11 Reasons That Listening to Podcasts with Transcripts (and Subtitles) Will Help You Improve Your English

Published on
October 2, 2020
Updated on
November 15, 2022
min read
This article may contain affiliate links
Written by
Alastair Budge

Listening to podcasts to learn English is great, but when combined with transcripts and subtitles your learning goes to a new level. Here are 11 reasons why you should try it today.

11 Reasons That Listening to Podcasts with Transcripts (and Subtitles) Will Help You Improve Your English
Table of contents

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that at Leonardo English we are big fans of the power of listening when it comes to learning English. 

But listening, when combined with reading a transcript or subtitles in English is when some of the most effective learning takes place.

This guide will explain exactly why that is, and what skills you will develop through listening to podcasts with transcripts and subtitles

Long story short: they will help you develop almost every skill you need to improve your English. 

Academic research has shown that getting large amounts of ‘comprehensible input’ is key for any language learner. 

Stephen Krashen is the father of this concept, and here’s him explaining it.

If this sounds like jargon, but we could translate it into plain English as

Reading and listening to a lot of English is very important

So, what if you could do both at the same time?

Meet the true power of listening to podcasts with subtitles and transcripts.

Discover the 11 reasons that listening to podcasts with transcripts and subtitles will help you improve your English

1. Improves your English listening comprehension

This might sound obvious. Of course, listening to anything in English helps you improve your English listening comprehension.

But just listening, without subtitles or a transcript, without following the words as you listen means that you are only getting one source of input.

If you have subtitles or the transcript in front of you, then this allows you to join the dots, and to connect the English you are listening to to the text in front of you. 

English is full of connected speech, where it isn’t clear where one word ends and the next one starts.

Having the text in front of you means that you have another chance at understanding, and will mean that you can follow what is being said more easily. 

If you were just listening, you might have to pause and rewind several times to understand what was said, which is disruptive and annoying.

With the subtitles or transcript, you can just look down, see what was said, and even if you hadn’t seen that word before, at least you know what it is, how it is pronounced, and how it is used in a sentence.

This takes us on to...

2. Improves your English vocabulary

Vocabulary lists are how we are taught to learn vocabulary in school. They are easy to measure, easy to teach, and language learning has always been done that way

But not only are they boring to most people, they aren’t the best way to actually learn vocabulary.

In the real world, we learn vocabulary in context, we learn words through hearing them in a sentence, from other people using them.

If you don’t have subtitles or a transcript, perhaps you will be able to guess a new word just by hearing it. 

But not always.

How many times have you heard something in English and not only not understood the world, but also not had any idea what the word actually was, where it started, or how to spell it?

Using subtitles and a transcript means that you can immediately see what this new word was. Perhaps seeing it written down will jog your memory, and you’ll remember what it means.

If not, you can press pause and look it up, or if the podcast comes with interactive subtitles, you can just press your finger on the text and your browser will give you the meaning. 

Like this.

Podcast with subtitles
Press on a word to get its meaning

Think about what would be required to do this without subtitles or a transcript. You would need to recognise the word, and how to spell it, then you’d need to look it up in a dictionary. 

Not only does this take longer, but seeing the word written down at the same time as hearing it spoken means you are more likely to remember it.

3. Improves your English grammar

Regular readers of this blog will know that we aren’t big fans of working on your English grammar for grammar’s sake. 

Not only is working on grammar boring for most people, but English grammar is often irregular, confusing, and downright hard. Even native speakers make mistakes.

But using English podcasts with subtitles and transcripts means that you can improve your grammar while not actually actively working on improving your grammar, like a free grammar lesson that doesn’t actually require you to spend any time working on English grammar.

By seeing the audio written down you will be able to see how sentences are constructed, see how certain verbs are used in context, which will be very helpful to you when it comes to reproducing English (i.e. speaking or writing).

4. Improves your English spelling

One way of improving your English spelling is through reading articles and books in English, and we’d recommend that any English learner make reading a large part of their comprehensible input

Another way of improving your spelling is through using subtitles and transcripts when listening to English podcasts.

