Are you having the same problem I used to?
Are you finding that locating good audio files for your ESL class is about on par with tracking down an English-speaking unicorn?
In the past, I’ve had a hard time finding material that’s appropriate, understandable and interesting.
It seems that many things I personally enjoy listening to—such as podcasts and educational videos—are very entertaining, but the speed is simply too fast for all but my most advanced students to understand.
On the other hand, there are level-appropriate ESL audio files out there, but a lot of them are slow as molasses and tedious for both my students and myself.
It seems that far too often, finding the middle ground—recordings with clear, high-quality audio and videos that are interesting and engaging for ESL learners—is much harder than it should be.
Because of that, I set out to find some great sources for audio files and share them with you, my fellow educators. To do this, I checked out over 30 sites to find the ones that had the best audio files.
In this post, we’ll go over the cream of the crop.
But first, here are some factors to consider when selecting audio files to use in your classes.
What to Look (and Listen!) for When Selecting Audio Sources
- Quality and clarity. Aim for a variety of speakers. If possible, try to find files that have a mixture of accents, including those of non-native speakers who still speak very clearly. Look for good audio production quality (which shouldn’t be a problem with any of the sites in the list below).
- Fun and interesting stuff. Try to introduce your students to a wide variety of topics. Some recordings that are academic and staged are OK, but also look for selections that use authentic, “real world” audio. Consider whether any sites you use for audio make you want to stay and learn more. Also look for videos, as many topics can be enhanced through video.
- Library size. If a site is relatively small, you shouldn’t automatically take it off your list, but do attempt to find sites that can be helpful to us teachers again and again, in many different situations.
- Challenges. Look for files that are appropriate and challenging for different age and ability levels, but not too difficult. See if sites include exercises, quizzes and other ways to test comprehension of the audio.
- User friendliness. Here we should consider a few questions, such as…
- Are any of the files downloadable?
- Are there transcripts or subtitles, either in English or other languages, and are they easy to use and/or activate?
- Is there a mobile app that can make listening to the files more convenient?
- Are there any additional special resources, files or sections for teachers?
- Can students interact with the site or audio files by themselves, so they can easily study outside of class?
- Video along with audio. As you’ll see in the list below, some of the recommended sites do indeed have videos. Videos can be a wonderful way to learn a language, since they pull in learners who are more visually engaged, while providing important context and understanding that audio alone sometimes doesn’t convey. As teachers, we can use any of these sites with authentic videos in our classes and incorporate them into our listening comprehension lessons. The point is that sometimes the most useful audio files for a given class or topic may not actually be audio files, but video files instead. So keep that in mind as you read the following list.
ESL Listening Jackpot: 7 Audio File Resources You’ll Thank Your Lucky Stars For
Why it’s great for your ESL class: This is the first site many educators think of when it comes to listening exercises, since it has thousands of topics to choose from. Many are interviews between native and non-native speakers, which gives the files an authenticity that other sites sometimes lack.
Most of the listening selections are easily downloadable and free to do so. Most selections have a quiz or two for vocabulary and comprehension, and there are transcripts of everything.
Example: A typical but great example lesson is #73, “Big Regret.” It has six different speakers—three native, three non-native—with a variety of accents talking about what they regret. I like to use this particular lesson when teaching the third conditional.
Why it’s great for your ESL class: This site is a wonderful resource for us to use with our students. It has a ton of real-life content for a variety of situations, and it’s divided by level, so finding appropriate material is quick and easy.
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
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The resources for teachers—including an Assignments feature you can use to assign homework and a Progress feature you can use to track student performance—are also great.
Example: “What’s Your Definition of Success?” is a fairly typical example of an upper-intermediate video selection on FluentU. It’s an interesting, engaging, high-quality video with clear audio.
Why it’s great for your ESL class: This site has a huge selection of audio for many different situations. You can click on nearly everything in blue on the site and hear it spoken aloud.
Needing internet access to use it in class is a possible limitation, but if that is an issue, you can also download the whole site for $21 digitally or $29 on a disc.
There is also an app that works similarly, with everything for free online, or you can get the paid app and download everything for offline use.
Keep in mind that some topics are very authentic in terms of vocabulary. Some of the phrases in the dating vocabulary sections seem to have been toned down a bit, but be sure to still review sections before using them in class.
