I love listening to the radio!

I grew up listening to radio. As a Brit, that meant mainly the BBC.

Born in the year colour TV arrived, I’m not of the digital generation. My father was an engineer and spent most of his career working outside the UK.

We often had no TV and the radio was our lifeline to the outside world. Every morning and evening we would listen to the news from the BBC World Service.

When I myself started living overseas I continued to listen to the BBC, first on the long wave service and then via podcasts. Over the 12 years I lived in China, I slowly explored the BBC’s radio programmes.

Why do I listen?

Mainly to stay in touch with my home country of England. But I also tune in to learn, to be challenged by the ideas of others, to ‘meet’ experts, to feel part of a larger community.

Where do I listen?

Everywhere! Literally. I have taken the BBC on long journeys, up mountains, into my bedroom and kitchen and onto my dining room table!

British radio for English learners

For people learning English, listening to BBC radio podcasts would be a fabulous way to improve your English listening skills and vocabulary as well as getting exposure to the British English accent.

Here are my seven favourite shows and why I think they have something to teach you in English.

BBC Radio 4

1. Desert Island Discs

This show started in 1942. It’s so famous they even made a show about the show! The guest, or castaway, is invited to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury to take with them to a desert island. The interview is built around their music choices and key moments in the their life.1


Great for listening to stories told in the past tense.

Don’t be put off by the very-hard-to-understand introductions that presenter Kirsty Young reads out. I think she must be a thesaurus addict! Just skip the intro and start at the first record choice.

Favourite episodes:

David Beckham

Bruce Springsteen

Sandi Toksvig


2. The Bottom Line

This is a business show, where guests – a mixture of corporates and entrepreneurs – are invited to discuss a chosen topic. The host, Evan Davis, is an excellent interviewer and he invites some inspiring guests on his shows.


Wonderful place to learn your business and entrepreneurial vocabulary.

Favourite episodes:

How to Negotiate

3. Woman’s Hour

As its name suggests, this is a daily show dealing with women’s issues in the UK. I’ve been a huge fan for around 20 years and usually listen to the previous day’s episode with my breakfast. They recently introduced a Late Night Woman’s hour where “guests partake of a few nocturnal frank and funny conversations”.


Polish up your listening skills with a breadth of British accents you probably never knew existed while familiarising yourself with the vocab of all things female!

Favourite episodes:

I don’t really have a favourite episode, but here’s a Late Night Woman’s Hour show I really enjoyed:

A Brief History of Me Time 


4. Books and Authors

This show alternates between Books and Authors where they usually interview an author and discuss books and publishing issues, and A Good Read, where two guests and the presenter choose a book each to read and discuss.


A great place to find book recommendations. I’m a big fan of recommendations from authors. My feeling is that it’s a double quality filter!

Favourite episodes:

Trevor McDonald and Jon Snow

Allan Ahlberg

5. Bookclub

This show is run like a book club as you can go online and find out the book selection and then read it yourself before the show. Authors from all over the world are invited on the show to be interviewed by James Naughtie and questioned by the audience.

James Naughtie not only has the most soothing Scottish accent, his interviewing skills were honed over 21 years as the host of the daily BBC radio news programme the Today show.


If you’d like to ‘meet’ new contemporary authors from around the world, this show will introduce you to some of today’s top authors and English spoken with various accents.

Favourite episodes:


Yann Martel – author of The Life of Pi

Roddy Doyle – author of many books including Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Audrey Niffenegger – author of The Time Traveller’s Wife


BBC World Service

6. The Documentary (sometimes listed as Documentaries on apps)

“Stories from around the world” could be another name for this series of documentaries. The BBC’s journalists from all corners of the planet delve into local issues and news items to give a more in-depth view to listeners.


The format is a combination of interviews and the journalist reading a report so get a good mix of spoken and written English. A good documentary should leave you wiser and wondering.

Favourite episode:

I think Documentaries are a very personal choice – go browse, there are so many to chose from.


7. Forum – Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

Short podcasts – only five minutes – where someone is given sixty seconds to share an idea to improve the world. Their brainwave is then discussed by the guests on the show.


As these podcasts are so short, you can listen to them two or three times. Listen once without stopping, then listen a second time and try to understand difficult parts and look up vocab, then have a final non-stop listen to hear the whole show.

Favourite episodes:

Turn off the lights

Language for native speakers

With my own foreign language learning, I find I rarely enjoy content prepared for teaching purposes. I much prefer to listen or read content aimed at the native population. Yes, stuff goes over my head; yes I have to look up a lot of words and expressions; but as I find the content engaging I don’t get bored and that means I listen or read to the end!

How to listen to BBC radio shows or podcasts?

There are many ways to listen to BBC podcasts, you can find BBC Radio 4 here and the BBC World Service here.

There are many ways to listen to podcasts – I’ve listed how I listen below.

On my Android, I use an app called Podcast Addict (free on Google Play or there’s a paid version without ads). You can subscribe to podcasts and then download or stream the podcast of your choice.

Now go plug yourself into some great quality English…

Photo credit: BBC & susivinh