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I’ve been a long-time fan of podcasts - short, downloadable audio programmes -, mainly because I have a long commute to work through awful traffic.
Rather than stare out the car window, bored, for an hour or more, I make sure I have a good long playlist of podcasts. My favourites are This Week In Tech and This Week In Science.
More recently, the podcast world has exploded in popularity and you can find podcasts on pretty much any topic you like, including learning English. They’re also much easier to access now - most are available on Spotify, for example.
You may already know about the power of podcasts for learning English, but perhaps you weren’t aware of how helpful they can be to improve your English pronunciation.
In this article I will share the best podcasts to help you improve your English pronunciation.
Keep reading to the end where I will give you practical strategies about how to use podcasts to improve your English pronunciation
Why use podcasts for pronunciation?
Podcasts are often free. They’re easy to download. You can listen as many times as you like. You can listen anywhere.
Podcasts offer English learners so many advantages, and especially for pronunciation!
And one of the best things is that when you listen to many episodes of the same podcast, you become more familiar with the speaker’s voice. The speaker will become easier to understand and easier to imitate.
You may think that videos are better for learning English, since podcasts are audio-only.
In fact, it’s an advantage for pronunciation practice that podcasts do not have video. It means that you can really focus in on the sounds of English.
With many podcasts specifically for English learners, the hosts speak just a little bit more slowly than usual. Additionally, many podcast apps give you the ability to slow down or speed up the audio.
Many podcasts offer a transcript, so that you don’t need to wonder if you heard “affect” or “effect”. You can check the transcript and see for yourself.
In fact, transcripts are a great tool for pronunciation practice, as we’ll see. When choosing a podcast, always check if transcripts are available.
You can either use the transcript before or after listening. If you use it before, and try to guess the pronunciation of a new word, you get immediate feedback when you hear the host pronounce it.
Two kinds of podcasts that can help you with pronunciation
We will look at two kinds of podcasts:
- Podcasts with information about pronunciation and English topics
- Podcasts for English learners that you can use as a model for your own pronunciation
Podcasts with information about pronunciation and English
Yes, you can find YouTube videos to help you with all kinds of pronunciation and English issues, but these podcasts can help you in a more structured and systematic way.
If you have specific pronunciation questions, or would like to know about pronunciation exercises, these podcasts can help.
The Procrastination Podcast with Emma
Emma is a British native speaker behind the highly successful “Pronunciation with Emma” YouTube and Instagram accounts.
Her materials focussed on improving your pronunciation, and covers technical issues such as glottal stops.
Her website, Pronunciation with Emma features both courses on pronunciation and some free video material.
The host, Emma, focuses on British English.
Emma has a very neutral accent, which she says she has developed from years of teaching English around the world.
Her pronunciation courses are not cheap - £225 for three months access. However, you can reduce the monthly cost with a 6- or 8-month package.
These packages offer webinars, personalised feedback and one-to-one sessions as well as the podcast library.
The good thing is that she has plenty of free content. Use this to see if you like her style of teaching before paying for a the premium offer.
Learn English with Rachel
If you would prefer to learn English with Rachel, you can try her free, audio podcast, which is available on her website*.
Unlike Emma, Rachel talks not only about pronunciation, but also about general English topics, such as using polite phrases. However, she is a ‘pronunciation and accent guru’, so you can expect a lot of guidance on pronunciation issues.
Rachel has a friendly, pleasant voice and speaks standard American English at a medium-to-slow pace.
Her podcast isn’t currently updated (it looks like her YouTube channel is the focus now), but there are still 25 episodes for you to enjoy.
If you’d like more, the videos section of her website offers a rich selection of videos on many pronunciation topics.
*Note that there is another podcast on Spotify called Learn English with Rachel, but it is NOT the same podcast.
American English Podcast
As the name suggests, the American English podcast focuses on American English. They have pronunciation topics, such as commonly mispronounced words in American English and even cultural topics, such as ‘the blue people of Kentucky’.
Their basic service is free - you can listen to their 150+ podcasts whenever you wish. However, you will only be able to listen to part of each podcast (part 1), unless you subscribe to their premium service.
If you wish to have access to their transcripts (which are very important for pronunciation practice), again you will need to subscribe to their premium service.
The premium subscription is $25 per season of 50 podcasts.
The host of each podcast, Shauna, speaks standard American English, a little faster than Rachel or Emma.
The InFluency Podcast
If you are looking for smaller, bite-sized podcasts, you may wish to try the InFluency podcast.
This free website currently offers over 220 podcasts that you can stream or download. Each one is generally around five minutes in length. You can play them directly from the site or from Podcast providers like Apple or Spotify.
Many of the episodes simply focus on the correct pronunciation of certain words, such as analysis or chaos. Others look at pronunciation techniques, such as reductions of TH sounds. There are also plenty of episodes on confidence building techniques.
Importantly, a transcript is available for each podcast (if you access it directly from the site rather than on Spotify or somewhere else).
Like Rachel, the host, Hadar, has a pleasant and friendly voice and speaks at a slow-to-medium pace, a little slower than Rachel. She has a standard American accent.
Podcasts that you can use to model pronunciation
But you don’t need to listen to a podcast about pronunciation to improve your pronunciation.
