The best podcasts for learning English

Podcasts have been around in one form or another since the 1980s. In 2005 however, they exploded in popularity driven by Apple and the iTunes Music Store.

By now, podcasts are part of many of our daily routines. With topics ranging from spirituality to relationships, film reviews to parenting advice, mostly free podcasts are proving to be effective tools for learning, staying informed, laughing and of course improving your English.

Gymglish has picked 5 podcasts to help you learn English. Whether you prefer to save them for the morning commute, the beach, or those family dinners where discussion is pointless, we hope they bring you joy, knowledge or at least distraction.

The English We Speak from BBC World Service

“Humblebrag”, “pea-souper”, “mardy”… any idea what these words mean? Expand your English vocabulary with The English We Speak. Every week, a BBC  broadcaster dissects an English expression or slang term in a short 3-minute format with examples and context.

Comprehension level: ideal for intermediate levels, this short and sweet podcast allows listeners to immerse themselves in Anglophone culture.

Beyond Today from BBC Radio 4

The BBC offers a wide range of podcasts on a variety of topics. Beyond Today examines an event making headlines daily in just 20 minutes. We hear from the broadcasting giant’s greatest journalists in a warm and professional tone, avoiding sensationalism.

Comprehension level: beyond the soothing tone of presenters Tina Daheley and Matthew Price, the enunciation of guests is often very clear – it’s no wonder the “BBC English” accent enjoys its professional and clear reputation.

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The Daily from The New York Times

A newspaper that needs no introduction, The New York Times offers a high-quality daily podcast on geopolitical subjects, mainly covering the United States but often extending outside its borders. Initially presented by journalist Michael Barbaro, and now with other guest hosts, The Daily tries to provide context to the stories in their headlines and gives voice to reporters, their process and their subjects. 

Comprehension level: The Daily’s podcasts are typically limited to 20 minutes and feature several voices with a wide range of accents. The speech rate is rather fast, but you can learn more about the subject on the Times’s website and read the paper’s articles on that day’s topic.

Serial from Serial Productions (a New York Times company)

Launched in 2014, this pioneering American podcast is responsible for much of the mainstream podcast buzz in English-speaking countries. The show investigates cold cases and true crime in a semi-informal tone, revisiting stories with an eye for detail, and sometimes even surfacing new evidence. The puzzling murder of an 18-year-old girl in Baltimore, an American soldier taken hostage and then accused of desertion in Afghanistan – the stories told by narrator and producer Sarah Koenig will have you on the edge of your seat… for at least the first season. 

Fun fact: Serial holds the record for the number of total podcast downloads, totaling over 420 million downloads in 2022.

Comprehension level: the episodes last between 15 and 50 minutes and are aimed at listeners with an advanced level of English. We suggest listening in a quiet place (with the lights on if you get scared easily). Bring a pen to note down some new vocabulary and clues or just to doodle on your hand.

Song Exploder from Radiotopia

Music fans will love Song Exploder – a podcast in which musicians dig deep into their songs and tell the stories of how they were made in a casual manner. Each episode lasts around 20 minutes and is produced and edited by host Hrishikesh Hirway.

Beyond the technical aspects of making the songs, artists explain their creative process. Song Exploder is a fascinating deep dive into the work and process of U2, Bjork, Metallica, R.E.M., Iggy Pop, Garbage, Alt-J, The Lumineers, Phoenix, Cat Power and more.

Comprehension level: is music a universal language? If yes, you should be good. The interviews may be short, and we can’t guarantee that you’ll understand everything, but for music lovers, this podcast will make learning fun and painless.

Want more ways to progress in English? Want to regain your motivation? Check out our Gymglish online English courses!

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