Photo by ka_tate, feature image by Colleen AF Venable

In a new series on Goods, Michelle Schusterman takes a look at language learning podcasts and which might be best for your situation.

I hesitated when adding the word “Best” to the title of this article, 1) Because the best method of learning language is not the same from person to person, and 2) Because there are approximately eleventy jillion podcasts available, and I can’t claim to have tried them all.

As a former ESL teacher and a person who tried several methods when learning Portuguese, from Rosetta Stone to private instruction to full immersion, I know every student has their own goal in mind when they set out to learn a language.

Some of my students wanted to open the doors at work for jobs in English-speaking countries by focusing on business English. Some needed to pass a proficiency test at school, and some wanted to feel confident striking up a conversation. Some just wanted to understand what Chandler was saying on Friends.

With that in mind, I dived into the world of ESL podcasts. While archived podcasts are useful, the topics (and slang) can be outdated, so I only included those that are currently being updated.

ESL Pod (English as a Second Language Podcast)

What Level is it?

I would have recommended this podcast to my intermediate and advanced ESL students in a heartbeat. Dr. Jeff speaks slowly and articulately, and each episode covers something different and interesting, from Area 51 to suggesting a nightcap.

What’s the Focus?

I’d say this is one for those who want to work on their listening skills. Dr. Jeff is very careful about speaking English normally, but the way he incorporates difficult concepts like prepositions, idioms and phrasal verbs makes it clear to the student what those words or phrases mean. Students learn based on context, not definition, which from my experience results in better understanding.

I really can’t emphasize enough just how impressed I am with both the website and the podcast – both somehow manage to be articulate, educational and interesting.

How Frequently is it Updated?

At least three times a week – both the podcasts and blog (which is also helpful, and offers transcriptions) are quite reliable.

Photo by aldrin_muya

Just Vocabulary

What Level is it?

Mostly advanced, although some intermediate students could benefit from these as well. The vocabulary words introduced include preempt, quotidian, and scintillate – not exactly everyday English, but good words to know.

What’s the Focus?

As the title suggests, it’s all about vocabulary. Each podcast is around five minutes and introduces two new vocabulary words. You’ll hear the word repeated frequently, listen to several sample sentences, then get the spelling, definition, synonyms and antonyms.

At the end of each podcast, there’s a review of words from the previous podcast. Because of the repetitiveness, this is a great one for students interested in expanding their English vocabulary.

In all honesty, this one appears to be intended more toward students studying for their SATs rather than actual ESL students. But I’ve had several dedicated ESL students who would be all over this podcast. And with so many schools abroad pushing “real” English (aka “what’s up” and “wanna”), I’d love it if real English were taught, too. An ESL student who correctly uses “propagate” in a sentence would earn a panegyric from me.

How Frequently is it Updated?

It looks like twice a week, although the last podcast I see was early September 2010. However, there are literally hundreds of episodes, so I’d recommend starting from the beginning. Their website, Facebook and Twitter accounts are active, so hopefully they’ll be updating more soon.

Business English Pod

What Level is it?

Advanced, with a specific focus on phrases and concepts frequently used in the business world. The host (which varies per episode) speaks at a medium speed, and articulately. You’ll hear a variety of accents as well.

What’s the Focus?

Business. Topics covered include networking, interview tips, marketing and dealing with angry customers. A few of the episodes include video, which basically shows a real-time transcription as the lesson moves along. You can also find transcriptions, ebooks and other helpful resources on the website.

How Frequently is it Updated?

It averages about once a week, sometimes closer to a week and a half.