You can use podcasts about any topic for pronunciation exercises, and I would certainly not suggest that you limit yourself to podcasts about just pronunciation.
Here are my top suggestions of other interesting podcasts in English.These podcasts can act as a model for your pronunciation.
English for Curious Minds
English Learning for Curious Minds is a podcast produced by Leonardo English.
Presented by Alastair Budge, example topics are Five Surprising Food Origins and Where Does All Our Rubbish Go?
Each episode comes with a transcript, subtitles, and key vocabulary, which means you can follow along and learn new words at the same time as listening. There is a membership option, which gives you access to all of the learning materials.
Alastair speaks at a medium pace, suitable for upper-intermediate learners to follow easily and has a standard English accent. He takes care to use vocabulary and topics that are suitable for upper-intermediate learners going on to advanced level.
If you like the style, vocabulary level and topics on this blog, I think you would like English Learning for Curious Minds.
Luke’s English Podcast
Luke’s English Podcast has been around since 2009. As a result, he has a huge library of over 760 episodes.
Sample topics include the Louvre museum in France and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Luke speaks British English at a medium-to-fast pace. He often has guests on his shows, usually who also speak fast, British English.
His podcasts tend to be long, sometimes almost two hours in length. Some are in video format and some not. He does not provide transcripts (probably because of the long format), but gives a long, written introduction to each episode.
Luke’s basic service is free, but he also provides premium content, which includes worksheets and special episodes on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
All Ears Podcast
The All Ears English Podcast is presented by two female hosts.
They have three categories of podcast: English fluency, IELTS practice and Business English. Example topics for each are Why Native Conversations Aren’t Linear, Uncountable Nouns and Tips for Confident Business Emails.
Both hosts speak American English in a very excited and high-energy way. They speak reasonably fast and use idioms and slang. In other words, they don’t slow down or simplify their speech to make it easier to understand.
This high-energy way of speaking makes it very easy to pick out word stress, sentence stress and other pronunciation topics that we discuss here.
Each podcast is available for free and in video or audio format. If you would like access to the transcript, there is a paid membership.
SEND7 is a simplified news service, offered as a podcast.
Their premise is simple. Every day, it offers a seven-minute news podcast in simplified form for English learners.
Although SEND7 is “simplified”, the vocabulary is reasonably advanced and the host, Stephen, speaks medium-to-fast British English.
Nevertheless, if you are a news junkie, like me, you may really enjoy this service. And the more you listen to the news, the more you will be up to date with ‘news vocabulary’. Thus, it will only get easier.
The podcast itself is free; but there is a paid membership.
Podcasts for more advanced practice
Finally, I’d like to recommend two podcasts for more advanced learners. These podcasts are not designed for English learners and so are delivered in fast, native English with idioms and slang.
But why not give them a try and see how you do?
Word Matters is presented by the Merriam Webster dictionary and each weekly episode looks at interesting words from the dictionary!
This American Life
This American Life is one of the most popular podcasts in the world and is presented by NPR (the American equivalent of the BBC).
Each episode looks at interesting stories that take place in America, such as a man that accidentally becomes a millionaire through his abandoned website.
This is one of my personal favourites, so I highly recommend it.
How to use podcasts to improve your English pronunciation
The first thing to remember is that pronunciation is not only about individual sounds.
You should also think about speed, which words are emphasised and where the speaker stops and pauses. English also has a certain rhythm. Learn more about these vocal skills here: word stress, sentence stress and chunking.
It is important to think of all these things when you practise pronunciation.
There is also a mini-course on these topics presented as a podcast by the BBC! It’s an older, archived page (so it won’t work on a smartphone), but full of great tips and it comes with transcripts. You can access all three parts of the course here.
Shadowing refers to the technique of speaking just after someone else - like a shadow.
Listen to your chosen podcast, and repeat exactly what the speaker says about half a second after they say it.
This helps you with pace, word stress, sentence stress and chunking. It is good to do this with a slow or medium paced speaker.
To make it easier, listen once without shadowing, then try shadowing the second time you listen. You could also use the transcript to help you.
Note: here is an extended guide to shadowing.
With this activity, you will aim to make our pronunciation as natural and fluent as possible.
First, you need to choose a podcast that provides a transcript.
Step 1: Listen to the audio at least once first.
Step 2: Open up the transcript and record yourself speaking it aloud. Feel free to imitate the original speaker’s pace and style.
Step 3: Play it back, comparing it to the original recording. How did you do? Give yourself a rating out of 10.
Recommended media: Podcasts, TED Talks, or YouTube videos. Choose a listening clip that is not too long and only has one person speaking.
An alternative method is to record yourself first, before you listen to the podcast. As you record, try to imagine how a native speaker would say it. What words would they stress? What sounds would be connected?
A note on scheduling
The final strategy is to lay out a plan… and stick to it.
Many podcasts are released once a week, so use this to your advantage.
Set aside a certain time once per week to listen to your chosen podcast and do your recording activities. Thirty minutes to an hour would be a good amount of time to see steady improvement.
The actual length of time is not so important. The key thing is to stick to a routine.
Do this, and I promise you that you will improve.