podcastsinenglish.com

Stage 2 editing

So you have made your recording (in .wav remember) and now comes the fun bit – editing the recording and making the podcast. A popular software to use for this is Audacity, which is a free open-source editor (and recorder). It works for Macs too. You must also download and install Lame which will convert your recording into an .mp3 file.

The first thing to do is to make sure the settings are appropriate for your podcast. You want the quality to be good but you also don’t want the file to be too big either. I suggest having these three settings in Preferences:
arrow1 File > Preferences > Quality Keep 44100Hz for the Sample Rate but change the Sample Format to 16-bit.
arrow File > Preferences > File Formats Under MP3 Export Setup make the Bit Rate 64.

Now for the editing. Before you open a file familiarise yourself with the tools. These are all fairly straightforward. The only important thing to remember here is if you click something and it doesn’t seem to work then you need to click the Stop button. You can’t do anything if the Pause button is on.
arrow File > Open and then choose your .wav file. You’ll get something that looks like this:

audacity1

Well, this is part of the recording. The flat lines are where nobody is speaking. Click on the down arrow by the name of the file > Split Stereo Track
arrow Click on the down arrow again and turn the track into Mono
arrow Click on the X of the bottom track and delete it. You now have one mono track which is all you need for a podcast and keeps the size of the file down. The track info should look like this:

audacity2

Now simply listen to the recording and delete the sections you don’t want by highlighting them first with the Selection Tool and deleting them with the Cut button. If you need to be more accurate there’s the Zoom In button. It’s no different to deleting, cutting and pasting in a Word document. Play around with a file that you don’t need (or make a copy of one you do) so that you can make mistakes. Remember there’s always the Undo button!

When you’re happy with the editing you now need to improve the sound. It can get quite technical here but you only need to use two tools. What you’re also doing here is making sure all your podcasts have a similar, and appropriate, sound quality. You want listeners to go from one podcast to another and for the volume etc to be the same (or very similar). If it’s too quiet and listeners have to turn up the volume too much there’ll also be turning up any background noise, and there may be a hissing sound. So remember to get the recording levels right (see part 1 recording) before downloading to Audacity.

You’ll have seen on the example above that the levels are very low. I aim to have the final levels going from about -18 to -3, with an average of -12. Here’s an example of what the recording should look like when you’ve done, note also that there’s a uniformity to the sounds levels:

audacity3

arrow Effect > Compressor… Now to be honest I play around with the Threshold button until it looks right! Here I’ve chosen -42 dB:

audacity4

arrow Then Effect > Normalize Just click OK, the -3 is the default and that’s what you want. Have a look now at what you’ve ended up with. If the levels seem too high, or too low, then undo the normalise and compressor settings and have another go! (You can of course find out more about what these tools are actually doing but for the non-nerdy ones like me out there you don’t really need to know… and there are many other features but this is to get you going).

Now you’ll want to add your jingle at the start of the podcast. There are many short copyright-free jingles (called loops) that you can download from the web. Don’t make them too long, we start talking about 5 seconds in and the jingle fades out for 2 seconds.
arrow Project > New Audio Track You’ll have a second track again.
arrow File > Open and then choose the jingle you have downloaded. Select the first 7 or so seconds and Copy.
arrow Return to the new second track and Paste.
arrow Select the last 3 seconds.
arrow Effect > Fade Out
The only problem you have now is that both tracks are on top of one another! So…
arrow Put the Selection Tool at the start of the podcast track.
arrow Generate > Silence and type in 5 seconds. Now the jingle will start first and then the podcast track will start 5 seconds later. Play around with the timings, you want to be able to hear the beginning of the podcast!

You do the same thing for adding a jingle at the end: add a new track, fade In and fade out either end of the jingle, and add the silence at the start of the jingle. It should look like something like this:

audacity5

Listen to the whole podcast and make any necessary changes. Now you’re ready to add tags to the recording. This just means that when people listen to the podcast on their computer or MP3 player they have the information about what they’re listening to, and be able to find it amongst everything else.
arrow Project > Edit ID3 tags. For example:

audacity6

arrow Then finally, File > Export as MP3 (If you haven’t downloaded Lame here it won’t work) The settings you’ve saved mean that a 3 minute podcast will be just under 1.5MB, you really don’t need it any larger.

So that’s it! You’re very first podcast! When you close down you now have the opportunity to Save Project As which has the default .aup prefix. This means that when you click the project in the future all the tracks will open as when you last left them so it’s easy to make any more changes if need be. One small word of warning: don’t rename the project after you have saved it. It’s better to re-open the project and give it a different name with Save Project As, otherwise it can cause problems.

Good luck!

