I enjoy podcasts for entertainment, for education, and usually I hope to get some combination of the two. One of my major interests is language, so of course I’ve looked for podcasts about English in the hope of expanding my knowledge. I’m not sure if I’m an auditory learner exactly, but I appreciate the chance to learn in a different way than the usual heavy reading.
There are other reasons I like podcasts. I like choosing what I listen to. Growing up with radio, listening often came with compromise. If I wanted to listen to classic rock, I had to put up with the cheesy DJ and too many ads. If I wanted to listen to people talk, there were few options and it was hard to know what was available around the dial at any particular moment. So, choice is one great thing about podcasts. With choice comes variety: a lot of podcasts out there cover topics I haven’t been able to hear people talk about before. Seriously, think of an interest you have – you can probably find a podcast on it. Also, many podcasts have limited advertising. Some cram in too many ads, but it’s easy enough to skip through with the jump-ahead button. Podcasts also convey a sense of authenticity and intimacy that I prefer over traditional media.
Love for the form aside, there are way too many podcasts out there and unfortunately they aren’t all well-produced or interesting enough to stick with. Three podcasts with good production values and engaging content are listed below. None of them are about teaching ESL, but I feel these podcasts about English would interest most ESL teachers, and certainly anyone who is into language.
What first made me like this show is the banter between the two hosts. I had the sense that conversations such as these ought to exist somewhere, given how fascinating they are, and I was pleased to finally find them. The tagline is “a podcast about language” and it seems like they will take on any language-related topic. Recent episodes explore the compilation of a slang dictionary, the idea of a ‘gay voice’, the writing of a JFK speech, and the history of swearing. Often, the show welcomes lexicographer Ben Zimmerman and together they explore the etymology of a particular word or expression and generally reveal something about culture and history along the way.
This podcast revolves around helpful grammar tips, though like Lexicon Valley, it often branches out into other areas of language. Show lengths vary but they are usually in the ten to fifteen minute range, and the time spent on a grammar point is less than the full length of the episode. For example, a recent episode spent a couple of minutes on the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and then the host, Grammar Girl, spent the rest of the time answering a listener’s question about double possessives. Less grammar focused topics include how our brains process hyperbole and scrabble words. Although she explains the concepts well, I sometimes find it can be hard to follow all the grammar tips just by listening. Conveniently, the podcast includes a link to the website where you can see the content in writing, too.
This podcast is a bit heavier than the other two, but would really appeal to anyone with a taste for history. The host starts the series right back at the Indo-European roots of English and seems to be moving (slowly) toward the present day. He doesn’t shy away from linguistic or grammatical content, and I find his explanations very clear. Recent shows are roughly an hour in length so listening does require an investment of time. The first episode gives a good idea about how the series continues, so I recommend checking it out.