If you are like most English students, you try to find English language materials in your daily life, from magazines to music to television to newspapers…or even people! But today I’d like to talk about one common mistake many English students make for practicing English: listening to or watching the daily news report.
I know, I know… every week I tell you that listening to correctly spoken English is the best way to improve. And that’s true! So why would the news be any different?
It’s in English, right? It’s correct, right?
Yes and No. Of course the news is given in correct English, but if you are trying to become fluent in everyday spoken English, whether for work or for pleasure, you need to hear normal, everyday English. The problem with the news is that it often uses a special kind of English—usually quite formal, and often using the present perfect tense because the stories are either happening now, very recently , or are ongoing. The news is delivered very quickly, with advanced vocabulary and specific journalism formulas, and with little to no emotional context. While all this is perfectly correct, of course, I dare say that it isn’t the best choice for a listening exercise, and more importantly, it’s certainly NOT the best way to measure your level of understanding!
So if you have tried watching the news and you became frustrated because you couldn’t follow the stories, don’t worry! The news is a great source for many people, and when you are comfortable with it, it is a very interesting way to maintain a high level of English. But until you get there, relax! For many reasons, the news is not a very good tool to measure your level of English comprehension!
Have a look at these 3 newspaper headlines below from The New York Times this week. Notice how the language and structure of the phrases are NOT like everyday English…
See if you can decipher the meanings behind these headlines, and find the main verb or verbs, before reading the answers:
1. “Rights Battle Rises as Businesses Decline to Serve Gays”
(meaning: Gay people are protesting even more for equal rights because more businesses refuse to provide them services. Verbs: rises, decline)
2. “Korean Air Faces Flights Suspensions Over Nut Tantrum”
(meaning: The airline company Korean Air has suspended their flights because of a passenger becoming upset about nuts that were served on a flight. Verb: faces)
3. “Iraq’s Premier Narrows Divide, but Challenges Loom”
(meaning: The prime minister of Iraq has made some peacemaking efforts, but there will be more challenges for him soon. Verbs: narrows, loom)
Where you able to decipher the headlines?
Newspaper headlines are written in a concise way that uses brief phrases and some unusual vocabulary and verb choices, in order to communicate the main idea as quickly and clearly as possible. Did you notice the verb choices? When you speak English, whether for business or on holiday, chances are you will NOT be using this type of language, but rather an English that is more naturally spoken. So why should you torture yourself to learn something you won’t need to use yourself?
Let’s try another example, this time from a televised news report, the BBC’s One-Minute World News. Watch the clip, and see if you can pick up the main subject and verb for each quick story:
Boy, that was some fast news!
So what should I watch or listen to every day in English besides the news?
Don’t get me wrong! The news can be a great activity or exercise when you have a high level of English, or if you are studying journalism in English! But it should not be used as a tool to measure your English level for comprehension and speaking. What you should use are sources that use everyday English!
These are are all fun and very effective ways to improve your English!
Remember, we learn faster and better when we are having fun… but the news is actually making us feel more worried and anxious, besides being difficult to follow!
So go easy on yourself… you deserve it!
Have you used the news as a self-study or listening exercise?
Did you find it helpful ? Or frustrating ?
What sources do you use for reading and listening to correct English every day?
We love to hear your comments and suggestions!
(photos courtesy of: huffingtonpost.com, thesiescomsblog.wordpress.com, greenegazette.com, gettyimages.com, respectively.)