Learning English with podcasts

Podcast: a radio programme that is stored in a digital form that you can download from the Internet and play on a computer or on an MP3 player. ( Cambridge Online Dictionary)

Why do I start with a definition? I was surprised to realise that people who actually have the time and will to learn English on a regular basis (the retired) are not familiar with podcasts. Just the other day in class, I was asked what they were.

Today I’ve decided to try to help you incorporate podcast listening into your study routine.However, it isn’t all that simple. Looking up the explanation on Wikipedia, along with the more precise definition, I came upon the history of podcasts as well as their many subcategories. Quite an interesting read!


How to use podcasts to enhance your English

Listening comprehension is the basis of face to face communication. Sadly, most students of a foreign language find it most difficult to master. The equation is simple : the more you listen to the language the better you will understand it. Not so long ago students were limited to listening to the radio or TV. Luckily, now with the Internet there are countless listening comprehension possibilities as  podcasts blend a vast range of different recordings: books,interviews, radio dramas,instruction manuals, music and a long etc.

What you should do first is make lists and put them into categories. The  best would be to categorise them by length. For example:

1. A list of 5  to 10 minute long podcasts to listen to while you commute to/ from work/school.

2. A list of longer podcasts, up to around 20 minutes for a long car journey, e. g. interviews or reviews of TV series and films.

3. Podcasts of books and short stories for all of you who like being read.

Then, the subcategories could be arranged by topic:

1. English learning podcasts on certain topics such as grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation.

2. A list or lists made according to the topics you are most interested in; travel, cooking  arts or business.

Where to start

1. English learning podcasts:





2. Books and Culture

















The one thing that really makes our students confused and angry while trying to understand native speakers of English is the use of euphemisms. Funnily, they don’t seem to notice that all languages have a softer way of expressing a hard reality, so to say.

However, things get worse when we are supposed to use one in a foreign language, as sometimes we cannot recognise when it is appropriate to do so.

If you just take a glance at whichever newspaper article, you are certain to find words such as:

senior citizen,

collateral damage,

economically deprived,

intellectually – challenged,

or expressions like:

economical with the truth,

under the weather,

open exchange of views and a long etc.

I’m sure you have easily recognised what these words stand for.

Today we will help you out with understanding and being aware of the use of euphemisms both  in formal and informal English.

First, here is a letter to the editor  that I’ve taken from New Headway Advanced student’s book, which you can download free of charge from the Internet.

Stop being Coy

I will die – not pass away

I AM an old cripple, drawing an old-age pension, working hard to raise vast quantities of vegetables on an allotment, and well aware that, one of these days, I shall die. All this is a fact.

If, however, I listen to the voice of officialdom,it turns out that I am a disadvantaged senior citizen, registered as disabled, drawing a retirement pension, renting a leisure garden, and presumably immortal, because I shall never die-I shall merely pass away.

The euphemisms which pour from the lips of politicians and trade union leaders are endless.Taking industrial action equals going on strike,and working to rule equals being bloody minded.

And let us please do away with the following:

lower-income bracket ( poor)

under the weather (ill)

low IQ (stupid)

jobseeker’s allowance (unemployment benefit)

Ministry of Defence ( Ministry of War)

have a dialogue ( talk)

companion animal ( pet).

All this effort to avoid unpleasantness is certain to fail, because the euphemism quickly acquires the stigma of the word it replaced. I,and probably others,do not feel younger because I am called a senior citizen.

Bryan Heath

retired vet

Second, here is an article on slim French women, listing  various euphemisms used to mean FAT in both, French and English.


Then, some common euphemisms used by teachers in order not to offend parents:


And finally, a video on expressing disability in a politically correct manner.


In conclusion, euphemisms are part of a culture, of all cultures.They demonstrate the taboos of each one and most of them have an equivalent in all languages. The use of language demonstrates that we are not so different when it comes to unpleasant topics and proper behaviour!





Music and Language Learning

Last week I had class with an eleven- year-old boy. We were practicing The Present Perfect Tense.

“It’s the tense we use  when we say: Where have you been?”  I said, ” You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes.” he said,  “I have a dance game on Wii ( or whatever playing machine, feel free to correct me) and I dance to a song called: Where have you been?”

I asked him to find it on YouTube and it turned out to be a dance song by Rihanna where children can imitate dancing steps and moves from the screen while listening to this song. What surprised me most was that a Spanish boy actually paid attention to the lyrics in English!

This reminded me once again of the power of music and the importance of listening to lyrics even when  learners reach an advanced level of performance. In fact, at this level learners are mostly challenged by the implicit meanings of idioms or other fixed phrases and often find it difficult to guess them or understand them well.

Another song  by Alicia Keys ” Why do I feel so sad?” made me aware of the fact how many expressions and ideas are constantly being repeated through song lyrics, so I’ve decided to take this song  as a guideline and find a few  music video clips with lyrics you can use as a starting point when you feel like listening to music and practicing vocabulary at the same time.

Here’s  Alicia’s song:

Alicia  mentions ” true colors” :

She also says: “Actions speak louder than words”

This seems to be irresistible for many. The Pretenders mention actions that speak,too:

Alicia left someone behind just like Adele did.

Of course, we could go on and on. Feel free to make your own English learning TOP TEN.

TIP: First enjoy the music, then focus on the lyrics and make a list of expressions that you found interesting or were new to you. Have fun!



Lifelong Learning

In one of our first  posts we have given  you advice on how to improve, or better say, how not to forget the English you have learnt so far. Keeping a solid level of language skills in a foreign language is a lifelong task. And that is why so many of us give up even before reaching a decent command of it.  English is no exception. The expression ” English is Fun” has been coined, to make-believe learning is easy. As you have already reached an advanced level of English, you know it has not always been easy.

Fortunately, now you can put your hair down, relax and have some fun as long as you  NEVER FORGET that a successful language learner is someone who:


The following video explains the always tricky grammar structure for Spanish students used to/ be used to 


At this moment more and more people NEED to have a job interview in English. Check out these videos if you are one of them. The second video is more challenging to understand.


Check out this article from the New Yorker and a Barcelona based English speaking club.






In the post mentioned above  we decided on 15 to 20 minutes a day. Hope this post gives you enough to choose from in order to reach this minimum. If not, here is one of the many aces hiding up my sleeve.





Language and Mistakes

While studying a foreign language it is a necessary evil to make mistakes. We all know that far too well.However, there is always hope that one day we will be able to express ourselves fluently and without making  ANY mistakes.Let’s face it: for most of us this is an almost impossible task.

Even advanced learners and students who have already passed proficiency exams still make mistakes. But then, so do native speakers.This video explains 5 common mistakes made by native speakers of English.If you ever decide to do a language exchange, watch out for them while chatting away with your partner.You might feel much better about yourself and your language skills!


As an advanced learner of English, you have already developed a certain feeling for the language and you should be aware of your  occasional slips.  In order to avoid them, you might want to focus only on ONE particular mistake you make and then consciously try avoiding  it. If you can’t speak with someone who can correct you, then just record yourself. Eventually you will have reached your goal and will have a feeling of progress, which is certainly very difficult to achieve at this level.

This video deals with common mistakes made by Spanish speakers. If you are one, it will make you smile.


Of course, the list of mistakes made by various native and non – native speakers of English is literally endless. If you want to start investigating you could have a look at this link.In one of our previous posts we recommended spending at least 20 minutes a day on your English. This link will give you more that a month of entertainment!


Sometimes some of our students get really upset when they make the same mistake over and over again.There are many more serious issues to get angry about, but the best is just to KEEP CALM and LEARN ENGLISH!