Do you listen to podcasts? With over 800,000 podcasts available as of December 2019, addressing just about any topic imaginable regardless of how narrow and niche it may be, there is something to satisfy any curiosity. What’s more, it’s not just native English speakers enjoying this medium. In fact, South Koreans are actually plugging into podcasts at a higher rate than any other nation, with 58% of respondents stating that they had listened to a podcast in the last month. Spain came in second, with 40%. Surprisingly, only 33% of respondents in the U.S. and Australia had consumed a podcast recently, according to PodcastInsights.com.
If your adult learners are already enjoying taking in information through podcasts, in any language, you can, and should, positively exploit this to establish a more native, natural, and immersive English habit. On the other hand, if your learners are not already fans of this audio medium, they are missing out on one of the best methods for language-learning—not only are podcasts accessible 24/7, on the move or at home, but they present real English, in contrast to the scripted, out-of-date dialogues and isolated vocabulary featured in most learning materials.
The fact is that our students learn the most when they forget that they are learning. The affective filter, Krashen’s label for the mental wall preventing new language acquisition, diminishes in correlation to the growth of our intrinsic motivation and joy. As teachers, much of the impetus in original material creation is aimed at lowering this affective filter. The actual learning objectives take second place, as nothing will be accomplished or acquired if our learners are blocking the learning from occurring in the first place.
Yet another reason to instruct our students through podcasts is to exploit their intrinsic motivation. If students are motivated due to their own interest and curiosity, they are more likely to learn, as compared to, say, the extrinsic motivation of passing a test, completing a worksheet for a grade, or memorizing a list of vocabulary words by rote (which they then are unable to use anyway).
There are two options for utilizing podcasts as a teaching tool. The first, and the easiest, is to assign specific titles, even episodes, that align with themes studied in the classroom. These should be given as homework and discussed in the following lesson. Depending on the level of the students, vocabulary can be taught beforehand that will be heard in a specific episode. For less of a time investment on the instructor’s part, you can also simply guide students to shows with transcripts, as many programs, such as those found at npr.org/programs, provide these for free.
However, if you want to put in the time and effort, creating your own podcast is a highly rewarding project. Using your real passions and motivations, from history to pop culture, to create episodes with personalized learning outcomes for students will connect your own intrinsic motivation and pleasure to classroom experiences and lessons.
Finally, before we get to the ins and outs of starting your own podcast journey, perhaps the most important reason to undertake this creative venture is to teach students REAL language that they will use in the world, not just in the classroom. If your learners are improving their language skills to use in the workplace, interact with native-speaking clients, connect to fellow students in a future university, or chat with neighbors once they immigrate, they need to learn how the language is actually used, through descriptive lessons, not prescriptive worksheets and tables.
The motto of All Ears English, a popular English-learning podcast, is “Connection, not perfection.” With a positive brand of banter combined with clear student takeaways in every episode, the podcast has inspired millions of students around the world. Over 40,000 listeners from 150 countries download the show every day even though there is no instructor telling them to do so. This audience chooses to learn in their free time for all of the reasons stated above. With three hosts of diverse yet contagious energy, All Ears English motivates its students with four new episodes per week, staying true to its vision by sharing cultural insights alongside native vocabulary and, always, specific learning takeaways.
It is very possible for you to bring your own voice to language learners and experience the satisfaction of effecting real progress and life-changing achievements. Now that you know why you should start a podcast, it’s time for the nuts and bolts of making it a reality.
Let’s Make a Podcast!
Step 1: Define your vision
The first step is to decide what your overall motivation is. What will be the theme of your show? Yet another tenet of teaching is important to keep in mind here: if you love what you are talking about, that energy will be communicated to your students and/or listeners. The fact is that you can talk about anything and still teach. As long as you have a clear learning objective in mind, you can essentially discuss anything.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is your core message to learners? This will be your theme or your vision that you should come back to at the end of every episode and will shape the voice of your podcast.
2. What materials have you enjoyed creating in the past—to supplement school curriculum, or completely from scratch?
3. What podcasts do you listen to? What moves you to listen to them—the hosts, the topics, another factor?
4. What spheres are you interested in, besides language education? This could be books you gravitate toward or what your degree was in, for instance.
5. What have you enjoyed discussing with your students?
Step 2: What is your goal right now?
This, naturally, evolves over time. However, if you reflect on what you are currently teaching and what you desire to teach, you can discover your goal. For instance, do you want to teach idioms, slang, grammar points, or listening skills?
