The podcasting phenomenon
At first glance podcasting may appear to be nothing new. After all audio files have been published on the web for many years and, as we've already mentioned, Podcasts can be listened to and downloaded in the same way as most audio files. But what makes the podcasting phenomenon so special is something called RSS feed. In short, an RSS feed is a subscription mechanism which allows you to receive new podcasts automatically. This means that every time a website publishes a new podcast it can be downloaded to your computer or MP3 player.
Let's just pause for a moment and compare that with the traditional model of radio broadcasting, where once a show has been broadcast it's gone forever. With podcasts, you first select your areas of interest, then these broadcasts can be stored and listened to at your own convenience. Best of all, thanks to RSS feeds, the content comes straight to you so you don't have to keep visiting your favourite websites on the off chance that they've published a new podcast. To take advantage of RSS you need to install a piece of 'podcatching' software on your computer but there are many free tools that let you do this. (iPodder is probably the most well known at the moment.) The other advantage of using an MP3 player is that you can listen to your podcasts any time, anywhere.
Podcasting has become incredibly popular since the end of 2004, and demand was probably triggered by the millions of people worldwide who already own portable MP3 players. (Initially MP3 players were used to download music but a use had to be found for all that spare storage capacity!) Podcasting has grown organically rather like the way that blogging - online journals - did two years ago. As a result there are now tens of thousands of podcasts that will cater for just about any interest, from serious topics like News and Media, Business, Science, and the Arts, to more frivolous areas like Entertainment and Celebrities.
What has all this got to do with learning English? Just think how many times you've been asked by your students: 'How can I improve my listening?' In response you might have advised them to listen in English as much as possible (films, the radio, TV) - in other words, making the most of opportunities for extensive listening. Podcasts are the ideal way for learners to get extensive listening practice.
So what's available for EFL/ESL/ESOL learners? There is a small, but growing, number of podcasts dedicated to English language learners.
" Sushiradio: a range of "short interesting podcasts with different topics from all over the world" http://sushiradio.com/
" Charles Kelly: Learn a Song Podcast http://www.manythings.org/songs/
" Robert Diem: The Daily Idiom http://www.englishcaster.com/blogs/
" Graham Stanley is a major EFL commentator on podcasting. His latest site is http://www.pod-efl.com
" Steve Evans: Madrid Young Learners Podcast http://mylcpodcasts.blogspot.com/
" Flo-Joe Radio: a weekly podcast for CAE students with writing and exam tips http://www.splendid-learning.co.uk/podcast/index.html
are also directories where teachers can search specifically for ESL podcasts,
interest directories with a search facility, try:
The big question for teachers will be the learning implications of podcasting and whether it's worth the time and effort getting involved in this latest technology craze. There are actually different ways for teachers to exploit podcasts. Using them for extra listening material in class is perhaps the most obvious application. Teachers who are more technologically-inclined may get their students to make and distribute their own podcasts, and that can be fun too.
For me, however, the most compelling reason for teachers to learn about podcasting is for them to offer help to their students in finding podcasts that are useful and/or interesting to them. Podcasts can be a valuable source of language input for learners, and what better motivation is there for learners than to listen to topics that they are actually interested in for a change? Learners can choose podcasts related to their field of study, or their interests and hobbies. And, if teachers can learn the skills needed to guide their students through this wealth of material, then we have a fantastic opportunity to promote learner independence.
Fiona Joseph is the Founder Manager of Flo-Joe (www.flo-joe.co.uk), the award-winning website for Cambridge exam preparation, and is co-presenter on Flo-Joe Radio for CAE students. She has co-written some tips for teachers on podcasting: http://www.splendid-learning.co.uk/blog If you have any other ELT podcasts to recommend then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is reproduced by kind permission of the 'EL Gazette'. A version of this article first appeared in the EL Gazette in November 2005.