being pronounced. Take advantage of the option to pause and rewind any sections that confuse you too. 

Now, if only we could do that with real-life conversations…

Don’t multitask 

Normally, the beauty of podcasts is that they do not require your full attention. However, if you are using them as study tools, it’s probably best to forget that. 

If you want to get the most out of a language learning podcast, you have to be fully focussed. This means doing something with the information you are hearing. That might be reading along, or just making a note of unfamiliar words. Better still you could on Preply and talk through all of the vocabulary you have learned. 

Put them on in the background 

After all, rules were made to be broken! 

To get the absolute most out of podcasts as an educational tool, you should give them your full attention. If you are just using them to gain more contact with spoken English, however, you can ignore that advice from time to time. Having a podcast playing in the background will help you get familiar with the sounds and rhythms of the language. 

For best results, try listening to a podcast once with full concentration, and then playing it in the background a second time to reinforce the new vocabulary. 

We have online tutors in more than 50 languages.

Preply is one of the leading educational platforms that provide 1-on-1 lessons with certified tutors via the exclusive video chat.

The 6 best podcasts for learning English

First off, let’s look at some examples of the learning podcasts. These are made specifically to give you something new about the English language in every episode. 

1. from the British Council

This is an excellent podcast for beginners, aimed at English language learners from A1 to B1 levels. Episodes are discussion-based and cover common everyday situations. Every episode comes with a written text and a support pack with exercises to test your understanding of what you have just heard.  There’s even a free app! 

If you want to learn British English, this is a great place to start. Not sure yet whether US or British English is for you? Check out our guide to the differences between the two. 

If you found the British Council website too boring, or if you want to learn US English, then “Voice of America: Learning English” might be a better choice for you. It’s a clear website that offers different podcasts for beginner, intermediate and advanced ESL learners.

At the beginner level, there are programs focused on basic language skills. Titles include “Let’s learn English,” “Everyday grammar” and “Words and their stories”.

 If you are at intermediate level, however, things get much more exciting. Podcasts cover a great variety of topics including health and lifestyle, science, technology, and culture — and news, which can be particularly helpful for chatting to friends in English. All podcasts come with a written text to help you follow along. 

Are you short on time? With 6-Minute English, you have no excuses. This is another podcast from the UK government, this time made by the BBC. 

6-minute English is a news podcast produced every week, and is aimed at intermediate speakers. Each episode comes with a list of vocabulary, a question, and a text to follow along with. English here is spoken at a slightly slower speed than usual, which makes it much easier to understand. 

There are hundreds of episodes going back to 2014. Try listening to one six-minute episode per day and your vocabulary will be enormous in no time! 

The British government really loves making ESL podcasts, it seems! “The English We Speak” is also produced every week by the BBC. This series is even shorter, with episodes only 3 minutes long. The vocabulary is a bit more complex, and is aimed at intermediate and advanced students. 

If you are learning English to move to the UK, this program is highly recommended. Each episode focuses on a different English idiom or expressions used in the UK, such as “play a blinder,” “take the biscuit” or “to cut a long story short.” Most of them are quite weird — they definitely make more sense after three minutes of context! 

If you can speak an intermediate level of English, you might find some of these educational podcasts a little bit dull. “Luke’s English Podcast” is a great solution! Luke is an ESL teacher by day, and a comedian by night. Episodes cover very random topics, from British culture to bad Christmas jokes, to language-learning tips. 

It’s easy to see why this podcast has many dedicated followers. Luke is a great storyteller with a knack for making things interesting. There are also scripts available to download for each podcast episode. 

“All Ears English” is another great option if you are already at intermediate level and want a little more entertainment. Unlike “Luke’s English Podcast”, it is in American English. It is presented by two ESL teachers, Lindsay from Boston and Michelle from New York City. In very short episodes, they discuss American culture, and explain confusing expressions in a friendly and fun way. Their motto is “connection not perfection” so expect a focus on everyday English as it is spoken in the real world!

