The Linguacast Project at the Open Access Centre and Schools' Enterprise Euromarch

Authors: Andrew Grenfell and Ruth O'Rourke


This report describes firstly the process of setting up a language learning podcast site in order to demonstrate the use of web-hosted mp3 recordings for learning. The second part describes a multi-organisational school-based project that used the site and podcasts to deliver language learning material.

This article was added to our website on 12/01/07 at which time all links were checked. However, we cannot guarantee that the links are still valid.

Table of contents

Conference 2006

This paper was originally presented at our conference: Crossing frontiers: languages and the international dimension, 6-7 July 2006. Download print version: this paper is also available as a pdf (648Kb)



The development of the Linguacast site started in March 2005 the idea being to demonstrate the potential that Podcasting had for language teaching and learning. Podcasting had been around for some time but was not common in the public domain in the U.K.; beyond the idea that music could be downloaded from the internet. Within a few months Podcasting was the buzz word and had been adopted by the BBC as an area for future programme delivery and audience participation.

In order to understand the technical side of podcasting it is useful to refer to the wikipedia definition (

Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files such as audio programs or music videos over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Though podcasters' web sites may also offer direct download or streaming of their files: a podcast however is distinguished by its ability to be downloaded automatically using software capable of reading RSS or Atom feeds.

Should further information be sought concerning the technical application and structure of the RSS feeds please contact Dave Lowe at

Powerpoint slide: Technical Terminology


At the same time that the idea of developing a Podcast site was being explored the University's Teaching and Learning Council invited application for grants to research technology in teaching and learning, the grants were limited to £5,000 and the time frame for application was very tight. The application was made to investigate podcasting application in teaching and learning and to set up a pilot scheme with the following aims:

  • Facilitation of self-paced learning
  • To offer a richer environment through immediacy
  • To embrace future learning delivery through new technology

The three aims have in fact been generally adhered to as the project developed. Within the original grant application it was stated that the site would also show how similar sites could be replicated. To this end we published our RSS feeds and also pointed users to freeware.


The grant application was for purchasing of a certain amount of technical equipment, direct payment to native language speakers for their time and some hourly paid teaching for pedagogical input.

Technical equipment purchased for the Linguacast project

  • RM Expert 3000 PC
  • Satellite Pro M40 Notebook
  • Creative Zen Micro MP3 player
  • iRiver H-340 40Gb MP3 player


Once the project started it became quickly apparent that there was a great deal more possible than the initial application envisaged. More operational aims were developed as we learnt how to produce material these being:

  • To allow lessons to be recorded and then podcast to many students at different time
  • To enable students with reading or other disabilities to have access to information via audio files
  • To provide multi-lingual material and discussion forums.

The process


The first stage was to develop language content so that further pedagogical ideas and content could be progressed. A bank of mp3 recordings for English Language Learners was produced. All the recordings had:

  • an air of informality
  • were semi-scripted
  • non-edited
  • natural rhythm and intonation

This allowed learners and teachers to have material to develop the following areas:

  • Uses of vocabulary
  • Intonation and stress
  • Language register
  • Examples of humour an dialogues


The second stage was the development of foreign language material through a bank of example languages. At this stage all the interlocutors were volunteers from the University's international cohort. Again there was little or no scripting with the interviews following a similar but not identical pattern. The questions are in English and the responses are in the interviewee's own language.


The third stage was to demonstrate language content and that the Podcast can be used for lectures, giving information, thematic material, and sociolinguistics; examples of origins of language, humour and accents. At this stage an example bank of sound effects was also put on to the site that teachers could download for the development of their own broadcasts or for use in the language laboratory. These included a telephone, a lorry and machinery.


The next step took the podcasting open learning idea one step further and content for translation studies was recorded and put on the web page. This was in collaboration with Maria Fernandez Toro. This was material that would be used in an actual class. The material was recorded and then the students would have direct and continuous access to the material at home or anywhere on campus. These audio file differed from the other podcasts as they were more scripted, edited and time controlled.

While content development was progressing technical investigation developed as well especially in pocket held PC via WiFi and hand held devices via USB connection

Powerpoint slide: Podcasting at the Language Centre


As the Podcasting site has generated more interest other uses have developed and are developing on campus. The team is collaborating with the library services in the development of audio guides for library tours and inductions. The international office is looking into the preparation of audio materials for marketing and induction of the International Cohort these MP3 audio files will be embedded in the WebPages of the International office. The very successful The Schools Enterprise Euromarché project utilised podcasting aspect to allow open access to the language content to schools both participating in the programme and any other school wishing to have access to the content. Developing directly from the experience of the Linguacast project a further UTLC grant was awarded to a project designed to investigate the uses of MP3 and MP4 (Vodcasting) for translating and interpreting teaching and learning.



