In a sense, language teachers act as tour guides as we lead our students through the unfamiliar territory that is a new language. Over the course of this cultural and linguistic journey, we hope to witness them as they grow into culturally competent communicators. Therefore, we must ensure that they have ample opportunities to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing in the target language throughout the school year.
Each year, my students consistently share that they find listening comprehension tasks to be the most difficult and nerve-racking. Without a doubt, listening to native speakers use the language at a fast pace can be daunting for language learners of all ages. To help build my students’ listening skills as well as their cultural awareness, I strive to expose them to a wide range of culturally rich songs, videos, and audio clips. Repeated practice improves their skills and builds their confidence.
With the rise in popularity of audiobooks and podcasts over the past few years, I suddenly thought to myself, why not integrate podcasts in Spanish into my intermediate-level classes? Rather than repeatedly playing quick audio clips for my students, I felt that a podcast could tell a compelling story. This was likely to immediately engage them and hopefully could make listening to the target language a bit less overwhelming.
After chatting with a few of my colleagues and investigating resources, I found myself exploring the award-winning Radio Ambulante by NPR, despite the fact that it was not a traditional language-learning podcast. Radio Ambulante bills itself as “a narrative podcast that tells uniquely Latin American stories in Spanish.” Upon browsing the multitude of culturally focused podcasts on the site, I noticed that they aligned well with my units. Many of the episodes focused on immigration experiences, while others discussed environmental challenges or global issues. Once I introduced an episode into my classroom, my students were immediately hooked.
The Radio Ambulante episodes are pretty lengthy, so I separate them into sections. Listening to eight to 10 minutes at a time seems to be ideal for my intermediate-level students. Keep in mind that many podcasts are only about 10 minutes. Check out shows of various lengths, and choose what suits your students best. When using any podcast, I focus on designing pre-listening, while-listening, and post-listening activities for students to complete.
3 Key Steps for Incorporating Podcasts
1. Preview the material. Prior to listening to the podcast, I present students with the title and theme of the episode and ask them to share what they know about the particular topic. I also have them make predictions in pairs as to what the podcast might address. If an important historical event is mentioned in the podcast that may be unfamiliar to them, I provide them context and teach a mini-lesson beforehand in which I familiarize them with the event. This sets them up for success once they start listening.
2. Encourage active listening. While students listen to each podcast section, I provide them with cloze-style activities or a series of open-ended comprehension questions. In a cloze-style activity, students need to fill in the blanks with missing words; you can have them focus on verbs, nouns, adjectives, or a mix. This requires them to pay close attention to the language and the content being presented.
Additionally, in between listening to the different sections, I like to get students talking. I often have them participate in think-pair-share activities in which I prompt them with a question related to the podcast, give them a few minutes of thinking time, and ask them to share their responses with a partner. Likewise, I have them express their reactions to what they’ve listened to in pairs or small groups. Sometimes I simply ask them to share what they’ve understood in the target language aloud.
3. Finish with reflection. Upon listening to the entirety of the podcast, I lead a whole-class discussion in which we collectively talk about the highlights and takeaways. Following this discussion, I have students write and reflect upon the podcast in their own words.
While improving students’ listening skills is at the forefront, podcasts also allow for a wide range of speaking and writing tasks. Students also gain a great deal of cultural insight in the process. Radio Ambulante is a wonderful option for intermediate or advanced learners of Spanish. Notes in Spanish is another neat option, and there are episodes available for beginners, intermediates, and advanced learners.
If you are looking for podcast options in other languages, take a look at an article in Afar magazine called “15 Best Podcasts to Help You Master a New Language,” which is broken down by proficiency level and language. Instead of treating listening comprehension as a drill, we can take a more creative and engaging approach by exploring world-language podcasts.