For new words, seeing them written out means that you learn how to spell them at the same time as learning them.

For words that you already know (but might not know how to spell), seeing them written out reminds you of how to spell them, so you will have a better chance of not making a mistake when you come to write them down.

Pro tip: If you are really focussing on improving your English writing, you can try to listen to a podcast and transcribe it at the same time, then compare your transcription (and spelling) to the original. How much did you get right? What sort of errors did you make?

5. Helps you understand how spoken English is different from written English

Reading in English is an activity that everyone should do as much as possible, and is a great way of improving your vocabulary, grammar, and general comprehension.

But written English isn’t the same as spoken English. Like in many languages, we speak in a different way to how we write.

Listening to a podcast, together with the subtitles and transcript allows you to see these differences in a way that just reading a newspaper or novel, then listening to a podcast without subtitles or a transcript doesn’t. 

This is especially important if you need to write English as well as speak it, understanding the differences between written and spoken English is an important part of your journey to fluency.

6. Improves your English pronunciation

I remember reading that you should never make fun of someone for mispronouncing a word because it means that they learned it by reading.

This is good advice, but what if you could learn how to pronounce a word at the same time as discovering it for the first time? That would solve the problem, right?

Of course, listening to an English podcast and using the subtitles and transcript does this.

When you come across a new word, not only are you seeing how it is used in context, but you are also seeing how it is pronounced.

Podcasts make it very easy to press pause, rewind 5 seconds and listen to it again if you want to make sure. You can even listen to it, press pause, repeat the word yourself, then rewind and compare your pronunciation to the original.

Pro tip: Write down 5-10 new words for every new podcast you listen to, and try to use them in context at least once that day. Practice saying them over and over, and this will not only help you remember them, but it’ll help you remember the right way to pronounce them.

7. They are the perfect companion for Shadowing

On the subject of improving your pronunciation, there is no better way to practise shadowing than using a podcast with subtitles and a transcript.

If you’re unfamiliar with what shadowing is, and how it can help, you should read our guide on Shadowing in English

Long story short, shadowing involves using a transcript and speaking out loud at the same time as listening to the original audio.

It’s a technique used by polyglots and serious language learners, because it’s pretty much the most effective way to improve your pronunciation and fluency in a short period of time. 

But anyone can do it. All you need is original audio and a transcript.

It will seem unfamiliar and strange at first, but practice it just for 10 minutes a day and you will see improvements within 7 days. 

Here’s the king of Shadowing, Alexander Arguelles explaining exactly how to do it.

8. Improves your reading and increases your reading speed

If you’re using subtitles or a transcript at the same time as listening to the audio, you are forced to read at the same speed as the narrator speaks.

Unlike reading a book or a newspaper, if you are just reading a transcript you need to actively press pause if you want to stop. 

Trying to follow along at a normal pace without pausing means that you are training yourself to read more quickly. Doing this might mean that you miss a few words, and of course, you can rewind if you want to, but using podcasts with subtitles or a transcript in this way can be an excellent way to improve your reading speed.

9. It forces you to engage in ‘active learning’

Listening to a podcast while following the subtitles or a transcript is a great active learning activity. 

All serious English learners know that passive learning doesn’t work, and know the difference between active and passive learning.

If you’re actually listening to a podcast while following the transcript or subtitles, you can’t just sit back and drift off, like you might do when watching a movie. Listening to podcasts in this way for short periods of time, for example, 20 minutes per day, means that you are cramming a fantastic English learning activity into a short period of time. 

10. It’s the ultimate ‘self-learning’ activity

Most English learners don’t live in an English speaking country, and they don’t have many ways to practise English. Using podcasts with transcripts and subtitles is one of the easiest ways to improve your English when you don’t have anyone to practise with.