Another brilliant feature of this podcast: Lindsay and Michelle specialize in training people for the IELTS. The show was produced with the IELTS in mind, so anyone about to sit the exam will find it especially useful. If this is your motivation for learning, you might also be interested in our guide to speaking American English like a local. 

6 Brilliant podcasts for advanced learners by native English speakers

If you already have great English listening comprehension, there is a whole new world of brilliant podcast series to explore! If you aren’t sure where to start, these are some of our favorites made for English-speaking listeners.

1. This American Life

“This American Life” is a great choice for insight into the culture of the USA. It is a mixture of journalism and storytelling, focusing on real-life tales from citizens of all regions of the country. The stories are varied and original. One episode was taped for 24 hours in an all-night restaurant; another interviewed students at a high school which had recently had a mass shooting.

It has won a host of awards and is consistently rated among the most popular in the country. 

The whole world is obsessed with real-life stories about criminals at the moment. Unless you have been living alone in a cave on the mountains, you have probably noticed! 

There are plenty of podcasts dedicated to the “true crime” trend, but “Crime Junkie” is the most popular. In each 50 minute episode, the speakers discuss a different murder. They go into gruesome detail and give their theories on any unsolved aspects of the mystery. It will make you shiver, but fans say it’s truly addictive. 

Hopefully you won’t need to use any of the vocabulary you learn with this podcast! 

You might or might not be familiar with National Geographic. It is a much-loved American magazine (and TV channel) famous for incredible stories and photography related to geography and the environment. This podcast is about the discussions their employees have in the break room. Expect crazy stories from explorers, photographers and scientists. 

Episodes last around twenty minutes, and topics include zombie mice, the ethics of animal selfies and underwater pyramids. It’s perfect if you want to be amazed at the strangeness of our planet. 

If you are more into culture than science, “The Writer’s Voice” by The New Yorker is a real treat. 

The New Yorker is a prestigious American magazine, and every week it prints a new short story. In this podcast, the week’s story is read aloud by its writer. The published work captures a wide range of life experiences across the United States and beyond. Some of them are quite hard to follow, but most make for very enjoyable listening. 

It’s a great way to enjoy some of the best new fiction in the country. Like a bedtime story for grownups! If you love literature, you might also be interested in our guide to finding free English audiobooks online. 

When learning any new language, some people say that jokes are one of the last things you can expect to master. If you want to test this theory “Comedy Bang Bang” is a really funny podcast! 

It has been running for ten years, and very popular pretty much as long as podcasts have existed. Episodes begin as celebrity interviews, but soon descend into chaos. Expect sketches, silly catch-phrases and improvisation games. If you are new to the show, the annual review episodes are a good place to start. 

One final mention of the BBC’s many English podcasts! Why not start listening to the news in English? It’s a great way to get more English language exposure into your daily routine. 

New episodes of the BBC’s “Global News” are published twice a day, and reporting aims to cover the whole planet. As you might guess, this show is particularly helpful if you would like to learn British English. 

A brief afterword

With these tips and recommendations, using podcasts can really advance your English language goals. We hope you are inspired to fill up your phone with plenty of educational audio!

If you find that podcasts are a very effective study tool for you, then why not use them in an English lesson with one of Preply’s expert tutors? 

With Preply, you and can work with them to plan lessons that suits your needs perfectly. You can ask your tutor to go through a podcast transcript with you, or to make a listening exercise based on the podcasts you most enjoy. That way, you’ll get to practice all the new vocabulary you learn in the most effective way possible — by using it in a conversation with a native speaker.

FAQs about podcasts to learn English

Does listening to a podcast improve English?

Yes, listening to English podcasts is a great way to augment your English learning. If you want to boost English learning with podcasts, you need to be conscious and listen intently throughout. Playing back parts that you don’t understand and writing down words you don’t recognize will help you expand your vocabulary.

Which podcast should I listen to improve English?

The Learn English Podcast from the British Council is an excellent place to start. In this podcast they go over everyday situations and conversations, and they provide written text to go along with each podcast so you can read along as well.

This content was originally published here.

Share this article

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *