Tourism and foreign language teaching: Podcasts for listening comprehension as key to success

Klaus Pfatschbacher
Lecturer for French, PhD
University of Applied Sciences IMC-FH Krems, Austria



Our workshop addresses the following questions:

  • How can a lecturer apply podcasts for listening comprehension in class?
  • How can students benefit from this approach?
  • In how far does podcast listening comprehension relate to student-centered and competence-oriented learning (based on Bloom’s taxonomy of competences)?
  • How can we measure the students’ learning outcomes in the context of listening comprehension and the connected activities (looking in this context to the Dublin descriptors)?
  • What does a sample lesson look like?

An outstanding quality in tourism refers to excellent listening capacities; you have to pay attention to the fluctuating wishes of clients; the sooner you react, the better. Listening comprehension not only applies to sectors of the economy, it also figures prominently in education, especially in foreign language teaching, where it even brilliantly illustrates cognitive processes and shows how thinking works: it is based on knowledge and comprehension; then it moves on to the application of knowledge; people start analyzing patterns, criticize them, draw innovative conclusions and then evaluate what they have experienced. These steps have been described in Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom 1956) for thinking, which constitutes the theoretical framework of our approach: we see listening comprehension as a basic activity providing unity; like French Baroque opera where words, gestures and music coincide and offer a picture of harmony, listening comprehension offers you a platform where you have to handle Bloom’s categories simultaneously, trying to reach well balanced results and better insights. These new perspectives can be measured in detail and reveal much about students’ progress. Moreover, the situation of learning unfolds under perfectly fair circumstances: every student gets the chance to revise the subject matter before applying it in new contexts. A safe basis of comprehension is offered to everyone.

How can you find the best sources for listening comprehension? Podcasts, which are easily available and offer a wide range of topics, appear to be a perfect solution.  They mostly last for about 10-15 minutes – the perfect time to catch and retain the attention of students and at the same time to cope with a subject seriously. Furthermore, they allow to allude to many other implications: tourism topics, for example, are considered in their cultural and social contexts which allow numerous associations; thus the lecturer not only manages to come up with economic facts but also with their links to political and societal issues. He/she thus succeeds in establishing complex dimensions which contribute to an exciting beginning of a lesson.

In our paper, such an approach is illustrated addressing the following questions:

• How can a lecturer apply podcasts for listening comprehension in class?
• How can students benefit from this approach?
• In how far does podcast listening comprehension relate to student-centered and competence-oriented learning (based on Bloom’s taxonomy of competences)?
• How can we measure the students’ learning outcomes in the context of listening comprehension and the connected activities (looking in this context to the Dublin descriptors)?
• What does a sample lesson look like?

Sample lessons

The following example is taken from French classes given to students of the Bachelor  Tourism Management programme at the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems/Austria and will give answers to those questions:

The topic refers to health tourism (tourisme de santé). Much relevant information can be found on the website of the public radio station France Inter; it includes a podcast of the programme Au détour du monde (‘Around the world’) which explains central terms of health tourism such as thermalisme, thalassothérapie or spa. These lexical items get explained by the lecturer and the students at the beginning of the class. Then students proceed to compare their findings with information taken from the podcast; this allows them to add some important missing details to complete the picture of essential definitions.

The given situation illustrates one of Bloom’s first categories: students acquire understanding and knowledge thanks to work on definitions.

A similar example can be derived from a listening task dealing with the current tendency of making short trips abroad, especially during the weekend. Before coping with the recording students analyse the differences between evasion and escapade. The first term describes shourt journeys taking place between Friday and Sunday. Escapade, by contrast, highlights the people’s wish to discover new destinations during the week.

The knowledge the students have widened in this first stage of listening comprehension can easily be measured. Learners can for example be asked to compare the new terms with other words taken from the context of travelling. As a result, they manage to seize exact denotations and connotations of the given expressions and know how to distinguish evasion and escapade from their synonyms.

The next step according to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning is centered on analysis. Students learn something new, they push frontiers and try to understand a chosen podcast in detail. As far as health tourism is concerned, they become familiar with its history in France: the podcast shows central developments such as the first resorts in the Alps or the Pyrenees, the cures paid by public health care and the heyday of thalassothérapies and spas.

The skills demanded for a precise analysis are connected with open-mindedness and attention paid to the detail. Students must be willing to face a challenge and to make efforts attempting to get the gist of the podcast. This requires special teaching strategies: learners have to concentrate on essential statements, descriptions and embellishing paragraphs must be omitted; the focus must be well chosen and touch upon the target questions.

In a podcast on short trips, for instance, learners have placed the emphasis on questions such as Which social classes undertake short journeys? Where does this part of the population live? What are the economic reasons for the people’s choice to go abroad just for a few days? These guiding questions have to be carefully selected by the lecturer and should be introduced to the learners before the analysis of the text.

