Using podcasts for language learning

There are many posts about podcasts and language learning (just google it). But I thought about how I use them, which seems to differ a bit from the common and recommended way. Most recommend finding podcasts with transcripts and then listen to each podcasts many times. I don’t really disagree with the advice, but I don’t really do it. Mostly because I listen podcasts on the go or when running and I can’t really use any additional material. This is also why I don’t do video podcasts.

The app (for android)

First I want to introduce you to the most awesome podcast app. Unfortunately this exists only for android. It’s called Podcast addict (find it in Google Play store). I like it because of many things like sorting options, but for language learning the best feature is, that you can search for podcasts in certain language. This is helpful especially since for example a German podcast might have an English name, even if the whole podcast is in German.

Also a recent feature that I really love is, that you can browse podcasts. It shows you trending podcasts and new podcasts and you also see the top audio and video podcasts separately. Here you can also set the language. So, you can browse these categories in Japanese for example. This helps you to find something you like. For example I like books and reading, but not all book podcasts have the word “book” in the title. If you’re not sure, you can also check out the popular podcasts if any of those catches your fancy.

In addition, you can adjust the speed of the speech in the podcast, which means that languages I speak really well, like Finnish, English and in some cases Swedish, I can speed up. And then languages I don’t understand so well, I can slow down.

There is a support version for the podcast, I don’t remember if it adds anything to the app, I have it however, because this is the best app ever. You can also support the app in Patreon.

My approach

So, how do I actually use the podcasts in my language learning? I don’t really study podcasts. I use them more like use music: getting to know the sound of the language and then when I get better, then I actually listen to the podcasts.

For languages I don’t really speak yet like Persian and Japanese, I try to find short podcasts of like 5 min that preferably are updated often, hopefully every day. If this is not possible (Persian proves to be troublesome), then I get something slightly longer (like 5-10 min), but updates weekly. These podcasts I just listen. I don’t study them with a transcript and at the moment I don’t really understand what’s going on. I do try to catch words I know.

This seems totally useless, but it doesn’t require a lot of energy and I get used to how the language sounds and how the words are pronounced. I usually get better at the passive skills like listening and reading much quicker than speaking and writing. Once my level improves, then I can actually start to listen to what the podcasts talk about. At this point, if the normal speed is too fast for me, I like to slow it to about 0.8. If I really have problems understanding I speed it up to a place I can barely follow. After listening like this, I adjust to more comfortable level and suddenly I understand quite a lot!

Once I can somewhat comfortably understand normal speech, I try to find podcasts that interest me. I don’t aim for 100% understanding, because this will take you way too long and also you will get better at figuring out what is talked about even if you don’t understand everything. I prefer podcasts where there are interviews or in general 2 or more people discussing something. These don’t tend to be scripted which means the language is more natural. The way people normally speak.

I don’t think which podcast is easy to listen, I pick things I’m interested in, because otherwise I won’t keep listening to them. I tend to go for podcasts about language, books, science (especially neuroscience if I can find), and feminist discussions. I tend to start with news or similar things, because they are usually very formal language which tends to be what you studied. And also these are usually the short podcasts. I don’t like super long podcasts, if it’s longer than an hour, it really needs to be good to end up on my list even in English or Finnish. This tends to be my problem with French and Spanish which tend to favor longer format.

Podcasts I listen to in different languages

To get you started I will list podcasts I listen to in different languages. Maybe you find something you like. I will also shortly introduce the podcast. Hopefully this will be helpful! If you have favorite podcasts, please write a comment and recommend!

English

For English I will only list the ones I listen because they are related to language or language learning. I’m sure no one has problems finding podcasts in English. I will only list podcasts that seem to be active, since I also have subscribed to some that haven’t updated in over a year.

  • The Fluent Show – a podcast about loving, living and learning languages. This is one of my favorite language learning podcasts. Lot of fun and a lot of useful tips.
  • I Will Teach You a Language – gives you 1-2 episodes a week. My other favorite. Sensible advice and answers to questions people send.
  • Language Stories – this started as episodes about local languages when Lindsay (one of the hosts of the Fluent Show) was traveling around the world. Small bitesized and fun introductions to different topics and languages
  • Lingthusiasm – This is a linguistics podcast about English language with an Australian and Canadian hosts. My inner nerd is happy. They also have bonus episodes if you donate on Patreon ($5). The bonus episodes do include swear words and stuff, but they are a lot of fun. A bit more free and unstructured as the main episodes
  • Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – entertaining podcast about English grammar. Highly recommended for anyone who needs to write English correctly.
  • The Actual Fluency Podcast – A podcast by a Danish guy who started learning languages. He mostly interviews more experienced people, which is the great part of the podcasts. I sometimes have problems with the solo episodes as I’ve noticed that my world view differs a lot from his. But there aren’t many of those and the interviews are really good.

I have a few podcasts I haven’t really had time to get into yet, so I don’t really have a personal opinion about them yet. However, they are about language, so might be of interest:

Finnish

Finnish is my native language, so I’m not really learning it. I still thought I would list some podcasts I listen to if someone is learning Finnish. Also if you are and are looking for something specific, comment the post and I will see what I can find.

  • Aristoteleen kantapää – podcast about Finnish language and also about languages in general. Features an expert interview. Host is Pasi Heikura, who was part of Alivaltiosihteeri who used to do a radio program about language “jokes” like anagrams and palindromes.
  • Cafe au lait – podcasts that interviews Finnish people who live abroad.
  • Maailmanpolitiikan arkipäivää – podcast and radio program about a topic in world politics
  • Politbyroo –  podcast about Finnish politics
  • Päivystävät dosentit – answer to Finnish politcians and their comments about academics who don’t understand the real world. Two academics (who study nationalism and climate change, separately) discuss about current topics and questions people call in.
  • Sivumennen – podcast about interesting books the hosts have read or are waiting to be published
  • Suomi mainittu! Ulkoministeriön podcast – Podcast of the Finnish foreign ministry. Talks about how Finland is represented around the world. Interviews of Finns in international jobs.
  • The Ulkopolitist – podcast about topics in international politics

Swedish

  • Faktiskt – feminist podcast about current topics
  • Romancepodden – podcast about romance novels. Often also discusses problems of the genre.
  • SF-bokhandelns podcast – my favorite podcast in Swedish by a science fiction bookshop in Gothenburg. Super interesting discussion. Sometimes interviews in English and also the board game part is in English always.

Again I have a few podcasts that I haven’t really listened to yet, but seem interesting

  • Mellan raderna – Finnish Swedish podcast about books. I have listened to a few episodes and it seems promising
  • Europapodden – podcast with guests who discuss Europe, politics, and future

French

  • Entre – podcast about a life of an 11-year-old French girl
  • La Bougeotte – women discuss about traveling while female
  • Quoi de Meuf – feminist podcast, my favorite French podcast at the moment.

Podcasts I think are interesting, but I haven’t really listened to yet:

Russian

These are pretty much all podcasts that I haven’t listened enough to really have an opinion. I have just started my Russian listening. I thought I would list them anyway.

Spanish

Spanish I also have just started listening. Some of these have been recommended to me, though, so this list is more likely better than the Russian one.

German

German I started with Deutsche Welle podcasts and I’m still listening to one of them (Top-Thema mit Vokabeln). These podcasts actually do have transcripts if that’s how you like to use podcasts.

The rest I have listened to for like 1 episode or not even a whole episode, listed here for interest:

Japanese

I don’t actually understand Japanese very well yet. So I’m just listening to two news podcasts.

Persian

I understand even less Persian than Japanese. However, I found some news podcasts.

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