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Effect of Listening to Podcasts on Incidental Vocabulary Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3661 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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It is axiomatic that technology has had its own upsides and downsides in the field of TEFL and nobody can deny this very fact. Using technology has been a significant trend in the last few years and an irrefutable proof is not really needed since it’s something quite clear. There have been groundbreaking research into this topic for people to know more about the world of technology and their advantages and disadvantages.

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Although there are rules everywhere, there is none to act within in this subject matter and it’s been attempted to elaborate on the frameworks there are surrounding technology. In this study the focus is on the effect of listening to podcasts on students’ incidental vocabulary learning and whether it is fruitful or not. Different studies done on the same issue have been accumulated, compared and contrasted to see how and why podcasts can positively affect the students’ vocabulary retention.

Key words: Technology; Podcast; Incidental vocabulary acquisition; L2 vocabulary knowledge; L2 listening; Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL).



Language learning has never been an easy task to do and people have always been looking for the easiest way to learn a language. Learning vocabulary might be the hardest sub-skill to take place since forgetting the words overwhelm the learners and make them intolerant. It is transparent that learning languages has not become easier but the growth of technology and the increase of sources can be helpful for language learners. The emergence of computer and other things alike have made a lot of human beings’ jobs easier and language learning is no exception. These sources of information namely are Ebooks, Skype, YouTube, etc. Our focus in this review study will be on Podcasts.

Podcasting is a powerful and salient medium that teachers and learners have been using for learning languages for decades. Language learning is one of the fields known to get help from the swift progress of technology and more importantly podcasting. Studies on podcasting indicate how potential this great phenomenon is and there are concrete evidences that this medium can perfectly help ameliorate language learners’ skills in the shortest time possible, especially language learners’ speaking and listening skills (Ashton-Hay & Brookes, 2011; O’Bryan & Hegelheimer, 2007). This review study aims at measuring the effects of podcasts on incidental vocabulary learning and to show how generally fruitful it is to listen to podcasts on daily basis. The outcome of this review study will be useful for those who have been learning languages such as students, teachers.

The word podcast is an amalgamation of two separate words, pod (i.e., from the Apple iPod) and broadcast. Podcasts are audio and video recordings uploaded on the internet for the people interested to use. There are some prominent softwares like iTunes from which listeners can download podcasts that are to their likings. Students can download authentic podcast materials from the Internet that allow students to be engaged in plenty of listening practice (Artyushina et al., 2011). Podcasts’ fans do not have to check every single site for new-uploaded podcasts instead they can find a huge archive of them on some well-known sites. Podcasts come in different types such as television podcasts, radio podcasts, classroom podcasts, and individual or group podcasts. Television podcasts, radio podcasts and classroom podcasts are existing programs and lectures turned into podcasts such as those created by VOA (Voice of America). Individual or group podcasts are real podcasts designed for multiple purposes such as those created by the website http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/.


Review of Literature:

Listening to podcasts:

With a 15% increase in the number of podcast users around the world each month, it has become one of the most discussed educational technologies (Podcasting in the Classroom 2008, p.7). It provides educators with a variety of teaching strategies to tackle the needs of the students. Jowitt (2008, p.15) suggests that the advantages of podcasts include the mobility of the device and the flexibility of the content, which eases student learning. In Hong Kong, most students lack exposure to English. Since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the Hong Kong government has adopted Chinese as the medium of instruction. Hong Kong students do not have enough opportunity to use English, even at school (Standing Committee on Language Education and Research 2003). New technology may be able to build up their motivation in language learning. It is worthwhile investigating whether podcasts can increase students’ interest in the language.

Listening to podcasts is usually done in our leisure time which is the time that we are free and have no important activities to do, therefore, we can name it a kind of extensive listening. Extensive listening is generally defined as learners “doing a lot of easy, comprehensible, and enjoyable listening practice” (Chang & Millett, 2013). The act of listening to podcasts not only can bolster learners’ listening skills but also it can fortify some other language areas such as pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, speaking. As everybody knows when learning a language our focus must be on all the skills and if one focuses on just one or some of them, one may miss out on them.

