What’s on your mind when you’re getting ready for bed each night?
Are you thinking about the coming day? Excited or nervous for what lies ahead?
I don’t know about you, but most of the time I go to bed with the best intentions to study my target language the next day.
Over the course of the day, while spending my time on work, errands, family and friends, I usually find I’m too tired to sit down and read, drill grammar rules or even think about studying.
But I’ve discovered that I don’t have to carve out a specific time to work on my language “homework.” After discovering language learning podcasts, I found that I could simply add my language study to my already full day—without sacrificing any time or other activities.
So, not so long ago I stumbled upon a few really good language learning podcasts, and let me tell you, it changed my world. In the car, on the treadmill, on break at work, in the grocery store, I started taking my multitasking to a whole new level!
What I’m getting at is the greatness of utilizing podcasts for learning your target language.
Why Should Language Learners Listen to Podcasts?
Not all of us learn the same way—we all have different styles.
For some people, writing out sentences and visually reading words is an excellent form of language study. Others learn best with images and pictures. Outgoing learners love to chat it up and learn through conversations. Still others thrive on being thrown into the fire, needing to survive with their language skills while living abroad.
That being said, every language learner has something to gain from podcasts. There are podcasts for all kinds.
First up, there’s the classic type of language podcast: the one that teaches you how to speak and understand your target language. In terms of content, these often resemble other classroom-based and video-based lessons. A teacher will walk you through vocabulary and grammar, and you’ll be prompted to listen, repeat and respond. These often come with additional resources like transcripts and vocabulary tools.
Next, there’s the podcast that’s designed to teach you how to learn. These focus on learning methodologies and clever strategies. They help you think about your current approach to language learning and how to improve upon it. They equip you with neat tips and tricks, and they strengthen your brain.
There’s another class of language podcast that’s meant for entertainment, sharing cool factoids and stories for language lovers and linguistics nerds. These introduce you to languages and cultures around the world, including their historical relationships, similarities, differences and points of convergence.
Regardless of which type of podcast you run with, there are some unique benefits that they all have for language learners, due to their convenient format. These are:
Podcasts go where you go, and they’re hand-free while still being interactive. You can listen without sacrificing any other activities. Go ahead, keep working on that project, driving around town or generally getting stuff done.
The simple fact that you can learn and listen around the clock is a great asset. No longer do you have to wait until you sit down in a physical French class—podcasts cater to the busy family person, the employee who always works overtime and the 20-something student who’s sprinting between classrooms, libraries and the dining hall.
Listening while you work, on a coffee break or while you work out, you’re actually able to immerse yourself. Who would have thought you could get so much done at once? Podcasts provide a way for the language to come to you, to suit your lifestyle.
The beauty of learning another language is that it transports you. When you pick up another language it engages your brain and requires you to listen, think and process.
What better way to spend free time than continuously learning? If you aren’t in school anymore, picking up another language is a great way to keep your brain alert, active and engaged. Continued learning enhances your mood, gives you confidence in yourself and provides many health benefits to your mind as you age.
With language comes with culture. These podcasts rarely stop at just vocabulary and grammar. Even if they do stick to those traditional language topics, you’ll learn about cultures and societies just by the way they speak to one another. Are there different conjugations for speaking to different people? How does someone address their mother or father? What kind of imagery is used in the idioms, and why are those images meaningful to a certain culture?
That said, you’ll often be taught about the countries and cultures that speak your target language. It’s not uncommon for the hosts and guests of language podcasts to dive deep into discussions of culture.
By listening to languages, I’ve found that my pronunciation of words has improved immensely! I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt embarrassed when trying to properly convey a foreign sentence or word to a friend, only to realize I was saying it all wrong. That’s one of the gains I’ve found when immersing yourself in podcasts—you start to pick up all the correct sounds.
Listening to podcasts will familiarize you with the native way of pronouncing vocabulary, and over time—with plenty of extensive listening—this will become second nature to you.
How Can You Track Down the Best Language Podcasts?