Start with a large objective, such as “business English,“ and you can narrow it down from there. The overall goal cannot be too narrow, or you will not be able to produce many episodes. However, if we take business English as a case in point, you could do episodes on negotiation techniques, appropriate cultural greetings, opening and closing formal conversations, and so on.
Alternatively, if you want to create a podcast with your students, you could poll their learning goals and dynamically establish a theme and specific episodes as a class.
After identifying your goals for a podcast, ask yourself what type of learner you are targeting (i.e., age, level, country). Basically, who would listen to what you want to say?
Step 3: Planning
Do not script your podcast word for word, as long as your desire is for students to experience natural, spontaneous language. If you are recording with a friend or interviewing a guest, prepare an outline in advance. The most important part of preparation is to have an explicit takeaway, or learning objective, that students can obtain by the end of the episode. Again, this should be fun! Talk about things that connect to your life, your interests, and the lives of your listeners, and you can teach through these. You will only stand out to listeners if you are creating something that they will not get in class or from a textbook. The key that we have found is to be 100% authentic in every episode, sharing personal opinions, experiences, and preferences related to the topic.
Step 4: Get the tools
To record the audio, there are many choices of quality recording apps, but we recommend the free program Audacity. This is available for both Windows and Mac. It is extremely user-friendly. As to the microphone, again, a plethora of USB mics are out there for professional-sounding audio. Our team uses the ATR2100-USB by Audio-Technica. The quality is amazing, and it won’t break the bank. Once your podcast is recorded, you can edit in other pieces, such as a title and WIIFM at the beginning and a CTA at the end. At the start of each episode, you should state the WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me,” explaining to listeners what they can expect from the episode. A call to action, or CTA, at the end is a way to remind students to sign up for an email list, visit your website, subscribe to your YouTube channel, or read your blog. You may also want to create intros and outros, with music, that reflect the energy of your personality. Sites like freesound.org are excellent resources for free music clips. Once the episode editing is complete, save it as an MP3 file, tagged with the title of the show, the title of the episode, and your name. Apps like Audacity will automatically ask you to do this when exporting as an MP3.
Step 5: Publish
To turn your individual audios into a podcast, you need an RSS feed. We recommend Libsyn. Plans start as low as $5 per month. Upload your audios to Libsyn and they will generate an RSS feed that you can then submit to Apple and other podcast apps. Libsyn provides top-notch support at every plan level. We also recommend placing your audios on your blog or website so they can be discovered through Google search.
Will Your Podcast Make You Money?
If you are inspired to create with hopes of not only bringing your unique vision and voice to the world of ELs but also making money in the process, get ready to invest a ton of time and effort. Success in any form, be it a throng of fans or a booming business, will take a very long time to establish. You must build your audience first and be consistent and generous. All Ears provided four episodes per week every single week for about a year before signing with sponsors. However, it IS possible.
From the one simple, original idea of “Connection, not perfection,“ All Ears English gained an impressive listenership and many lifelong fans. The podcast, though, is free. To really parlay your content into an income, you can create online courses, sell transcripts, or place advertisements in your show.
Again, growing your audience to the point where enough fans will invest their money in your products takes years. If you are willing to make this your part-time job, it can eventually become your full-time job.
Ultimately, Do It for Yourself
Hopefully, though, you are not starting a podcast for money. You want to express yourself in a modern medium and teach the facets of language that you find most fascinating. Motivate learners not through boring worksheets and banal books, but through discussions and reflections that you want to share. Make this a journey of self-discovery as well—define what compels you and invite others along for the ride.
Jessica Beck is director of IELTS training for All Ears English and has been a co-host for their English and IELTS Energy podcasts for five years, helping also to create two AEE courses: The Three Keys IELTS Success System and The Connected Communicator. She has a master’s degree in applied linguistics and has taught ESL in Spain, Cambodia, Taiwan, and the U.S.
Lindsay McMahon is the founder and CEO of All Ears English and has been co-hosting the All Ears English podcast and IELTS Energy podcast since 2013. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural relations from Lesley University and a TESOL certificate from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT.
Lindsay McMahon and Jessica Beck will be presenting a podcast workshop at the TESOL 2020 International Convention in Denver, CO. Stay up to date on their presentation details, conference meetups and events, and other All Ears English opportunities for teachers by joining their mailing list: allearsenglish.com/teach