Here’s a tip for learning English.
Have a balanced diet.
…but don’t forget to learn English for the serious stuff.
At the same time that you learn English slang, you have to make sure that you learn about what’s going on in the “real” English-speaking world.
To do that, you can learn English through the news.
Why Learn English through the News?
News programs are written clearly and directly, making them perfect for language learning. The news can be your own personal English classroom.
Also, language is about making sense of real life issues. News is called news for a reason: news is by definition fresh and current. News programs focus on issues that you care about and on how you live your life. It makes sense to learn English in the context (situation) you can actually use.
And learning English isn’t just about improving your vocabulary. It’s also about being able to connect with English speakers. When you know what’s going on in their world, then you’ll be able to speak their language better.
Here are some steps to get you started.
4 Tips for Learning English Through the News
1. Watch TV Online and Read the Newspaper at your Learning Level.
If you know a lot of English, you may be ready to read the The Wall Street Journal or to watch videos from CBS News. If you are a beginner, no problem: you can watch and read the news online at a level that works for you, then go to more difficult stories at your own speed.
The New York Times has a weekly column on its Learning Network just for American English language learners. The stories are written in a way you can understand. After you read, take the quizzes on punctuation and word choices.
The Learning Network is free, but if you are a more advanced learner, you may want to subscribe for full access to The New York Times. As The New York Times is of the best-known newspapers in the world, it is one of the best resources for practicing your English reading.
BBC offers a daily program Words in the News for British English fans. Commentators (the people who read the news) list important words then read a story that includes those words. The words can be tough (difficult), though. Don’t be surprised if you need to review the words in the quiz that comes with the program.
Voice of America creates two levels of news for English learners on its web site. You can listen to English podcasts or videos and read along with the text. The VOA Learning English Channel includes subtitles (the words at the bottom of the screen) and the commentators speak slowly and clearly, at about a third slower than regular broadcast. That gives beginning learners a chance to keep up. Plus, listening online means you can hit the pause button and read the subtitles at your own rate.
2. Watch and Read High Quality News
Lots of really mediocre (not so good) content is out on web. Go for quality.
Seek out news sources with crisp clear writing. The sentences should be short and declarative, which means they should use a subject-verb-object pattern. The writing in the story should be as easy to read as the headline or title at the top. USA Today has a lot to offer language learners because the writing style is very direct.
Try to find news sites where the staff comes from different cultures. The stories are more likely to give you more than one viewpoint (perspective) on a problem. The Guardian’s news staff fits that definition. The Guardian’s Learning English section has the crisp, clean writing style as well. Plus, with a click on a tab, you can switch to English language vocabulary and news more suited to Americans, Brits, and Aussies.
Some web sites bring together the best quality news stories the Internet has to offer. They are called aggregate (combining) sites, which means they put all the good videos in one place. Video news has a particular advantage for English learners because you can see, hear, and read all at once, but you need a good collection (group) of videos to draw from.
One service that has a very immersive collection of English videos is FluentU. FluentU gets videos from top news programs, and provides interactive captions that provide you definitions that are easy to understand. Definitions include example sentences that show you how the word is used. You can add those words to your own personal vocabulary list. That means your dictionary can grow with you as you learn.
3. Watch and Read News That You Like
Politics isn’t your thing? Plenty of other types of news are out there.
Love football/soccer? You know there are web sites for that. If you are an advanced speaker, ESPN may be a great site for you. ESPN Football Club offers all the football coverage you want, including stories about the game in just about every country in the world. You may be able to see some broadcast videos if your cable provider can give you access.
As a beginner, you want to find the right kind of sports site that will give you information in a way you can understand. Lots of sports commentators speak very fast and seem to shout. Rather than seeing the commentator as he or she speaks, the game action is shown on the screen and you hear the commentator screaming (talking very loudly) in the background. Not being able to see who is speaking can make the story pretty hard to follow.
Pick sources that break information down into smaller pieces. The Midfield Dynamo Football Site creates all its news in Top 10 lists. The site is great for picking up on British idioms and humor. Real Clear Sports pulls stories from sports sources across the web and has an entire page devoted just to lists. You can find out the top NCAA tournament scorers and the top dumbest plays in sports history.
Sites designed for younger readers also work well for English language learners and still provide specific information that you find interesting. Sports Illustrated for Kids can give beginning and intermediate learners their sports in text and video forms. Sites also are available for travel buffs in National Geographic Kids and science fans at Kids Discover.
How-to stories give information in a detailed way. How-tos do exactly what the name suggests: tell you how to do something that you want to learn. InStyle Magazine offers instructions on everything from selecting the best lipstick to getting a good fit in petite (small) clothes. InStyle’s writing is clear and the words are ones you most likely to know.
If you like to jog for fitness, Runners World gives you lots of how-to information and videos on everything from picking the right shoes to getting ready for a marathon. As with lists, how-to stories put information together in an organized way. That structure helps you find patterns because the information comes in pieces that fit together neatly.
Finding news in English on topics you care about will keep you motivated to learn. Plus, it’s just more interesting.
4. Read the news out loud with a pen in hand.
Instead of just reading words to a story inside your head, read the words out loud. Reading out loud helps you slow down and sort out the words’ meanings. If you don’t know a word, highlight it or write it down and come back for a definition if the meaning does not become clear later in the paragraph. Reading news is a great way to learn English because the articles tend to be short and the vocabulary tends to stay the same on each topic.
Let’s say you are reading the Time for Kids article “An Amazon Adventure” about the movie Rio 2. As you read, you are going to find unfamiliar idioms. Right away, the writer refers to something as a ‘flick.’ You’ve got your pen ready to write down the word. Rather than dragging out a dictionary, keep reading. It probably will become clear quickly that ‘flick’ is another word for movie. If the meaning does not become clear, you don’t have to hunt for the word later. You’ve got your list ready.
If you don’t know a word in an online video, hit the pause button and write the word down. Come back it to later and find the definition.
Having the subtitles available for videos can make all the difference in learning English. Play the video with the sound on and listen carefully to the pronunciation. Rewind and play the same section again, but this time with the sound off. Read the subtitles (those words at the bottom of the screen) out loud. You’ve already selected content at your learning level and on topics you care about. Reading the text with the video will help you build English vocabulary on things that interest you, plus give you more confidence in your pronunciation. As mentioned earlier, you might find FluentU and its interactive English subtitles useful here. FluentU also has a video-based quiz that you might want to check out.
Pretending to be your favorite sportscaster or television host is lots of fun. After all, learning English should be fun. Use the news in a way that works for you.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.