Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to Improve Your Listening: Listen to Podcasts

Last week several of my students told me they really wanted to improve their listening, but  didn't have many opportunities to listen to English outside of class. They said they worked in a non-English environment, or worked completely alone. 

Listen to English Podcasts 

I told them  listening to English podcasts on an iPod, or mp3 player was probably the best way I knew they could improve their English listening skills very quickly.

What is a podcast?
A podcast is an audio file that you download from the Internet. After you download it, you can listen to it on your computer or on an MP3/portable music player (for example, an iPod or iRiver). You can subscribe to a podcast so that it is delivered to you automatically each day, just like a newspaper.

Create your own Playlists 
The wonderful thing about iPods is that you can create your own playlists. This means that you are not stuck listening to one specific program all day long. Depending on your mood, you can listen to a specific ESL podcast on how to list your abilities in a job interview, a 20 minute news show, 20 minutes of English songs, and finally a half hour radio show that you enjoy. Finally, you can even listen to a very funny show in which two guys talk about cars.  

Thousands of  choices
There are thousands of podcasts on the Internet, just waiting for you to listen to. Many of these include ESL podcasts designed and prepared by English teachers. Many others include normal programs that advanced students can probably enjoy. I have included some links to podcasts on the right hand side. Look for Podcasts. You can listen to an  endless variety of topics: sports, arts and crafts, business, finance, education, family, children politics, economics, books, just to name a few. All you have to do is become familiar with what is out there, download what you like and create your own playlist for your iPod.  You can play your podcasts when you are going for a walk, riding the bus, working in the backroom at work,cutting the grass, or simply sitting on a park bench.  

Instant Replay: You're In Control 
Unlike the old days when you had no control over what you were listening to, you are now in the driver's seat. If you don't completely understand something, you can play it again. If you only understand 35 per cent the first time, listen again and boost your comprehension to 50%, or 70%  The more you play, the more you will understand. You will gradually begin to understand that you do not need to know every word in order to get the point.

Improve your Vocabulary 
Of course, the more you listen to specific topics, particularly the news, the more your vocabulary will improve.  News vocabulary tends to fall into categories: environment, politics, crime, weather, disasters, the economy.  Reporters usually use the same words in  these stories. When you build news listening into your iPod listening playlist, you will hear the same vocabulary frequently repeated. You can't help but start to remember them. 

Get Comfortable with the Rythem and Sound of English 
Another wonderful benefit of listening to different podcasts, news and music on your iPod 
is that you will start feeling much more at ease with the sound and rhythm of English.  Some of the fast English you previously found difficult will seem clearer and easier to understand. If you are really motivated, singing along with the music will help both your vocabulary and your pronunciation. 

I hope I've sold you on the benefits of creating your own English podcast playlists. They definitely can help you.  
Here are a few podcast lists to get you started. Don't forget. There are many more.  

Canada Podcasts-

CBC :Podcasting
Large List of ESL Podcasts
Rong Chang's Podcast List
VOA Special English :Podcasts

Please let me know if this is helpful. Your feedback is important to me.


  1. Christina Yang, VancouverOctober 12, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Wow. Thank you for this help. It is good advice.

  2. I definitely agree that podcasts can be a great help for people who are learning English as their second language. In my opinion, as much as possible I try to teach myself some new ways to enhance my listening skills by experimenting because learning from your own mistake is the best way you can learn. For instance, I always engage myself into having a conversation with my native co-workers and with that I am not only improving my listening skills, also I improve my speaking skills. Listening to other people talk in a fast pace gives me a challenge that makes me feel that I need to keep up with what the conversation is about. On the other hand, some people might find it difficult to interact with native speakers due to them being around with people of the the same language. I think, the best way for the people to improve their listening skill is to listen to english music a lot and little by little and try to sing along with the song or listen to an english news report or conversation and just repeat the words exactly just as how they heard it and the next thing they'll know is that they can pronounce each word perfectly or if not perfectly, better than before.


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