Next I’ll be talking about how to get your podcasts out there and heard by the world…

First of all I’m sooo embarrassed that it’s been sooo long since the last post. Well, moving country and starting a new life in the very depths of the Portuguese countryside hasn’t helped. The Internet here is sooo slow – it’s been driving us mad! For the moment we’re using a dongle (don’t ask) attached to the laptop but that doesn’t work very well where we’re living now (in temporary accommodation until our house gets rebuilt…) and so we have to drive to places that have better reception – most of my work is done sitting in the car!

Anyway, here are some top tips for recording podcasts:
arrowDon’t have the mic too near your mouth. This is what causes the ‘popping’ sounds when you say words with ‘p’ or ‘b’ in. A fluffy cover over the mic helps (a good mic will come with one) so do use that too.
arrowDon’t have the mic too far away either; you’ll sound too distant and less clear. 20 to 30 cm usually works well.
arrowYou need to make the room as quiet as possible. Some background noises are fine but what you don’t want is the background hum of a fridge or computer throughout the recording. Turn off as many electrical things as possible, including any strip lights or air-conditioners that are buzzing. Before we bought the Walkman we used to have problems with the laptop fan coming on during a recording – impossible to get rid of at the editing stage!
arrowSo you’re recording directly onto a laptop, eh? Then I suggest you do the recording before you think it’ll get too hot. (If anyone reading this does record on a laptop and doesn’t have a problem, or has solved the problem, let us know!)
arrowYou also want to try and remove as much echo as possible. This can be difficult in a classroom (speaking nearer – but not too near! – to the mic helps a lot) but aim to be in the most curtained, carpeted room in the building! I have a friend who has hung duvets up on the walls of his spare room…
arrowYou want to sound as relaxed as possible so think about what you want to say beforehand, and have some notes ready. But remember this isn’t live! You can stop and start again because the next stage is the editing. I think it’s better that the two people talking are sitting side by side with the mic between on a table. This means that both people are being picked up equally (no-one is behind the mic or further away) and also the mic isn’t being passed from interviewer to interviewee. This can make people feel nervous, the mic on the table can almost be forgotten about.
arrowProfessional actors on the radio stand up when they’re being recorded – it allows you to breathe better and have a clearer voice. This is something you may like to try, although we prefer sitting down with a cuppa.
arrowThe more recordings you do of course the better you’ll get at it – good luck!

Stage 1

There are three stages to podcasting really. These are:
1 recording
2 editing
3 uploading

Now we’re going to look at stage 1 recording. So what do you need to record a podcast? Well, just two things: a decent recording microphone (mic) and recorder. Now you can either record directly onto your computer (with it’s built-in mic and some recording software) or onto a separate recorder. If you’re a teacher reading this you probably want to record your students in the classroom or out-and-about so perhaps a computer (even a laptop) may not be suitable. So here I’m talking about a separate mic and recorder. A popular recorder remains the iRiver IFP-899 or 799 (or other iRivers) but annoyingly these are no longer made (and I failed to buy one on Ebay). Alternatives include iAudio but there are a number of different recording devices out there and it really depends on how much you want to pay. Others include the Zoom H2/H4:

the Olympus LS-10 and at the top of the range there’s the Marantz PMD 660 / 670:

We at podcastsinenglish.com use a Sony Walkman minidisc because it’s designed as a recorder primarily, the quality is great and (most importantly!) it’s just sooo easy to use!

The minidiscs are going out of fashion which is a shame I think. The other advantage is that they save the audio files in wav format not mp3 which is essential if you want to edit and resave files. As I mentioned in the previous post the wav files are very large because they contain a lot of information. The format allows you to edit and save the files (more to come in stage 2) without losing any of this information ie the quality remains good. But if you record in mp3, every time you edit and save the files you lose information and therefore the quality deteriorates each time. Most people just want to record something and listen to it so that’s not a problem, for a podcaster it is.

Another important thing is that the recorder has a line-in for an external mic. The recorder may have an internal mic but it’s really not going to be good enough. Which leads us nicely to which mic to use. Like many things the more you spend the better you get. A cheap mic won’t help much. There are loads of mics in the market of course and when I researched which would be the best for us I was utterly confused by the jargon (condenser, omni-directional, lavalier, binaural… aarrgh!), I hadn’t realised there were so many different types. Anyway we got a Sony ECM-MS907 because it was small enough to carry around (in fact designed for ‘field’ recording), had very good reviews re the sound quality and was reasonably priced. And of course was totally compatible with the Sony minidisc!

It also comes with it’s own little stand so it can sit on a desk between two people fairly unobtrusively.

At the end of the day choose the best you can afford and remember:
a that the recorder records in wav rather than mp3
b there’s an external line-in for a mic and
c that the mic fits into the recorder (!)

