Podcasts and FL Learning

I was invited to provide some thoughts on podcasting and language acquisition. Maybe some of the comments may be published in an article in a popular business magazine, but in the meantime, I thought I should share them on my blog.

Podcasts (both audio and video) in foreign language (FL) learning are invaluable both as a self-teaching tool and as a supplementary tool in the FL classroom. The podcasts available on the Internet enhance the type and amount of comprehensible input (a necessary component to language acquisition) as they range the gamut from elementary language lessons—(fill in the language)Pod.com or podclass.com—to authentic and culturally-rich materials from various media sites (newspapers, radio, television).

The advantages of podcasts that differ from previous content delivery via technology in the history of FL learning include the following:

  • Streaming audio/video or downloadable podcasts – having the option to hear/view the podcast streaming from the website or downloading the files to listen to/view on mobile devices
  • mobile learning/audio Internet on the go* (Stanley 2006) – files and listening/viewing devices are much more portable and sophisticated that podcasts are more readily integrated into daily habits (no more forgetting the audiocassette/CD in the car, at home, etc.).
  • content delivery occurs beyond contact time (teacher and student meeting times) – in a classroom environment, students have additional available resources to continue the language learning process beyond contact time that are also not restricted to a language laboratory setting.
  • ease with which new podcasts are updated on the various source sites, downloaded, accessible and immediate (in particular if RSS feeds are used) – there is no need to wait for updates via new book editions or delivery by postal service
  • contextual support for language teaching (McQuillian 2006) – research indicates that there are required, recommended and optional components for both oral and written language acquisition. Audio is required. Visual components are required or recommended (according to level of learner). Video podcasts (a.k.a. video blogging, vlogging or v-casts) enhance other modalities to accommodate learning styles in the language acquisition process.
  • Podcasts can also be a form of output. Users can easily create their own podcasts that can be a simple recitation of a podcast lesson to practice pronunciation to a creative original podcast developed from a language lesson. The ability to create and publish learner podcasts and then share it with the language teacher, class or target language community. Voice-recording is no longer the sole objective of audio technology in language acquisition. Podcasts are for listening, practicing, sharing and receiving feedback.

Some caveats:

  • Podcasts are only effective FL learning tools if they are properly integrated into a FL program. Like all tools, including technological ones, the success of such is tool can be measured if it is level-specific and oriented toward the learner. It would not be recommended that an elementary autodidactic learner begin by downloading podcasts available by news, radio or television programs. He would find more useful podcasts geared at beginning FL learning. Similarly, a teacher would want to integrate podcasts that are tied to curriculum goals and themes, which are level-specific.
  • Podcasts are not the sum total of a language program. By perusing the FL podcasts available on the Internet, you immediately notice that other materials are available for subscribing/paying users. They include transcripts, exercises and grammar rules, as did “teach-yourself” audio programs with textbooks and workbooks (remember Berlitz?).

Podcasts can be the foundation of an online, autodidactic FL program or can be used as a supplement in the FL classroom. Is there an advantage to teaching yourself or enrolling in a course? The former allows you to get your feet wet by introducing you to the language and certain aspects of culture. The latter, on the other hand, allows you to dive deep into the language and culture nexus.