To help you get off to the right start, I’ve recommended some of the best language podcasts out there. You can find the entirety of the list later on in this article. This list will point you towards the official website for each podcast, so you’ll find how to listen to them once you’ve clicked over to their sites.
With all the good news about language learning podcasts, I’m sure you’d like to know how to get at them on your own! If you’d like to explore the big, wide world of podcasts on your own terms, you just need to know the steps for your device.
On iTunes (Mac or PC)
1. Make sure you have iTunes downloaded.
2. Click on the iTunes Store Link on the top menu of iTunes.
3. Search for the Podcast category and browse what’s available, or search for keywords.
4. When you find the right podcast, click on the “Subscribe” button.
5. Click on the “Podcasts” link in your iTunes Library.
6. Right-click the podcast to select “Download All” and get all the episodes on your computer. Alternatively, right-click the individual episodes that you’d like to download.
On Your iPhone or iPad
1. Launch the Apple Podcasts app.
2. In the bottom right-hand corner of the app, click the search icon. Then, type in the name of podcast that you want to subscribe to.
3. Once you’re on the page, you’ll see a button on the right that says “Subscribe.” Tap it to subscribe to the podcast.
On Your Android
2. Search for the word “language” or “linguistics,” or search for words in your target language. Filter by your target language if you’d like something completely in that language, for more advanced learning.
3. Subscribe and listen!
After all this, the list of favorite language learning podcasts is coming at you!
The Top 15 Language Learning Podcasts for Curious Multilingual Minds
These are the top casts about language learning and linguistics. Feel free to keep exploring, though—for your particular target language, there will be infinitely more options. I’m staying pretty general here, looking at podcasts that have many different language options, ones that are more about the general process of learning languages and ones on linguistic curiosities in the world at large.
This exciting podcast series is everything a language learner—and language lover—could ever want. They cover a huge range of topics of interest to anyone who can’t get enough languages in their life.
You’ll find tips, tricks and strategies for learning a new language at any stage of the process from newbie to nearly-fluent, like “How to Learn a Language Using Snapchat,” and “How to Rock Language Learning for Travel.” They’ve done interviews with some famous internet polyglots including Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months.
They review all kinds of useful language tools, and they shake things up every once in a while with a quiz on linguistic trivia or a fun topic like “Top 5 Fictional Languages.”
This is a great place to start getting into language learning podcasts!
Sounds like a good podcast for any language learner just from the title alone, right? This is a long-running podcast with over one hundred episodes—and counting! Most of the podcast episodes are simply titled with who the guest du jour is, so you’ll have to listen to them all, without knowing the focal topic of each one, to extract all the juicy language learning ideas from them.
They explore far and wide with their guests, attending and covering international polyglot events—yes, those are a thing!—and discussing cool topics like the intersection of programming and language learning, studying entire sentences to become more fluent and setting goals for your study time. You’ll also see many recognizable names from the online world of polyglots on these podcasts, which is a nice plus.
Oh, and the background music is simple and relaxed, giving off an intellectual yet chill NPR vibe.
Here’s a fantastic podcast from a big polyglot hero, Olly Richards himself. He’s nothing if not prolific, as there are over 170 podcasts currently available, each of which picks up a key niche area for language learning and digs deep on it.
Are you too busy to learn a language? Having trouble setting goals? Feel awkward Skyping with strangers for language exchanges? He’s got these topics under wraps, along with any other question you might want to ask a seasoned and successful language learner. He includes lots of his own personal experiences along the way, so most of the time it really just feels like you’re talking with a close buddy about their life.
If you enjoy Olly’s podcast, you may also be interested in his Language Learning Foundations video course, which is designed to help you set up a workable, step-by-step system for learning your target language.
The Magnetic Memory Method, or MMM, is for anyone who wants to improve their memory and learn new things—and it just so happens to have incredible applications for language learners.
I mean, what language learner doesn’t want to exercise, strengthen and empower their memory? Memory is absolutely the key to learning a new language to fluency. If you can’t get your brain to latch onto new words, phrases and grammar patterns, you’re sunk.