That’s it for now. Recording tips to follow and then stage 2 editing. PS If you’ve already got a mic and recorder you can recommend for podcasting why not leave a comment and tell us?

Just to make it super clear – although the word podcasting is a portemanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting you don’t need an iPod to listen to the podcasts! In fact you don’t need an mp3 player at all. All the podcasts can be listened to on your computer through any media player (iTunes, windows Media Player, etc). If you do have a portable device like an mp3 player (and any will do, not just an iPod) then it allows you to listen to the podcasts wherever you are, whatever you’re doing…

Talking of mp3 – this is an audio file format (actually MPEG Layer-3 whatever that means) and is very popular because it can reduce the size of an audio to 10% of it’s original size without losing the quality of sound. You’ll see on our site that the podcasts are all mp3s eg money.mp3 There are others including wav used for CD-quality sound files, which means that they can be large in size – around 10MB per minute. We’ll be looking at both of these again when I talk you though producing your own podcasts and editing the sound files.

If you’re a teacher and you want to use podcasts in your classroom then you need to download them and then burn them onto a CD.  For most podcasting sites there is a Play or Listen option, and a Download option.

picture-1

To download you need to right-click on the download button and then choose ‘Save Target As’. If you’re using a Mac it’s control plus click and ‘Save Link As’. Give the file a name (if it hasn’t already got one) and choose where you want it downloaded on your computer.

Then you need to burn the podcast onto a CD. You can do this with Windows Media Player which comes pre-installed on most PCs. This video will tell you how if you’re unsure (click the play button to get it going):

If you have a Mac then use the iTunes application for this.

Which blank CD to buy? Well, you have a choice here – either a CD-R (as the video above suggests) or a CD-RW. If you go for the former it means that if you burn one podcast on the CD and use it you cannot add anymore. That’s why in the video the guy burns about 10 songs at one go. That’s the best thing to do (burn a whole load of podcasts at the same time), otherwise you have a CD with 100s of MBs left and only one podcast on it. Alternatively, you can use a CD-RW which allows you to add more podcasts later on and keep on adding them until the CD is full. CD-RWs are more expensive but they maybe more useful for you. Do check though that your CD player in the classroom can play CD-RWs.

That’s it! Just remember to make a list of the podcasts so that when you put the CD in the player you know which track you need. I must admit that this is one of the things I hate using in class! I always go for the cassette if there’s a choice. I like the fact it’s so much easier to replay a small section again.

I’ve been asked by Lindsay Clandfield to contribute an article to his Six Things blog – and so I’ve made a list of  six popular podcasting sites (although of course podcastsinenglish has to be number one he he).  As I mention some are definitely better than others (and there’s plenty missing) but I really think teachers should recommend these sites to their students – and suggest they listen regularly, once a day if possible, to the sites they like. The fact that learners can listen, free, to a range of interesting podcasts produced by professional ELT teachers is a great opportunity and one that they shouldn’t miss. Students will notice their pronunciation improves as well.

There’s no better way than a podcast a day!

apple

Step 3

In step 2 we looked at subscribing through iTunes, and many podcasting sites have an iTunes logo for you to click making it very easy for iTunes subscribers to add a podcast. This is what the link on pie looks like:

However, you’ll have noticed another logo on podcasting sites:

This is called the RSS feed (don’t bother knowing what RSS stands for, it doesn’t make any sense!) and clicking this also allows you to subscribe to that site. In the past if you clicked this you’d have got a load of gobbledygook text but with browsers nowadays it’s take you to a page that asks you which programme you are using to get their podcasts. These programmes are called podcatchers. iTunes is a podcatcher (among other things) and so is Juice and Doppler, they are both free and easy to use. Just download the software by following the instructions.

Right, so you have a free downloaded podcatcher programme – now you just need to tell it the url of the site from which you want the podcasts. Well, not the url of the site, the url feed – the url which will tell the podcatcher software where to get the podcasts.

For example, the url for pie is: http://www.podcastsinenglish.com but the url feed is: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/Podcastsinenglish

How do you know what the url feed is? Don’t worry, as soon as you click the RSS logo you’ll be told, or it’ll be at the top of the page in your browser. That’s it really. As long as you have Juice, or whoever, open and the Internet connected then all new podcasts will be automatically downloaded onto your computer thus saving a lot of time. No need to go onto your fave sites and spend time clicking and downloading, this will all be done for you. Neat, eh?

Talking of neat, some fine Egyptian whisky...

Talking of neat, some fine Egyptian whisky...

Step 2

So you know what a podcast is and now you want to download some automatically onto your computer. One of the easiest ways of doing this is through iTunes. Now if you have an iMac / MacBook this programme is already installed because it’s all under the Apple umbrella of course.

