How To Use Podcasts When You’re Learning A Language

You’ll want to do more than just press play on your podcast app.
Learning With Podcasts

Podcasts are a great learning tool. You can listen to shows about history, mythology, philosophy and, as you can guess, language. If you’re looking for recommended podcasts to listen to, you should check out our language-specific guides. Here, we’ll be discussing the best methods for actually learning with podcasts.

The great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them everywhere, but passively listening isn’t always the best option. You can easily listen to a few hours of Spanish without learning anything substantial. How exactly you use podcasts is up to you — whether it’s reinforcing your existing language skills or using them to pick up new grammar and vocab — but here are some tips to help you along you way. And if you’re just looking for podcasts to listen to, scroll to the bottom.  (Or look at all the Babbel Podcasts here.)

1. Use Podcasts That Focus On Learning

There are two types of podcast you can learn with: podcasts that are recorded in the language you’re learning and podcasts that are about the language you’re learning. If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want to go with the latter. Yes, it can be tempting to jump into more advanced content, especially because there are so many great shows in other languages. But maybe for now, stick with podcasts that speak your new language slowly, give tips on grammar and vocab, and maybe even use English some of the time.

2. Slow It On Down

Many podcast apps have the option to speed up and slow down the audio. This can be a very helpful tool. One of the hardest things about learning languages is how quickly native speakers can talk. Yes, the people on the podcast will sound like they’ve been heavily drinking when you’ve slowed them down, but it certainly beats rewinding every few minutes to catch the words you missed.

3. Focus On What You’re Listening To

When you’re listening in your native language, podcasts are great because you can put them on while you’re doing something else. You might listen to a show while you’re cleaning your apartment or exercising. This is fine because if you stop paying attention for a few seconds, you can easily pick up on the thread of the podcast. Not so with foreign-language podcasts. If you lose focus for a moment, you’ll likely be completely lost. As you get better, this will happen less, but it’s best to listen while doing as little else as possible.

4. Keep A Notebook For New Vocabulary

Alright, now we’re getting to the active learning. It might be a throwback to high-school language classes, but one of the best things you can do is keep track of new vocabulary you hear on podcasts. If you can, try to figure out the word’s meaning from the context, then go look up the word and write down the definition. That doesn’t mean Google Translate it, mind you; use a real dictionary so you get the full sense of what the word means.

This can be time-consuming, and the first few times you do it, you’ll probably fill pages for every single episode, but you’ll start to notice your progress soon as you begin to look up less and less. And it’s a great feeling to make it through a full episode for the first time without looking up any words. Bonus: use the notebook to make flash cards so you can review the words later.

5. Look For Transcripts

This will vary from podcast to podcast, but if you can find shows that publish full transcripts, it will be a real time-saver. You can read along with it while you listen, or consult it when you really can’t figure out the words someone is saying. This might make it feel less like listening to a podcast and more like reading, but having both the written and audio versions will really help you acquire new language skills.

6. Put Podcasts On In The Background Sometimes

The last few tips have been all about zeroing in on podcasts, so now let’s kick back and enjoy some ambient noise. Yes, I know, I said you really need to focus on the language, but listening to the language you’re learning is in itself useful. It helps acquaint you with the natural sounds of the languages, and can introduce you to a range of different accents.

If the show is  not heavily edited, it will also help you become familiar with how native speakers really talk. Often, learning materials are scripted or practiced, so you won’t hear the rhythm of the language or  all the “um”s and “er”s that happen in regular speech. With podcasts, you’ll get something closer to the real language.

7. Find Other Tools That Complement Learning

You’ve probably heard about people learning a language after just watching, say, soap operas for a few months. That sounds passive and appealing, but usually that simplifies the whole story. Often, they’re also immersed in the language, too. So really, people learning with podcasts need to branch out with other resources.

Look for tools that fill the gaps that podcasts leave. Podcasts are basically all audio, for example, so you’ll want to find written things in the language you’re learning. They also don’t really give you any feedback on your learning, so that’s another thing to seek out. There are countless resources out there — along with, of course, Babbel — and combining them is a fantastic idea.

Podcasts To Listen To By Language

Your podcast choice will of course depend on which language you’re learning, so here are all our suggestions for podcasts by language:

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