How To Use Podcasts To Improve Your English Pronunciation
Author bio: Alastair Budge is the founder of Leonardo English and the host of English Learning for Curious Minds, a podcast for intermediate-advanced English learners.
Introduction to pronunciation
Pronunciation is one of those skills in English that can seem like a mystery. If you meet another non-native English speaker and you hear them speaking English, their pronunciation is probably one of the first things you notice.
So if you meet someone with brilliant pronunciation you might be tempted to ask “what’s your secret?”
Their answers (these “secrets”) might all be slightly different, but I can guarantee you that every English learner with excellent pronunciation will have one thing in common: they will have developed very high levels of listening skills.
In this article I’ll explain why listening is important for pronunciation, tell you how and why English podcasts can help your pronunciation and provide you with three exercises you can do to improve your English pronunciation.
Let’s get started.
Why does improving your listening improve your pronunciation?
Pronunciation is how words and sounds are made by speaking. To know how to make those sounds yourself, you need to be able to recognise how they are made.
You need to understand things like minimal pairs and connected speech.
You need to understand the difference between sounds if you stand any chance at being able to make those sounds yourself.
The key to this is, as you might guess, making sure you listen to lots of English.
If you’re reading this guide you are probably already familiar with the excellent YouTube channel, English Like A Native. Perhaps you follow other YouTube channels, and you also keep up to date with the latest English TV series on Netflix.
This is great, but I’d like to tell you about another super powerful tool you may not have heard about: podcasts in English.
What are podcasts in English?
Podcasts are audio-only files that are available for free through a podcast app such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Castbox.
Perhaps you already listen to podcasts in your own language.
There are hundreds of podcasts available for English learners, and the good news is that they cover all sorts of topics and areas.
If you would like to listen to podcasts about English grammar, there are plenty of those. Speak Better English With Harry has hundreds of episodes about grammar and vocabulary.
English Learning for Curious Minds is a podcast I host that tells you curious stories about history, politics, and other interesting topics.
If you are more advanced, there are over 2 million podcasts aimed for English native speakers covering every subject imaginable.
You can listen to any podcast for free in a podcast app, and you’ll find more hours of content than you could possibly listen to in a lifetime.
Why should I use English podcasts to improve my pronunciation?
You now know why listening is an important part of improving your pronunciation.
Here is why podcasts are an excellent tool to make sure you get lots of listening practice.
They’re free to listen to
You don’t need to sign up or create an account anywhere. Just download a podcast app (for free) and start listening right away.
You can listen on your phone, any time, anywhere
Because podcasts are audio only, all you need is a pair of headphones. Listen on the bus, while you are out walking, driving, or doing anything else. But be aware that if you aren’t fully concentrating it will be harder to listen “actively”.
There are millions to choose from
There are over 2 million podcasts, and hundreds aimed at English learners. You’ll certainly find one that’s both interesting to you and at the right language level.
Many provide learning resources
Podcasts for English learners will often provide things like transcripts, which can be very useful if you’re using them to improve your English.
English Learning for Curious Minds, for example, provides subtitles, transcripts, and key vocabulary for every episode.
How to use English podcasts to improve my pronunciation?
The wonderful thing about podcasts is that they can be used in so many ways. Here are our favourite methods that will help your pronunciation.
Just (actively) listen
At the basic level, the more you listen actively, the better you will get at recognising the differences between different sounds in English.
Close your eyes and try to listen out for exactly how words are pronounced.
When does the last syllable of a word “connect” to the first syllable of the next?
When and why are certain vowels long and others short?
This is the first step, but I have two even more powerful activities you can do.
If you listen to stories of any successful polyglot, you’ll certainly hear them talking about Shadowing. Shadowing is an activity where you listen to the audio of a native speaker and you repeat exactly what they say shortly after them.
This activity means you are repeating the words very shortly after you have heard them, meaning you can try to pronounce the sounds having heard them being pronounced correctly milliseconds before.
It is one of the most effective exercises that you can do on your own.
Podcasts that provide transcripts are particularly useful to do Shadowing, as you can follow the speech with the text and focus 100% on correct pronunciation rather than trying to guess what the next word will be.
If you would like to explore this further, I’d recommend this guide to Shadowing.
You might already know about the benefits of recording yourself and listening back to your pronunciation.
Podcasts can be particularly helpful because you can record yourself speaking exactly what the podcast host said, then you can compare your pronunciation to the original, correct pronunciation.
Like Shadowing, it is extra helpful if you choose a podcast that provides a transcript, so you can simply read it out loud, and you can easily go back and highlight words that you pronounced incorrectly.
Just do it
To conclude, podcasts can be an incredibly valuable tool in any English learner’s toolkit. They aren’t a substitute for classes, courses, or YouTube, and it should never be a question of either/or. Keep watching that YouTube channel, keep watching that Netflix series, and keep going to English class.
All I’d recommend you to do is to add podcasts to your English-learning programme.
Start by downloading a podcast app, searching for some English podcasts, listening to a few that sound interesting (I’d love you to listen to English Learning for Curious Minds), then make a habit of fitting listening activities into your English learning routine.
Keep it up for a few weeks, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much progress you have made.