Podcasts for speakers of English as a second or other language

Curated by Brita Zitin, Digital Services Librarian at the Watertown Free Public Library

Brita Zitin helped start the Humanities on Demand podcast in 2008 and has been a podcast listener ever since. Here, Brita presents a collection of podcasts for speakers of English as a second or other language (ESOL).

I’ve been working in public libraries for eight years. Part of my job is to develop and teach workshops on technology that people in my community might find informative, entertaining, and – above all – useful. To my delight, a recent workshop on “Technology for Language Learning” drew English speakers studying foreign languages and ESOL learners in approximately equal measure. However, it wasn’t until I was putting together a “Podcasts 101” workshop that I realized the utility of podcasts for those involved in the ESOL program at my public library.

Almost any podcast has the potential to provide great listening practice for ESL /ESOL learners. Here’s why:

  • Unlike live radio, episodes can be paused, restarted, and repeated anytime.
  • Those who need to practice specialized vocabulary for a job, or comprehension of a particular accent or dialect, can probably find a show that includes it.
  • Most podcast apps, including RadioPublic, offer the option to change the speed of playback, so learners can start at half-pace and work their way up to a more conversational clip.
Adjust the playback speed in the RadioPublic app by tapping the 1x (visible from your listening queue, which you can get to by tapping on the artwork for a particular show in the bottom center of your screen). Drag the control to the left and drop it to 0.5x.
  • Shows that offer transcripts provide the opportunity to reinforce listening skills with reading. If you don’t see a link from RadioPublic, try a Google search for the title and the word “transcript”:

  • Show notes with information and links covered in podcast episodes can also support ESOL learning, and are often found on show websites.
  • Teachers and tutors can take advantage of RadioPublic’s sharing features to “assign” a podcast episode – or even a specific clip from an episode – to English language learners ELL) who are looking for extra practice.

While these features can turn virtually any podcast into an English lesson, I’ve selected some shows that are created specifically for ESOL listeners.

View, follow, and listen to the whole collection of shows on RadioPublic, available on iOS and Android.

All Ears English

The two very enthusiastic American hosts of this show put out a new episode almost every day. Transcripts are only available via paid subscription, but learners who enjoy the hosts’ banter will pick up a lot of vernacular English just by listening. The show’s reassuring tagline is “connection, not perfection.”

BBC 6 Minute Grammar

The BBC produces a handful of shows for ESOL listeners, all using British English. The trifecta of “6 Minute” shows – Grammar, Vocabulary, and general English – use their six minutes efficiently to present a concept or word with multiple examples, all voiced by different narrators. The last minute or two is devoted to a quiz that checks the listener’s understanding.

English at the Movies

The two-minute episodes in this series from Voice of America explain words and expressions used in popular movies. Visit the VOA web page for video editions, which include subtitled clips from the movies to aid comprehension.

The English We Speak

Another show from the BBC, this one offering a new word or phrase in each three-minute episode. The hosts present the term(s) in context, clarify the definition, then give additional examples. Many of the phrases are Britishisms, but there are plenty (“step on it,” “my bad”) that are just as useful in the U.S.

Espresso English

The solo host of this show speaks slowly and clearly as she covers grammar, vocabulary, and common mistakes. Her free transcripts are enhanced by illustrations and videos.

Learn English Through Listening

UK-based Adept English releases two podcast episodes per week: one longer and more advanced; the other shorter and more appropriate for beginners. Topics range widely, from pronunciation (“The Letter H”) to current events (“Trump’s Visit to the UK”).

Learning English

This Voice of America news broadcast presents a daily roundup of current events read at a slower pace. Following the news is a segment called “Making a Nation” that presents information about U.S. history, culture, and arts.

Want to create your own collection of shows that dovetails with your area of interest? Add shows to your Smart Folder on RadioPublic, then inform the Podcast Librarian of your collection: librarian@radiopublic.com.


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