“Extensive listening typically involves large quantities of aural target language input that interests students and is within their linguistic competence (Renandya & Farrell, 2010; Yeh, 2013)”. Usually in traditional language classrooms teachers do not focus on learners’ listening competence and much of the time of the class is wasted for teaching grammar rules and as students grow older they come to know that they are terrible at listening and can do nothing but sorrow. “Podcasts provide teachers with the possibilities of facilitating language learning and also challenge the traditional teaching and learning methods”. “Traditional classrooms do not give more importance to listening activities (Lee & Chan, 2007)”. That traditional classrooms are not really a fan of listening is because of the fact that their focus and purpose is totally different from the classes we take part in nowadays.

Teachers should make their students aware of the importance of this heavenly tool and also use them for their own good. Podcasts can be used as supplementary materials along with course materials to develop students’ proficiency in English (Istanto, 2011; Lee & Chan, 2007). It is one hundred percent axiomatic that one learns much better when one enjoys something. Podcasts come in different categories and for different tastes and that’s what learners need.

“Language learning is influenced by many factors and the most significant and facilitating factor is having positive attitude (Mian, 1998)” and it is believed that those having a bad attitude toward a specific language most probably cannot learn a language to the best of their ability and the reverse is possible as well, therefore, “a further benefit, which may be of more importance, is that learners develop a more positive attitude toward reading and language learning in general (Day and Bamford, 1998)”. “Kim and King (2011) claimed that students and teachers’ attitudes toward podcasts varied depending on their previous experiences with various types of computer technologies”. “The use of podcasts also reduces students’ anxiety and creates a sense of belonging to a learning community (Chan & Lee, 2005)”.

Incidental vocabulary learning:

There are two types of vocabulary learning one of which is incidental vocabulary learning also known as implicit learning and the other one is explicit vocabulary learning. To explain the latter one in short I need to say students learn vocabulary explicitly when they try to memorize the words which may not even be put in contexts one after the other. The former one is our major focus and it is going to be elaborated on more specifically.

“In L2 pedagogy, few practices are as universally accepted as beneficial and necessary, but extensive reading is one of them. It has been shown to increase sight vocabulary, lead to vocabulary acquisition, facilitate learner autonomy and motivation, and provide contextualized and linguistically rich input for learners, especially those in EFL settings where access to authentic input may be lacking” (Huckin & Coady, 1999; Zahar, Cobb, & Spada, 2001).

When learning our first language no matter what language it is we usually learn words in contexts. The context can be a person, a place or whatsoever so by applying this fact to learning a second language vocabulary we can increase the level of success.

Apparently there is a general belief that L2 vocabulary can be learned incidentally through extensive reading, yet due to limitations such as learner noticing and number of exposures it is acknowledged that learning vocabulary through reading can be a slow and time-consuming process.

“According to Huckin and Coady (1999), outside the first few thousand most common words, vocabulary learning occurs incidentally, where the learner infers unknown words from context. This kind of incidental vocabulary learning can be “pedagogically efficient” (Huckin & Coady, 1999, p. 182) in that it enables two activities at once: vocabulary acquisition and reading”.

Some second language acquisition (SLA) research has challenged the efficiency of incidental vocabulary learning through extensive reading, citing several limitations. First, in order for incidental vocabulary acquisition to occur through reading, learners must be able to infer the meanings of unknown words in context. Hence, learners must know most of the surrounding words in a text.

The level of difficulty of the input we receive is very important and teachers must pay a very careful attention to their students’ level of proficiency if not they will have a hard time understanding what they study. “Hu and Nation (2000) found that in order for learners to accurately infer unknown words they must know at least 98% of the words in a text”. “For an authentic novel, this means a learner must know between 8000-9000 word families in order to achieve a high enough level of comprehension to be able to correctly infer the meaning of unknown words (Hu & Nation, 2000)”.