The Linguacast project was successful in more areas than was originally anticipated.

The project clearly demonstrated the versatility of the MP3 file for teaching and learning of languages. The application of the basic principles can be used in other areas of education and academic content delivery. The spirit of openness, collaboration and contribution allowed for quick development and generated numerous other projects as demonstrated by the Schools Enterprise Euromarché project .


There were also additional positive spin offs from the project that have been instrumental in developing further projects. The Open Access Centre's profile was raised across the University, this was the first time that the OAC had applied for and had been awarded a UTLC grant. The interaction with other departments was very positive as was the interest shown in the spin off possibilities.

The development of low cost but high quality audio content with no copyright implication is very interesting from both an administrative and financial point of view. All material produced can be stored on the net and can be downloaded at will and developed at will by both teachers and learners. This has the potential to develop a vast range of language material.

The development of the Linguacast projected was in parallel with the installation of a digital language laboratory. The demonstration of the versatility of the MP3 audio file by the Linguacast site and the popular interest in Podcasting generated ideas and content for use both in the lab and intranet as well as internet.

The invitations that given to International students to participate generated a sense of participation; all the recordings on the Linguacast site were done by volunteers. The nature of the Podcast and its roots in non-mainstream broadcasting in the US has developed a style of flexibility and informality of the content production has allowed a vibrancy of language and authenticity of dialogue to become the norm for the language content. This in itself has generated feedback and comment. Many teachers want the transcripts to be published along with worksheets. EFL students like mixture of registers, idiom and jargon.


As with many projects the time available has been the limiting factor. It would be good to develop the site further and for it to become a standard language learning tool with transcripts, lessons and regular additions. The next stage would be to take the content examples and to develop pedagogical material and interaction. The development of Pod-blog groups is a possibility as will be the regular posting of lectures and lessons. There are now many examples of Mp3 and podcasts being used in the classroom for Language teaching, most noticeably at Mussleburgh Grammar School in East Lothian and The Ashcombe School in Dorking


It is hoped to further develop the site for autonomous learning as well as for taught course support both in the EFL field and the Modern Language learning area it is hoped to have input from post-graduates and from the school of education.

However, as with all projects of this nature it will require dedication and time.

Schools' Enterprise Euromarché

The Language Tool and Design Team, Newcastle University undergraduates

The Language Tool and Design Team, Newcastle University undergraduates

Schools' Enterprise Euromarché is an interschool project directed by Newcastle City Council in partnership with North East Gateway National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY). The event saw Grainger Market, in the heart of Newcastle city centre, transformed into a cosmopolitan hub of commerce and learning. Over two days school groups were able to trade wares as well as showcasing performance skills whilst putting Modern Foreign Languages to good use over the two days. Newcastle University undergraduates produced a language learning tool in order to equip school children and their teachers with the appropriate vocabulary and language skills for the event. Here, I will briefly outline the general project management scheme before giving a detailed summary of the podcasting element of the Language Tool.

NAGTY, funded by the DfES aims to ensure that all children and young people, regardless of background, have access to the formal and informal learning opportunities they need to help them convert their potential into high achievement. Their aims guided the remit for the Language Tool. Podcasting is particularly suited to allowing all learners, with access to the appropriate equipment as I shall discuss later, to profit from the material produced for NAGTY pupils.

The Language Tool, cover

The resource comprised a Learner's Log, Euro Marche participation certificate, Progress Passport, CD-ROM with webpage and flash card images. Teachers were able to put it to use in classes of mixed ability as well as in groups streamed for those of higher ability. The accompanying lessons focused on intercultural understanding alongside language learning as prescribed in the primary school curriculum through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) methods for the target languages: French, Spanish and German. Keen to employ latest techniques and technology, the Design Team opted for a series of podcasts to form the aural component of the Language Tool.

Podcasting project management

Time and money are familiar restrictions in project management. Lack of storage becomes another issue, especially in schools and universities. Thankfully, podcasting tackles this by costing little in all three areas. Approximately 8 hours of recording and editing and 30 hours of website construction resulted in the Schools Enterprise Euromarché website ( with around 70 recordings in user-friendly groups and available for immediate download, without the hassle and extra cost or time of recording, publishing and distribution.

