Podcasts are an excellent tool to help improve your English language ability… but are you using them correctly? Let’s learn how to make the most of Thinking in English and other podcasts!
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You are all listening to my podcast right now. And thank you for listening! I assume that almost everyone listening has a reason: you either want to improve your English or maintain your English level. But do you actually know how to use podcasts to learn English?
Really, I should have made this episode a long time ago! But for some reason it completely slipped my mind. All of you obviously listen to podcasts with the hope of improving your language skills and English ability – but are you using podcasts correctly? Are you making most of Thinking in English?
By the end of this podcast, you will know how to make the most of podcasts and improve your English!
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Why should you use podcasts to learn English?
Let’s just briefly start off with a quick discussion on why you should use podcasts to improve your English! Podcasts are a relatively new thing but have massively risen in popularity over the past decade. There are now over 3 million podcasts on Spotify, and probably more if you include platforms like Apple, Amazon, and Google.
With so many podcasts existing online, there are so many options for English learners! I always recommend my students listen to a mix, or a variety, of different podcasts. Of course, Thinking in English should be the first one you listen to… but also throw in some other podcasts. There are lots of podcasts designed for English learners – and you should also try podcasts for native speakers! I actually have a bonus Thinking in English episode over on my Patreon recommending my favourite podcasts.
Podcasts are an amazing resource. And you can listen to them anywhere – in the car, at home, at work, or while walking the dog. The only thing I would caution you about is choosing the ‘right’ podcast. I mentioned that there are 3 million podcasts on Spotify…. That means there are a lot of great podcasts, a lot of terrible podcasts, and a lot of average shows! This is true for all types of podcasts, especially ones for English learners. You should look at the ratings to see how popular a podcast is – and listen to a few episodes to check the quality of the show.
Why are podcasts good for English learners? Well, there are 3 clear reasons. Listening to podcasts can help you improve your listening comprehension, your ability to use and understand the natural flow of English, and often improves your pronunciation. Listening to native English regularly, trying to understand nuanced and complicated topics, and being exposed to interesting sentences are all amazing things for English learners.
In addition, depending on how you study and listen to podcasts, you can also work on your reading skills at the same time! I release a free transcript with every episode – so you can practice reading as well (but more on this later). I know a lot of podcasts for English learners want you to pay for their transcripts, but if you can access them, it really helps your learning. I’ve been advised to charge for my transcripts, but I won’t because I know how valuable they are to you guys.
AND… a lot of the biggest, most popular, and well-respected podcasts for native English speakers actually produce transcripts for free anyway! My ambition is to be in that group of elite podcasts… and I don’t want to charge my listeners for something so essential.
So… I’ve established why podcasts are good for English learning… but how can you make the most of them?
How to Learn English from Podcasts!
I’m going to give you tips on different methods you can use to improve your English through podcasts! I should probably give credit here to Leonardo English… I thought of a few tips myself and then found his excellent article and maybe borrowed a few of his ideas too! Actually, you might be hearing from him on this podcast at some point in the future, so I’m sure they don’t mind me borrowing some of his tips.
Just before I give you the tips, I think it is important to briefly go over the difference between active and passive learning. I released an episode on this topic a few months ago and I think it is one of the most popular episode I’ve ever made… I still get messages about it today! So go and listen to that episode for a full discussion on active learning.
But in a nutshell, active learning is the idea that you need to be focusing completely on studying. You can’t learn from putting on an English TV show while you are scrolling through your phone – it is difficult to learn passively. Most English learners are passive learners… and most podcasts listeners are passive listeners.
You are probably listening to me, but are you actively engaging in what I’m saying? Are you dedicating 100% of your effort to understanding and retaining the information I’m giving you? To make the most of podcasts, and to make the most of Thinking in English, you should be actively listening!
How can you do this? Well… here are some tips on how to use podcasts effectively! (And, again, thanks to Leonardo English).
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The first tips surround transcripts. As I said earlier, many podcasts release transcripts – major podcasts funded by big organisations tend to have free transcripts (usually for disabled listeners who might need to read instead of listen) and some smaller podcasts, like Thinking in English, also release free transcripts!
The first tip… is don’t use the transcript… at least the first time you listen. The main purpose of a podcast is to improve your listening skills and reading the transcript at the same time as you listen is kind of cheating.
So, the first time you listen to a new episode of Thinking in English, try to do it without a transcript. Put 100% of your focus and attention on listening to what I’m saying and comprehending my English. Listen actively!
Also, keep a notepad and pen with you while you listen. This way, if I say an interesting word or a phrase you don’t understand, you can make a note and check the meaning later. AND I know some of you actually take notes of content as a way of practicing for note taking in English university lectures or business meetings – which is a great skill to develop.
Once you’ve listened to the podcast at least once, then feel free to check out the transcript. Use it to confirm any details or words you may have missed when listening, practice reading it allowed while listening to copy my pronunciation (this is called shadowing), and to help you understand the content. As most of my episodes are on complicated topics, you should use transcripts correctly to improve your English!
If you are unsure how to shadow a podcast, the Leonardo English article I mentioned recommends listening to the episode a few times to get a good understanding of the topic. Then listen while reading the transcript. And finally, listen while repeating the words out loud with no delay… basically read the text at the same speed as I read. Keep doing it until you are confident – it is one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation, intonation, and achieve a more natural flow to your speech!
The next tip is quite a simple one – dedicate time to listening to podcasts. If you want to actively listen to Thinking in English, consider it part of your schedule.
I have started to schedule my day – and it makes it so much easier to find time to study. My approach used to be… I’ll study Japanese after I’ve finished my work. But as many of you know, there is always more work to do! Now, I schedule myself to study at a certain time – for example 8pm on a Tuesday. Now that I have a set time to study… I find it much easier to do so.