Luckily, the MMM believe that nobody has a bad memory. They propose that, if you think you have a bad memory, you’ve bought into a prevalent lie. According to this method, anyone can have a strong memory if they “discover and nurture” their memory abilities. As someone who routinely forgets where they left their car keys, I was instantly sold when I saw this line.
Stop looking to apps to drill vocabulary into your brain. Stop instantly translating every word you don’t understand. Don’t hand your memory over to your smartphone or other gadgets. Build your memory until it’s a superpowered machine that never forgets.
The podcast is updated every week and is all about memory building techniques which will be essential as you move forward with language lessons.
Now here’s a completely different type of podcast. The title should give you a hint as to what it does. Offered for learners of Spanish, French, German and Italian, this podcast series takes brief clips of real news broadcasts in the target language and slows them down for you. If you’re learning Spanish, you can choose between Latin American and European Spanish, which is an awesome bonus.
You can download the podcasts for free along with printable transcripts. When used online, the transcripts highlight important words and phrases, indicating that you can hover your mouse over them (or tap them on a touchscreen) for an instant English translation.
On the sidebar of their podcast sites, you’ll notice that they keep handy catalogs of expressions and grammar that have been featured in their podcasts, so that’s worth exploring as well. With a paid subscription, you’ll have access to even more useful learning features!
This site’s tagline boasts, “learn a language anytime, anywhere.” It may sound like a tall order, but as we’ve discussed earlier in the post, any language learning podcast makes this possible. You can put on podcasts while driving, working, showering, doing errands or working out. But the difference with this podcast is that it has made this its primary mission: To create the perfect podcast for on-the-go language learners.
They’re expecting you to be out and about, listening to this podcast whenever you have a spare moment! The two most popular programs they offer are podcasts called Coffee Break Languages and One Minute Languages. Both of these live up to their names, giving you super-fast language lessons you can fit into a coffee break at work, or even in one spare minute of time during your day. There’s a specific series for many different languages, so whether you’re learning Dutch, Arabic or French, these are worth checking out.
Visit the “Free Lessons” tab on their main site to see what you can test out without paying. For many languages and courses, these podcasts come with a small fee, but one that may be worth shelling out for if you’re a really busy person with limited time to learn.
From Afrikaans to Vietnamese, Innovative Language has you covered with one of the best free podcast series for language learners on the web.
It’s constantly updated, with new lessons coming out for you every week, and the material is worthwhile for language learners at every level, from absolute beginners all the way up to advanced learners nearing fluency.
There’s a good chance you’ve already encountered this podcast series on the internet. The podcasts are broken down into separate sites for each language, and are titled with “101,” for example, Portuguesepod101.
These are the language-specific sites you’ll be directed to once you enter your email and pick a language. Here’s just a sampling of the many popular foreign languages they currently offer:
All of these fun podcasts are written and presented by professional language teachers, and it’s one of the most prolific and consistent language sites in the game.
Although they have a paid version of the service, thousands of professionally produced audios and videos are given absolutely free.
This podcast series is actually owned by Innovative Language as well, but it’s quite distinct and merits its own brief shout out here. This is ideal for newbies or travelers who need to quickly build their conversational skills.
If you’re heading off for a foreign country tomorrow and don’t know a single word in the language, this should be your online destination for learning podcasts. Download them for the flight, and you’ll be able to talk about basic, essential things quite quickly. Being a podcast for survival language, you’ll be focused on anything and everything conversational.
LingQ is a web-based language-learning system founded by YouTube polyglot sensation, Steve Kaufmann. There’s a community aspect to the interface that rewards you for helping your peers. LingQ also has a massive database of lessons which are composed of text documents accompanied by audio—similar to podcasts, so it’s a great way to learn languages for podcast lovers.
In addition, they offer a unique podcast series for each individual language that their site teaches. The podcasts just sound like casual, natural conversations between native speakers of the language, which will attune your ear to the sound and rhythm of the language.
Of course, these come with features like interactive transcripts and downloads to help you along—but you'll need to have a LingQ account to access all of these.