From the user's point of view, podcasting sites allow immediate access to up to-date resources without neither charge nor copyright implications. This was particularly important for a project designed to have a much longer shelf life than the few months of the Schools' Enterprise Euromarché itself, as teachers and independent users could return to the site as they wished. The open source nature of the site leaves it available to all users with access to the internet opening the content of the Language Tool to many more users than the original audience of gifted and talented' pupils.

A further advantage for autonomous learning is that podcasts allow the user to download the latest recordings, whether basic vocabulary lists or listening exercises, into personal music players alongside use in the classroom to diversify and strengthen the learning process.

Podcast lesson with KS2 pupils at Walkergate

Podcast lesson with KS2 pupils at Walkergate

The use of podcasts plays an important role in keeping the Schools' Enterprise Euromarché resources fresh and up-to-date, making language learning more relevant. Its technological appeal helps raise the profile of Modern Foreign Language learning in today's fast paced learning settings, especially with the advent of Virtual Learning Environments.

It is essential for language learners to have contact with an authentic version of the target language, especially within the Language Tool's target audience, where modelling pronunciation is of fundamental importance before moving on to the written word in upper Key Stage 2. However, the sheer logistic of facilitating direct native speaker contact in the 51 participating schools across Newcastle would have proved impossible. Recording native speakers in podcast format solved this problem quickly and efficiently.

A bonus of having a University based production team enabled

  • Access to international students
  • Flexibility of timetables
  • Excellent resources and assistance provided by the Open Access Centre at Newcastle University who also provided and edited the webspace.

Scripts and transcripts

As particular vocabulary had to be covered, the podcasts were semi-scripted. This allowed us to be subject specific whilst allowing a flow that would be natural to the native speaker. For the more advanced learner, there were some ad-libbed dialogues too. The scripting and post-editing allowed us to eliminate grammatical errors without removing authenticity.

Budget and deadlines limited what could be included in the resources so it was decided that transcripts should be available in the Language Tool and some suggestions for lesson plans without the aural component becoming overly present in the Language Tool. This was an excellent way of providing the base to possible lesson plans which could then be adapted by the teacher, who is, after all the best placed to assess the attitude and aptitude of their class and to decide which learning style suits them best. All the same, some podcast recordings were specifically designed to be used as lessons. These included the Maths Games' and Number Jumbles', as well as some Spanish and German dialogues. These are available on Schools Enterprise Euromarché website (

The Language Tool, inside pack

The Language Tool, showing introduction pages, the CD Rom and progress passport

Podcasting: the complications

As mentioned above, the user could encounter two main obstacles with podcasts. Firstly, in the case of the Schools' Enterprise Euromarché , it is an advantage to be in possession of the Language Tool to use in conjunction with the podcast site. Secondly, and more importantly, it is essential that they have the facilities to access the podcasts. A CD ROM was supplied in the Language Tool with a browser version of the webpage, but this defeats some of the advantages of podcasting.

For the potential podcaster themselves, access to decent recording facilities and technological expertise are key in a podcasting project. It is possible to use a Dictaphone and .WAV files, but post-editing is made easier by using a programme like SANAKO.

In short, technological know-how and the appropriate equipment are integral to the success of podcast recordings. This particular project would not have been so successful without computer support and savvy from highly competent and readily available staff at Newcastle University 's Open Access Centre.

Further projects

The inevitable what next?! The success of the pilot year of Schools' Enterprise Euromarché heralds longevity for the event itself. If it is to be repeated and the Language Tool is to be renewed, further editions will benefit from the podcast recordings as these can be easily re-edited and expanded through the existing site.

Newcastle University hopes to extend their podcast projects and are currently looking at weekly podblogs that can be available to schools as a learning resource. For example, teachers could effectively order' subject specific recordings for use in the classroom later that week. Pupils could also participate in pod-pal programmes, as a modern version of pen-pals. Issues with monitoring such sites would have to be closely considered, but both open source and bespoke recordings are feasible. The next stage in this rapidly progressing field of technology would be to introduce MP4 files and continue with videocasting.

Concluding remarks

The popularity of Modern Foreign Languages in the UK appears to be waning. We, those involved with their promotion, constantly seek new approaches of raising the profile. One way of encouraging the potential learner is to show that MFL and associated learning methods are modern, that they keep pace with new forms of technology. Podcasting, as a medium of new technology and through its provision of fresh material, is but one tactic in a wider strategy of increasing the appeal of MFL to modern-day learners.

Languages themselves are continually evolving, they are dynamic and vibrant. It goes without saying that language learning should be as equally exciting. Podcasting helps language learning to be as alive as languages are!

Related links

Press release about the event: Pupils going all European, 13th July, 2006, The Evening Chronicle 06 News Detail/13-07-06 Pupils go European.aspx