  • You can do this anytime, anywhere
  • You can go at your own speed; there’s nobody to slow you down, and you can go as slowly as you like to make sure that you are learning in exactly the way that works for you
  • You don’t need anyone else - all these activities can be done on your own
  • If you are listening to an English podcast with subtitles, you can just listen on your phone when you are on the bus, the metro, or in a cafe
  • Listening to interesting podcasts means that you’ll be more motivated to learn. There’s nothing duller than a boring listening clip of someone explaining grammar rules or how to order a meal in a restaurant. Eugh.

11. It’s a lot more affordable than English lessons

You might have read our guides on when and why to take English lessons, and why you shouldn’t learn English in a classroom, or how you can create your own English immersion course.

There are plenty of other reasons to not default to learning English in a classroom setting, and instead to use podcasts with subtitles and a transcript. 

But if you needed one more reason, podcasts with subtitles and transcripts are a lot less expensive than taking English lessons. At Leonardo English, you can get access to all the subtitles and transcripts for every episode we have ever done from €8/month, and we even have a selection of free transcripts for you to get started.

It also doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. 

You can do both. 

Indeed, many of our members use our English podcasts with subtitles and transcripts as a way of learning outside the classroom and have found them to be a great complement to the other English activities they are doing. 

But can’t I just watch a movie to get these benefits?

You might be thinking “doesn’t everything here apply to watching a movie with subtitles”?

Yes and no.

There are countless benefits to watching a movie with English subtitles, and academic research over the course of several decades has shown how this can help the language learning process (see Using Subtitles To Enhance Foreign Language Learning, Foreign subtitles improve speech perception, Watching Subtitled Films Can Help Learning Foreign Languages, and Translated Subtitles Language Learning Method: A New Practical Approach to Teaching English)

But, listening to a podcast with subtitles and a transcript means that you are getting all of the benefits while giving yourself a greater ‘language workout’.

With a film, you have the video to help you understand. 

This can be useful if you can’t understand just from the audio, but it is very easy to just get caught up in the narrative of a film, and not use it as a language learning activity.

On one level, this is fine, and having fun while learning a language makes the process a lot easier.

But when you watch a movie, even if it’s in English, your brain slows down, it’s not as active, and this is not the condition that you want for learning anything. 

It’s well known that watching TV for extended periods causes cognitive decline (Television viewing and cognitive decline in older age: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing), and if your brain is half-asleep, your recall of what you are actually consuming will be significantly worse.

Why do that, when you can listen to podcasts and learn actively?

Final thoughts

Podcasts can truly be an English learner’s best friend, and combined with subtitles and a transcript, they give you language learning superpowers.

Think about transcripts and subtitles like training wheels for a bike, the small wheels you probably used when you were learning to ride a bike.

You don’t need to rely on them all the time, but they can be super helpful and allow you to go places you wouldn’t be able to go without them. One day you won’t need them anymore, but they will allow you to get to that day much faster than people who never use them..

If you are already using them, you know this already. Congratulations, you can give yourself a pat on the back and know that you are in the language learning elite.

If you haven’t tried podcasts with subtitles and a transcript yet, then there is no better time to start than today. We have a selection of free podcasts with subtitles and transcripts for you to choose from.

When you’re ready to take the next step, you can become a member of Leonardo English from €8/month, and join curious minds from all over the world who are improving their English in a more interesting way, more effective way.


Learn a New Language By Turning On Subtitles - Rev.com

Foreign subtitles improve speech perception -(e) Science News

Geza Kovacs and Robert C. Miller. 2014. Smart subtitles for vocabulary learning. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factor

Using Subtitles To Enhance Foreign Language Learning, JO  - Porta Linguarum: revista internacional de didáctica de las lenguas extranjeras, ISSN 1697-7467, Nº. 6, 2006, ER  -) Using Subtitles To Enhance Foreign Language Learning 

Birulés-Muntané J, Soto-Faraco S (2016) Watching Subtitled Films Can Help Learning Foreign Languages. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0158409.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158409

Translated Subtitles Language Learning Method: a New Practical Approach to Teaching English Mikhail Lunina, Ludmila Minaevab

Does TV Rot Your Brain? - Scientific American

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