by Walid Chaafi
Expert Educator Columnist, Tunisia
Technology has advanced and brought new technologies into the fields of education. Teaching languages is not an exception. There are many ways to use technology to teach any language, one of them is Podcasts.
Podcasts are the forgotten tool that educators as well as students can reply on to enhance teaching and learning of any language and mainly speaking and listening skills.
As a teacher of English, I use this tool with my students and it is a success. In this article, I will explain how to use podcasts for better results.
A Podcast is a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.
How do podcasts work?
A podcast is a digital audio file located on a web server (1 + 2). Teachers and students can subscribe to the podcast via a program such as iTunes or Netvibes (3). This program is then automatically informed when the podcast is updated and the audio file is sent to the user’s computer. The user can then listen to the audio on their computer (4) or download it onto a portable device such as an MP3 player, iPod or smartphone (5).
How can my learners listen to podcasts?
In class, your learners can listen to podcasts in their normal classroom via a computer or portable device such as iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. In a computer room learners can listen to the audio files via a computer with headphones.
Alternatively, you can arrange for your learners to save the audio files to their own portable devices and complete tasks individually, in small groups or for homework.
How do podcasts support language learning?
Podcasts are great for language learning because:
- they’re usually a structured audio text (they have a beginning, middle and end section)
- they usually follow a common entertainment genre such as a talk show or magazine type programme
- they’re usually scheduled at regular intervals (each day/week) and each episode often follows the same or a similar structure to build into a series
- there’s a huge variety of podcasts available
- they’re easily searched online via topics, themes, poems, stories, etc.
- latest up-to-the-minute stories and articles are available
- digital audio files are easier to store than CDs and cassettes
- lots of online audio files are accompanied by video, pictures, etc.
- podcast software can automatically save the latest audio files
- internet access is widely available outside the classroom and your learners can learn how to access and register for podcasts on their own.
Benefits for teachers include:
- regular updates
- ease of access
- copyright free materials for classroom use
- zero (or low) cost
- additional materials that are often supplied to teach extensive and intensive listening skills.
Criteria to evaluate podcast materials
- Has the site been updated recently?
- Do you need to register or pay?
- Can you find the audio file and preview it easily without downloading the entire file first?
- Is the language natural?
- Is the length of the audio appropriate?
- Is the sound quality good?
- Does the file play reasonably quickly?
- Is there advertising present? How intrusive is it?
- What level of learners would the materials be appropriate for?
- Can you search topics that fit your syllabus?
- Can learners interact with the site: add comments, upload own work, etc?
- Are there any accompanying materials such as exercises or tape scripts?
- Is there an RSS feed? Is it easy to find and subscribe to?