For everyone else you need to go the iTunes site. Then you need to download the latest version of iTunes by clicking on the Download iTunes button. Follow the instructions and make sure you get an icon for your desktop – this simply makes it easier to open each time.

Then once you have that I always find it easier, the first time round, to get back on the iTunes website through the same url as above. Scroll down to the iTunes show case and look for podcasts. Click on the link and there’ll be three categories: Top Podcasts, Technology and Society / Culture. It’s the last group you’re interested in. Click View All for this category:

Right, now you’ll see on the left hand side a list of subcategories, one of which is Education. This is where you’ll find the podcasts for language teaching / learning. However, for the moment type in podcastsinenglish.com in the search box in the top right hand corner:

This will take you to our site on iTunes. Now click the subscribe button:

Now your own personal iTunes page opens and hey presto! it starts to download the latest pie episode.

You’ll see that it goes into the Recently Added section. Well done! From now on, because you have subscribed, every time a new pie podcast comes out it will automatically be downloaded onto this page.

However, you know that pie has hundreds of episodes so if you want some more scroll up from Recently Added (under Playlists) and click on Podcasts (under Library) to highlight that. This gives you a list of podcast sites you have subscribed to. Now just click on the little triangle by our name and hey presto! again all the episodes that are on our site appear in one long list. Click on Get to have any episodes added.

That’s it! You have the iTunes icon on your desktop so whenever you click on that it’ll open onto this page. If you want to add some other podcasts from different sites go into the Education subcategory I referred to above. Once subscribed these too will appear in the Library. Don’t forget that you need to be online for all this to work!

There are other ways of having the podcasts downloaded automatically but that’s another step…

Now for something sweet...

Step 1

I read on a recent language teachers’ forum that someone was interested in using podcasts with their students but was put off because ‘you need special software’. Oh dear, you see to many it’s a mystery, and a rather frightening one at that. Fear not – the non-nerdy one is here to help.

So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start…) what exactly is a podcast? Well, first and foremost it’s simply something on the Internet that you can listen to. That’s it. You open a website, click ‘listen’ and away you go. And many teachers / students do this without any concern.

You probably also know that, if you like the listening (audio file), you can download it onto your computer or mp3 player to listen to at any time. So far, so good.

But a podcast isn’t just that, is it? Well, no. The only difference is if you want to you can have the audio files sent automatically to your computer as soon as they are available. You don’t need to go to a website, choose a listening, click on the download button and wait. The computer, connected to the Internet, can do it all for you – even while you sleep! So you wake up and it’s there – ready to be listened to or downloaded onto your mp3 player.

So how does that work? Well, that’s the only (slightly) tricky bit. But for the moment the important thing is that if you see a podcasting site, don’t be afraid. Choose a listening you like and simply download it to use later. Now you have access to loads of wonderful stuff to use in the classroom, listen to while you’re travelling or to fall asleep to.

There are many podcasting sites which have new listenings added regularly. If you now feel confident enough to have a look at some of those start here for a list of sites aimed specifically at language teachers / learners.

And of course don’t forget our very own podcastsinenglish.com! Watch out for step 2…

Time for some Arabic coffee...

Ok, so I’m on the ball with blogging and au fait with podcasting but I can’t get my head around this twitter malarky.  I have friends who twitter but I’m not really sure why so was pleased to see an article about twittering (or is it tweeting?) in a copy of PC World: 8 Ways Twitter Will Change Your Life (why so many caps, eh?) So I read that, and read it again, and still couldn’t see what the attraction was. It seems that what you get is loads of small messages from a variety of sources all day long. Hmm… I’m already in contact with friends and family through email, skype, facebook (not to mention the telephone) – why do I need to have them send me a tweet as well? And I can already find out about the weather, the latest news and gossip from the Internet. What does twitter offer that’s different?

Anyway, I’ve just gone onto some twitter pages to see what all the fuss was about. There are tweets about a book someone has just read, a complaint about relatives, a remark about some snow and details about someone’s breakfast. So then I went onto Stephen Fry’s twitter page (I can see the appeal of saying you’re ‘in contact’ with a famous person) and that tells me: Arrived in steel town of Esch (the letter that begins ‘sugar’, ‘Sean’ and ‘sure’?). Looks like we’ll be at it till midnight. Well, that’s exciting – needed to know that (not).  And I certainly can’t see George Clooney twitting that he’s off to have a coffee somewhere…

So I’m in the dark about this one, unless someone can shed some light.  Perhaps my life is too dull to twitter about: Finished blog, time for a cuppa. (Actually, I’m just going to see if George has a twitter… )

Is it possible to be addicted to rooibos tea?

Is it possible to be addicted to rooibos tea?

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