Listening is difficult for most learners. The first thing I hear from students who have traveled abroad is, “Americans talk so much faster than you do”. As teachers, we tend to talk a bit slower, with more enunciation and emphasis on intonation. But are we doing students a disservice with this habit? I know after teaching in Brazil for over 10 years, I speak much slower, so much so that when I call back to the states, people ask if I’m ok or worse, dying as they notice my rate of speed while talking is dramatically less rapid than before I left.
Since building the Facebook group “English Students worldwide”, every day I receive a text or email from learners asking for help with their fluency. I am surprised to find that most haven’t even considered this simple solution to increasing listening speed. So “listen” up.
Surely, you as students should be doing more outside of class to improve. We have written in the past about how to use TV to improve. We have written about the need for practice on your own. We have posted about the need for conversation classes and the need for community in learning, as well as suggested apps to help you. Here is an old, but effective approach to not only improving your listening skills, but targeting specific vocabulary for yourself. Podcasts and audio streams.
Podcasts and audio streams are far from new, but the best thing about them are the sheer numbers that exist on almost every subject. Choosing a subject that has meaning to you, whether a hobby, your job, your degree in school etc., and using them as an exercise, will help increase your listening speed, comprehension rate, vocabulary, contextual deduction and my even teach you something new about the subject. Best of all, they are free.
Podcasts and audio streams are easy to listen to on the web, downloadable, portable and available to use anywhere and you can rewind and use them as often as you need.
There are thousands of sites to get great podcasts. Go to google and search “subject name podcasts”. I have listed the top 20 sites that I have been using or recommending to my students here.
I’ll list this first because everyone knows it, knows about it, and many use it for videos. It is a great site to get advanced level speakers on diverse subject matter.
NPR (National Public Radio) has been on the radio back home and I’ve been listening since the invention of the radio. You can’t beat success. Fun, informative and diverse, it has a wealth of subject matter available from around the world. This is a “must hear” for me.
This site offers subjects link Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Environment, Arts and Culture and Business and Economics.
This site is a directory updated weekly with over 5000 podcasts in 30 different categories from Education to Shopping.
The BBC is an excellent source for news and information from around the world. Great too if you need to brush up on understanding a British accent. CNN international and Voice of America are alternatives.
Steve Hargadon has put together a great wealth of info here for education. Great for all of you future teachers that I talk to on Facebook. Great for us working teachers too.
Another great source for education material.
This is a bit older, not sure if they have made new posts since 2014, but very good for educators.
This seems to be an old site but it has a great collection of links to University and College podsites with free educational articles from the US.
For students curious about grammar, nothing better than Grammar Girl. An easy way to get explanations about different grammar queries.
This has fun stuff for nerds. Smart people talking in big words about general subjects. Get your geek on and listen in.
For business learners, a free seat at the Harvard University Business School.
More great casts for business learners.
Nova was a series out of Boston that kept me glued to the TV as a young adult. Science and technology are two of the major themes.
Some fun stuff about how stuff works. Very interesting to listen to at random.
If you’re into cars, this is the show for you. I would listen to these Boston guys every Sunday for car info, but mostly for the way they make me feel at home. You never know what they will talk about. Just to give you an idea that there is a source for everything and anything.
This one is new to me. I like the name though. WTF is by a comedian and might be good to try and learn from context. WTF, give it a try.
So, get out the headphones, get your iPod or smartphone or laptop and start improving your listening skills. You’ll find your writing and speaking will thank you for it too.
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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