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At times when we are studying something or listening to something we may not understand every single word but we can get the big picture and this even happens in our mother tongue. Another limitation of incidental vocabulary acquisition through reading is that it assumes learners attend to all unknown words in a text. “According to Pigada and Schmitt (2006), learners do not always bother with guessing unknown words. If a text is rich in information and learners can understand the meaning without the unknown words, learners often will ignore the unknown words (Zahar et al., 2001)”. Thus, reading for meaning will not automatically lead to acquisition of vocabulary. “Learners must notice and put attention towards finding the meaning of unknown words in order for learning to occur (Huckin & Coady, 1999)”.

That how many times we should encounter a word to learn it fully is a matter of hot debates and there are some scholars who are for it and some who are against it. “Saragi, Nation, and Meiser (1978) have maintained 10 exposures sufficient for acquisition”. “Nation (1990) proposed anywhere from 5-16 exposures necessary”. “Still others suggest that repetition alone is insufficient for acquiring new words and more focused attention on the part of learners would lead to greater vocabulary gain (Kobayashi & Little, 2011; Min, 2008; Paribakht & Wesche, 1997)”.

The relationship between “listening to podcasts” and “incidental vocabulary learning”:

By taking a cursory look at the research done on this very issue we can easily learn that those whose vocabulary knowledge is rich and on an upturn trajectory usually try to expose themselves to podcasts. Often times we may come across learners who keep nagging about the fact that they are not really good at listening and that plagues them, therefore, we need to keep in mind that the podcasts we listen to should be only one level or two harder than our current level of English.

In an oft-cited study, “Elley (1989) found that oral storytelling was a significant source of vocabulary learning for L1 children”. The author conducted a classroom-based research and gathered students whose native language was English. The author realized that after a period of exposing them to listening audios along with pictures those students made a crowning improvement in learning some words.

“Vidal (2003) found that listening to academic lectures led to vocabulary acquisition for university students”. Considering this we can realize that not only one can learn high-frequency words, but also low-frequency words since academic lectures are mostly fraught with technical terms which are not really used on regular basis.

One of the duties of language instructors is to make the learners aware of the significance of listening to podcasts and how this can help them expand their knowledge of vocabulary and other facets of language as well. Teaching them the value of podcasts may make autonomous learners out of them although they mostly learn the hard way.

“In an L1 study, Putman and Kingsley (2012) found that students were able to learn science vocabulary from listening to podcasts. Although the podcasts used in this study were more of a supplement to instruction, the results highlight the potential for students to learn vocabulary through interesting podcasts”.

“With regard to L2 vocabulary learning from podcasts, Lu (2007) conducted a case study of a 23-year-old ESL learner from Taiwan who listened to one podcast per week for four weeks. The results of the learner’s first and final drafts of the transcripts showed an increase in listening accuracy and vocabulary knowledge”. This refers to what I call systematic learning. By listening to something regularly one can improve dramatically. For example by watching or listening to the news every day and getting to know what are talked one gradually can understand the news since some words usually repeat themselves and that raises the listeners’ awareness of those particular words.


The present study has aimed to prove that listening to podcasts can have a positive effect on the learners’ vocabulary extension and this indicates the fact that words can be learnt even when they’re not focused on particularly.

Based on the findings above it can be concluded that teachers should not just take the use of technology, listening to podcasts in particular for granted since they can be a great help for learners of English as a Foreign Language.

Although listening to podcasts is one of the best ways to boost one’s English proficiency especially vocabulary, instructors must know that this is mostly applicable for advanced learners of English because those who have just begun learning English or in a word beginners cannot really use them on their own for they always need their teacher to push them forward and guide them in the right direction. They see their teachers as gods of English and will do whatsoever they say for sure.

As a result of reviewing the literature on incidental vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading, extensive listening, and podcast use in L2 learning, it is believed that an extensive listening podcast program, if thoughtfully implemented, could help extend students’ vocabulary learning. Still, there are sometimes limitations, for example, although iPods and other portable listening devices are abundant in some teaching contexts, this may not be true for all teaching contexts. The decision to implement an extensive listening podcast project would need to consider the technology that students have access to. Furthermore, more research is needed on extensive listening and L2 incidental vocabulary acquisition plus individual differences which is an important subject matter in the field of TEFL is not taken into account in the present study.



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