Do the same for Thinking in English. I release episodes twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays (actually I also release bonus episodes on Fridays as well – subscribe to Patreon to listen!), so maybe schedule two 30-minute periods a week to dedicate yourself to listening. It is fine to listen on the train, or in your car, or while walking the dog, but to make the most of your listening experience find somewhere where you can give your full effort.
I like the idea of combining passive and active learning here – listen once while on the train or driving to work. And if you think it is a really good episode, listen again another time – but this time do it actively, making notes, and giving 100% effort to comprehending the contents!
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It might sound a little strange, but you can practice writing in connection to listening to podcasts! I’ll give you three different ways to do this!
First, practice note taking. Note taking is a really undervalued skill in the modern world. As a graduate student in London, many of my classmates struggled to take notes of our lectures. We would be taking courses on complicates issues – the voting system South Korea employs during local elections, Japan’s security arrangements with Southeast Asian countries, or the influence of ancient philosophical concepts on modern Chinese foreign policy (these are all real lectures I attended)! And the professors will speak fast, with very advanced vocabularies, and will often jump quickly between different ideas. The same is true in business meetings.
Learning how to take notes is a vital skill – you need to learn to listen, comprehend the interesting or important issues, and quickly note them down. Everyone has different techniques for note taking, but the important part is to practice. So… while listening to Thinking in English, practice taking notes!
Second, why not transcribe the entire podcast? If note taking is not enough for you, you could try to write a whole transcript as you are listening. It is not an easy thing to do… but if you can dedicate yourself to this task, it will really help to improve your English comprehension and listening.
You don’t need to transcribe the whole episode either – why not just choose a section and give it a go!
Third, write podcast summaries! I think I mentioned this tip in my episode on active learning a few months ago… and it is something I often tell people who message me. Write summaries after you watch something or listen to something – it is a great way to both test your comprehension and practice writing at the same time.
What should you include in your summary? What were the key arguments? What did you think about the topic? Did you agree with everything I said? Don’t just quote things that I said… try paraphrasing or rephrasing. This ensures that you understand the key points being made in the episode and lets you try out some new vocabulary.
Use the Settings to Your Advantage
Next, use the settings for your advantage! Podcasts are a type of technology – and you should make use of the technology. What do I mean?
One thing you can do is to change the playback speed. I speak quite clearly on the episode because I want as many people as possible to listen. However, if you want to challenge yourself increase the speed. Try 1.25x or 1.5x speed – and see if you can understand. You probably can!
Another thing you can do is download the episode! If you download the episode, you can listen anywhere and listen offline. You can turn off the internet, stop any distractions, and dedicate yourself to listening and learning!
And the final tip is to use the podcast communities! Podcasts have fans… hopefully all of you consider yourself fans of Thinking in English. How can you use the community, though? Commenting on posts and sending messages on Instagram are all potential methods! I pretty much answer every message I get on Instagram (unless you send me a voice note… if you send me a lot of voice notes I probably will forget to answer as I usually reply to messages while on the train) so feel free to ask.
But the best way is to join the Thinking in English Patreon. You can join our conversation club, ask questions on the discord server, and in the future, we might launch book clubs and exclusive opportunities!
Hopefully after listening to this episode, you have a better idea on how to use podcasts to improve your English. First, make sure you are an active learner. Dedicate yourself to listening and learning. And then you will notice improvements.
Try making notes, writing your own transcripts, shadowing, summarising, changing the speed, or downloading episodes! And let me know if you notice a difference.
How do you use podcasts to study? Are you going to change the way you listen to Thinking in English after today?
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I'm so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!
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8 thoughts on “How to Learn English from Podcasts!”
You are more than a teacher!, you are a coach for students, thanks a lot!, I really appreciate it
Thank you! I just want to help people learn and use English – hopefully you all find my podcasts useful 🙂
As always, excellent episode.
A quick summary can help me with my writing skills and my listening as well, definitely people don’t learn actively as you said, I just find it hard to listen to an episode more than once, even though I can understand about 95% of what you said, I always listen to it with the transcript, no doubt it’s an excellent tool, thank you it’s my first time responding.
Thank you!! I understand – I don’t often listen to things twice… But I know it is a very useful way to study!
Hi Tom. It’s great to listen to you. I started my adventure with your podcasts recently and think it’s very useful. The main difficulty for me is understanding conversations in movies where people are speaking fast, using a lot of unformal language and so on. When subtitles are on is stops to be an issue but as you mentioned in episode – it’s some kind of cheating. Any advice how to improve “movies language” understanding? Maybe you could release an episode on that topic?
I found this episode extremely useful. Lately I’ve been making the effort to consume different media content in English (podcasts, TED talks, TV shows, and so on) but until now I’ve only engaged as a passive learner.
I usually play those programs while washing the dishes or cleaning the house because I need to keep my brain ocuppied somehow while doing those boring but necessary tasks 🙂
From now on I’ll try some of the tips you talked about. I really like the idea of making summaries or taking notes because by doing so I could practise writing as well. If I run out of time, I’ll try at least leave a comment in your blog each time a listen to an episode
HI TOM ,this topic is very interesting because listenning podecast ,especialy yours ,it’s a great way to improve the knowledge of english language but each person has his own method to apply .
I love to listen your podecasts early in the morning just after the breakfast, to listen actively mean I must pay all my full attention therefore I have to avoid all kind of distractions ( job, family, and staff like that) second I write down all the words I don’t know and than at the end when I can I write down a comment about the topic spoken .Last thing in order to improve the converstation is to find a person who is available to speak through whatsapp or others app one a week or more .
Thank you so much for your message! If you’d like to join our conversation club, it’s just $5 a month – we hold 2 discussion sessions every Tuesday. https://www.patreon.com/thinkinginenglish