With a Premium plan and points on this site, you’ll have access to all their podcast features, apps, vocabulary tools, one-on-one English conversations, group conversations, writing corrections and a huge variety of learning activities and quizzes.
10. Learn Out Loud
The Learn Out Loud website is about all things education. It’s not just about languages, but it has plenty to offer on the subject. While they don’t produce a language podcast of their own, they serve as a sort of online warehouse for other podcasts. Browse their huge podcast directory to see what’s available for the language you’re currently learning.
You’ll spot some of the podcasts on their list in their directory, as it’s a repository for all kinds of odds and ends. They collect and direct to you any free podcast that they’ve found for offer on the net, so you’ll have to do a little exploring and a little sifting to find what you’re looking for.
The “Other Languages” category is a treasure chest for people learning less popular languages that have limited learning material out there.
Produced by Public Radio International, The World in Words is less for language learners, and more for anyone who’s intrigued by languages and cultures around the world. The importance of languages for cultures and societies is stressed throughout their topical stories.
They do seem to have a strong political bias at times, so if this is bothersome to you, you can navigate around the more politically-charged stories and click on the more laid-back audio segments—the topics are teasingly descriptive, so it should be a simple matter of finding what strikes your interest!
12. Talk the Talk
Forget walking the walk for now, here’s where you’ll focus on talking the talk. The hosts of this podcast aim to figure out what makes languages—and the people who speak them—tick. Their home page is a bit scattered (we’ll chalk it up to them being mad scientists) but you can view a full list of their past episodes right here.
Count on these guys to ask the important questions that all linguistics nerds are dying to know, such as “Are Emoji Words?” When they’re not quibbling over these types of fascinating semantics, they also discuss learning methods, the benefits of multilingualism and the quirks of specific languages, for instance, “Is Aussie Slang Dying Out?” and “Irish.”
13. The Word Nerds
If you’re like me, the title of this podcast alone makes you want to befriend the hosts—they just seem like people you’d enjoy spending time with. Who doesn’t love a fellow word nerd?
Unfortunately, this podcast ended way back in 2007, so it’s not being updated any longer. Since they produced 120 glorious episodes, you’ll still have plenty to listen to. It just won’t be topical. That’s not such a big deal, because many concepts of language and linguistics are truly timeless. Their main focus was grammar patterns and classes of words, what they are and how they’re used.
How much of a word nerd are you? If you find yourself seriously enjoying their 30-minute podcast on modal verbs, well, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a word nerd.
14. A Way with Words
Last night I was debating with friends whether or not sauce and cheese are technically “toppings” on a pizza, or if they’re simply the standard components of a pizza which you put toppings on. This is a debate that this humorous, intellectual podcast would probably love to sink its teeth into. After all, only a couple of weeks ago this podcast was hosting a debate over whether or not a hot dog is considered a sandwich.
All in all, this podcast is like a cross between a dictionary and a ridiculous-yet-intense debate that you have with friends for fun. You’ll get a chance to analyze (and perhaps over-analyze) the ins and outs of words and their usage, in English and beyond.
Compared to the other language podcasts above, this podcast is like their edgy little brother. They explore all the oddities, patterns and inconsistencies of the English language, even going so far as to explore the languages it’s deeply connected to, like French, German and others.
When did English speakers start using “sleep” as a metaphor for sex and death, and why? Are English language rules meant to be broken? Why did English ditch the word “thou” and start exclusively using “you”?
This podcast seriously earns an A+ for creative, outside-the-box thinking and topics that make you go, “woah, I never thought of that” or “I’ve never heard of that before!”
So, take a click and have a listen.
I hope these inspire and challenge you in your language learning. Continue to enhance your memory, boost your comprehension and deepen your cultural immersion as you learn more languages and proceed to become more and more fluent than you ever thought possible.
Maureen Stimola is a Vermont native and serial expat with a lifelong passion for travel, science research and languages. She’s thrilled to be working with FluentU and sharing some linguistic love with the rest of the world.
Britt Hayward is a 20-something language learner who adores travel and discovery. She calls Canada home and loves to drink coffee. Her personal travel stories can be found here.
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