My name is August and I’m a podcast addict.
With a daily commute that lasts anything from 50 minutes to 90 minutes one way, it’s important for me to have something to do to pass the time, and the more productive, the better. I often spend this time catching up with the news in Japanese and German, listening to language courses, like Coffee Break French, or following some of my other interests, namely history, through the shows I have favourited on my iPod. Given that I use podcasts so much in my own language learning, I started to think about how these could be implemented in the classroom or in the learning of students.
If you don’t know what a podcast is, you may have already guessed from some of the examples given above, but in basic terms, a podcast is an episode of audio or video that you can either stream or download on devices such as your PC, phone, or music player. I use the word episode here because many podcasts run as series; some as stories of a kind, and others simply in order, like a course e.g. language courses. Many are free and others are paid. Sometimes they are broadcasted live, like radio, but often they’re available to download at any time, making them incredibly convenient for those of us always on the go.
I racked my brains and came up with a couple of novel ways learners might like to use podcasts in their learning.
- The most simple implementation would be to introduce learners to podcasts they can listen to for listening practice. These could be aimed at non-native speakers, or just be regular podcasts related to their interests. Devices like the iPhone and iPod come pre-installed with podcast playing software, but there are many alternatives out there. My app of choice is Overcast, which includes features learners in particular might find useful, such as the ability to set playback speed. This is possible with Apple’s built in application, but it lacks the ability to boost voice and shorten periods of silence like Overcast, plus the Apple app is notorious for its frequent crashes. I haven’t been able to use it properly for quite some time, so I can see it being possibly frustrating as a platform for resources. Overcast just looks much more appealing in my opinon too – it’s very sleek! Podcasts can of course be rewound and paused – Overcast even allows you to choose how far back or forward to skip when you press those options. Sometimes podcasts also come with transcripts attached. This is most frequent with news podcasts, such as Deutsche Welle’s “Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten”. Perhaps a good activity would be getting learners to try and create the transcript themselves, or use the podcasts as a kind of dictogloss which can be used to retell content to classmates.
- Creating podcasts! I thought it would be really fun to get learners creating podcasts. This might be a novel way for both teachers and learners to track their speaking or pronunciation progress in the language, as well as having content they can create. I’m thinking here about the concept of prosumers, those who both consume and create content. This has become a widespread practice since the advent of Web 2.0, so why not make use of all the resources available thanks to technological advances? Peer feedback could also be introduced once the content is shared and podcasts are easily integrated into blogs if we’re looking for another platform of learning to cover other skills e.g. reading and writing.
I decided to explore what the research said about podcasts. I’ve linked the papers I read at the end of this post so you can have a read also 🙂
It was interesting to see some of the different approaches taken to looking at learning with podcasts. Mashhadi et al (2016) looked at the impact of podcasts in a blended learning environment, particularly in regards to vocabulary acquisition. In this paper, it was suggested that learners engaged in a blended programme with podcasts outperformed their peers and that they had a positive response to the inclusion of such technology. Worth mentioning was the researchers’ use of the podcast Englishpod in the study, showing some evidence for the already fast-growing market of podcasts aimed at foreign language learners.
Blended learning is arguably the best implementation of such technology as podcasts are unlikely to be able to supersede classroom instruction, but may have affordances not as widely available in the classroom, particularly in regards to providing rich and deep context in learning. Podcasts can be a great source for extensive listening which leads to slow but steady vocabulary acquisition, meeting new words and structures in context, and the ability for learners to select their own learning content. This can feed into in-class activities which can train any language skill e.g. ask learners to find an interesting podcast and discuss it in class or write a persuasive piece on why this podcast is a good choice. Particularly with this last activity, learners may be able to more clearly see the benefits of the material they have chosen to listen to and begin to assess what works and what doesn’t – great for fostering autonomy in learners! Through podcasts, learners may also get to meet a whole variety of Englishes, whereas the teacher can only provide one, whichever it may be. This can aid in getting used to accents and dialects, as well as possibly finding fellow non-natives who have been successful in their studies and can act as role model speakers.
Hasan & Hoon (2013) provide a helpful overview of the research that has gone into the use of podcasts in language learning. To point out just a few of the most pertinent points mentioned, here it’s expressed via Lee & Chan (2007) that traditional classrooms tend to not place much importance on the skill of listening, an accusation we have seen previously from Nunan (2002). Additionally, there are some more innovative uses of podcasts, such as increasing learner motivation. A reoccurring idea here is the ability to use podcasts on the move and presumably this is very attractive to learners who particularly take issue with having to sit and pay attention in class. I have already mentioned the element of choice, but it’s worth remembering that motivation is often stimulated by choice within learning.
An extremely important point to take away is the suggestion by Chan et al (2006) that podcasts should not exceed the learners’ attention span. I have absolutely found this to be the case in my learning of Norwegian through FutureLearn. If the videos were any longer than the current 4/5 minutes, I think I would lose concentration and not be able to absorb all the comprehensible input.
I think it could be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking learners can work for longer simply because they’re being more interactive or engaging with technology they might find more appealing. Here, again, is where programmes made specifically for learners could be used, or we could even try to train the learners to be more autonomous in their learning by directing how long they listen to podcasts for; paying close attention to when their mind starts to wander and they need to stop for the day. Why not ask learners to find out what their limit is and slowly increase it, keeping track of their progress as they go along?
I hope this post has provided a bit of an introduction to just a few ways that podcasts have begun to be used in language learning. I personally find it quite exciting and would have loved to have seen some of this in my earlier language learning had the technology been around. By using podcasting now, I can see the real benefits of its use and I’m not surprised to see some of the outcomes already present in current relevant research.
Let me know how you feel about podcasts in the comments below! In this post, I’ve looked a lot at speaking and listening, but how do you think podcasting might be used in other skills? I found an episode of Englishpod, which was mentioned in Mashhadi et al’s paper. This particular episode looked at sexual education and contraceptives. What do you think about this? Is it appropriate? Is it perhaps a way for teachers to avoid an awkward topic in the classroom?
There is an endless list of choices for podcasts to use and chances are, if you have a sudent interested in it, a podcast for it exists, but here are a few suggestions for authentic podcasts you could try:
Serial was a worldwide hit and at one point it felt like everyone was talking about it. In fact, I overheard a conversation about it on a train and went home and downloaded it because it sounded so good! This is perhaps aimed more at intermediate learners and above, but the topic – a story of a possibly wrongly-convicted student – could provide hours of debate in class. The episodes are quite long (over an hour) so even just one episode could provide a lot of material.
Great, short episodes for lower level learners introducing everyday English. PDF transcripts are available via the website, which means they are likely included on the podcast version too.
Tons of podcasts here and helpfully split into levels, meaning learners can find what fits best. The only catch is that all the really helpful stuff, like transcripts and activities, is only open to paid members.
Interesting and complicated real-life issues can be approached easily through podcasts. This podcast details the journey of an anonymous parent coming to terms with her child being transgender. Having learners explore podcasts like these can open up real and enriching discussions, as well as teaching some cultural values regarding certain topics.