Lesson areas go from beginning to advanced topics, and the site includes listening lessons on pronunciation, grammar and interviews, as well as speaking lessons.
The “Idioms and Phrases” section is especially great, since it goes into a lot of detail about some common words and phrases.
Example: As I mentioned, I really like the “Idioms and Phrases” pages. I sometimes do an “Idiom of the Day” in my classes, and I get ideas and supplemental material for it from this page.
BBC Learning English
Why it’s great for your ESL class: It’s another gigantic site with a variety of media options for all different levels. It includes full courses and shorter, specialized audio for other topics.
The site delves into current events and serial programs for more authentic language. For more educational aims, it also has “6 Minute English” (as well as “6 Minute Grammar” and “6 Minute Vocabulary”) audio lesson podcasts, most of which are downloadable for free for 30 days.
The accents tend towards British English, which is good for getting a greater variety of accents if you’re in an environment that teaches American English.
The site is also available in different languages, allowing lower-level learners to navigate it more easily.
Example: As you may have noticed from the last site, I like idioms and phrasal verbs. The BBC’s “The English We Speak” series examines idiomatic expressions in less than three minutes per episode. It’s also great because you can download both an MP3 and PDF of the episodes.
British Council’s LearnEnglish
Why it’s great for your ESL class: A wide variety of podcasts, videos and other lessons can help you enhance your class quickly and easily. All include supplemental material that works with the grammar and/or vocabulary presented in the lessons.
This site has countless resources for both students and teachers, and it’s the “TeachingEnglish” section that sets this one apart. It has many resources, including lesson plans, tips and activity ideas.
The “Teens” and “Kids” sections can be great if you teach those age groups.
You can also find a variety of podcasts on the British Council’s section on Google Play or iTunes.
Example: I like this series of lessons on Northern Ireland. Each lesson has videos and various tasks that learners can complete while or after they watch. There is also the option of a downloadable transcript.
Voice of America’s Learning English
Why it’s great for your ESL class: This one is admittedly a bit smaller in scope, but it’s clear and very easy to use. It’s also a great source for audio and video related to current events, this site’s bread and butter.
Audio and video are specially-made for non-native speakers. That’s good news for your students’ understanding.
There are sections that highlight science news, idiomatic expressions and life in the USA. There’s even a page with one-minute English lessons.
Audio files and videos can easily be downloaded by clicking next to the play button, and below the selections are a transcript and a section that highlights vocabulary used in the story. There is also a page with a number of podcasts.
Example: The “This Is America” section stands out from the other newsy sections by looking at life in the United States of America. Every week it focuses on a specific topic. For example, whether tattoos can cost you a job.
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab
Why it’s great for your ESL class: Don’t underestimate this site due to its ’90s-esque presentation and color scheme. It more than makes up for it in substance, and you’ll find a great variety of audio files here that you can use in your classes.
The site divisions are clear, with sections for “General Listening Quizzes,” “Basic Listening Quizzes,” “Listening Quizzes for Academic Purposes,” “20-Minute ESL Vocabulary Lessons,” “Language Learning and Life Tips” and “Long Conversations with RealVideo.” Each of these sections also indicates which exercises are at an Easy, Medium, Difficult or Very Difficult level, so you don’t have to go back and forth as much to quickly find materials.
This is a good site if you need audio that is more difficult but that still comes with quizzes. For example, the “Listening Quizzes for Academic Purposes” can be used to help get your students used to the types of listening sections they might encounter on the TOEIC or TOEFL exams. The only downside is that most things aren’t quickly and easily downloadable through the site itself.
Example: In the “Listening Quizzes for Academic Purposes” section, there’s a selection called “A Rare Solar Eclipse.” It’s just one of many exercises, but there you can see how the site breaks each selection down into pre-listening, listening and post-listening exercises, including quizzes for vocabulary and comprehension.
I think that if you use these sites, you’ll have a much easier time finding high-quality audio files for your ESL listening classes. The biggest problem you’ll likely run into is that there are too many good possibilities, and not enough time to listen to them all in class. But as problems go, that’s a pretty good one to have!
Good luck and happy listening!
Ryan Sitzman teaches English and sometimes German in Costa Rica. He is passionate about learning, coffee, traveling, languages, writing, photography, books and movies, but not necessarily in that order. You can learn more or connect with him through his website Sitzman ABC.
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