Measuring progress implies popular test formats. Students may complete sentences, tick suitable answers, find the correct order of sentences and answer true/false questions. There is a large variety of activities helping students to get better insights into the structure of the text and to complete a profound analysis of the relevant text patterns.

After completing this stage students move on to a further category coined by Bloom: applying the knowledge they have acquired in a new context. Doing this they manage to show skills such as independence, creativity, personal mastery and spontaneous reacting: if we remain attached to the examples mentioned above, we can once more describe situations taken from health tourism and the tendency of taking short trips. Students could for instance be asked to imagine the future of health tourism in Austria and deal with the following questions: how might Austrian spas cope with competition in neighboring countries such as Hungary or Slovenia? Who will survive this contest? How can health tourism be innovated? Will public health care still be responsible for a large number of tourists? How can new target groups be attracted? To find solutions they could act out role plays that have to be well defined. Each character should get his/her special qualities and has specific attitudes to represent. We could for example think of ambitious entrepreneurs who want to open new resorts appealing to well determined target groups such as affluent seniors (generation 50+) by offering Asian spas. On the other hand, students could also act out economists worried about the density of thermal resorts in Austria. In a discussion with their opponents they might point out the possibility of having exploited the potential of the market too much and of having overestimated the chances offered by health tourism.

If we turn to the short trips, we find a similar pattern. Students might come up with innovative projects for a short holiday, for example a trip to Finland and exploring the design district in Helsinki, an unusual project which is different from the main stream proving independence and creative thinking. Bloom’s requirement has thus been fulfilled.


The students’ performances can well be measured. As a lecturer you just have to be a careful observer of the dialogues unfolding in front of your eyes. Analyse the learners’ ability to speak fluently, to use new vocabulary, to adapt to correct syntactic rules, to apply essential grammatical rules such as the distinction between adjectives and adverbs or the suitable use of pronouns. These observations can be summed up by using the Dublin descriptors, which help a lecturer to better appreciate and evaluate students’ performances. As a consequence they are an essential part of assessment processes at the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems. This assessment scale looks like this:

Dublin Descriptors: Cycle 1 (Bachelor)

Knowledge and Understanding: The student can apply and include – whilst supported by relevant textbooks –some aspects that will be informed by knowledge of the forefront of the field of study.

Application of Knowledge and Understanding:  The student can apply his/her knowledge and understanding in a manner that indicates a professional approach and have competences demonstrated through sustaining arguments and solving problems within his/her field of study.

Judgement: The student has the ability to gather and interprete relevant data in his/her field of study for judgements that include reflections on relevant issues.

Communication: The student is able to communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Learning skills/strategies: The student has developed those skills that are necessary for him/her to continue to undertake further study with a high degree of autonomy.

The last step that can be derived from listening comprehension is Bloom’s category of evaluation. After acting out scenes creatively students finally evaluate the learning process. They express their personal opinion and provide suggestions regarding possible improvements. In the context of health tourism, for instance, they ask themselves complex questions on current developments (e.g. the opening of specialized spas for seniors), comment on recent events such as fair trades on thalassothérapie in France or deal with financial difficulties of certain resorts. Concerning short trips, on the other hand, they wonder if companies such as Air France or Lufthansa may keep up with the clients’ wish to benefit from low fares to spend a weekend abroad. They might also reflect upon ecological consequences of such trips. Can we avoid doing substantial harm to nature and remain mobile and flexible at the same time? Can our wish to meet the demands of globalization also guarantee the need to respect the categories of sustainable tourism? All these questions require a distanced attitude towards the chosen topic; students have learned to judge a situation critically, they know how to place new ideas within their personal framework of categories, values and perceptions.

All in all, the above mentioned description leads to a general pattern helping the lecturer to plan and organize listening practice according to Bloom’s taxonomy for thinking. This pattern not only illustrates a pragmatic way to prepare for a teaching session but also yields a three dimensional picture of teaching including all the senses and cognitive stages:

a) Knowledge of terminology, b) Understanding the podcast, c) Analysing the podcast, d) Applying knowledge in the discussion on the contents, e) Applying language and content competence in role plays or even reading and independent writing

In addition, such an approach to teaching also guarantees a well balanced choice of different activities enabling students to compensate certain mistakes or difficulties whenever they do not manage to get the gist of the assignment. They have a second and third chance to get ahead, to learn something new and to deliver the learning outcome. Listening comprehension based on podcasts can thus be seen as the key to democratic and fair learning, a feature every teaching session should imply.


Bloom, B. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives. The classification of educational goals. New York: Longman Group.