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Top 5 podcasts for English learners

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Listening to podcasts is a great way of learning a language. In this post I’m going to tell you about some of my favourite ones. BBC 6 Minute English is made specifically for English learners and is great for beginners and intermediate students. The others are more suitable for advanced learners. Having said that, even proficient students might struggle to catch everything. Luckily modern technology means that you can play them back at a reduced speed.

1. En Clair

Dr Claire Hardaker is the presenter of a series of fascinating episodes about real life crimes and mysteries solved with the help of some expert linguistic analysis. Not only will you get an insight into crime and the British legal system, but you’ll also deepen your knowledge of the English language and how it is used in real life. The presenter has a lovely northern accent and talks relatively slowly but the topics are tricky so you might want to read the transcript at the same time.

2. BBC 6 Minute English

This is popular with beginners and intermediate students. Lots of podcasts about a huge range of topics, only 6 minutes long so perfect to listen to regularly. Each episode comes with a transcript and language tips. Highly recommended!

3. Desert Island Discs

Another one of my favourites, Desert Island Discs is a popular radio programme first broadcast in 1942. In each episode a guest chooses the music they would take if they were cast away on a desert island, at the same time revealing their life stories in answer to gentle yet probing questions. The interview format means that this is a great programme for those who want to increase their exposure to authentic spoken language. Favourite episodes I’ve listened to include those featuring Judith Kerr, Richard Osman and Bob Mortimer. The presenters and guests often speak quickly so this can be daunting at first. Stick with it though as after a while, you'll get used to the voices. Otherwise, just slow down the playback speed to something more manageable.

4. Word of Mouth

This is another BBC production, this time presented by children's author and language lover, Michael Rosen. Again, there is focus on the English language and it's impact on a huge range of issues. One of my favourite episodes concerns the language used on the National Health Service (NHS) website in England. The website provides information about illnesses, symptoms and treatments. Written by medically-trained staff who understand the science, the language on the website has to be accessible to the lay person. Awareness of the reader is an essential feature of successful communication.

5. Bandsplain

I haven't listened to many episodes from this Spotify podcast. At three hours each, it would take me too long. I'm still going to put it into my Top 5 though as I really enjoyed the podcast about Gram Parsons I listened to last night. The podcasts features experts talking about a specific band or solo artist, who they worked with, when the music was made, what was happening in their lives at the time and more. All of this interspersed with full-length tracks from various times in their careers. The good thing about listening to interviews on the radio is that you get to hear authentic spoken English. If you listen to the Gram Parsons episode, pay attention to two things.

  • the single word used by the presenter to show agreement.

  • the use of the word would to talk about past habits.

Other recommendations

There are millions of other podcasts and radio shows to listen to and here are a few others that my friends and students like (huge thanks to everyone who sent me their suggestions).

  • The Guardian's Today in Focus - daily update on the latest news

  • The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry from the BBC - a science podcast

  • The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet

  • The daily from The New York Times - there is a transcript to go with the podcast

  • Creative Elements from Jay Clouse - if you want to find out how creators make a living

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