―Learning a language is not merely an academic exercise. Students of English want to be able to use the
language they have acquired in the same way as English people use it. They not only want to understand spoken
English and to make themselves understood; they also want to be able to appreciate English television and radio
programs, to laugh at English jokes, to sing English songs and to read English newspapers. This last wish often
gives rise to some disappointment, when for example, the student who has passed his exams with top marks and
has earned to commendation of his teacher finds that he is quite unable t understand the newspapers which he
knows English people read every day. He realizes that he lacks something.
―The deficiency is not entirely his fault. The difficulty lies in the fact that British newspapers have a style all
of their own; or–rather-each paper has its own individual style forming part of a general journalistic pattern which
we may loosely classify as ‗Newspaper English.‘ The more popular dailies use a chatty, slangy, up-to-the-moment
way of writing, which, as often as not, leaves the foreign reader very bewildered, if not under a totally false
impression. Here is a typical piece of such reporting:
Curvaceous Patricia Potts, the girl with the smashing silhouette who was Scunthorpe‘s Dish of the Month in
October—the dishest dish in the area—was dished up with a dish of trouble on her way home from bingo last night. Two would-be muggers tried it on in Dark street near her home, but she sent them packing with handbag
a-whirling, ails a-scratching and platform clogs a-kicking.
―Even the most conscientious student might be forgiven for giving up at this point. And yet it must be realized
that this style carries no problems for the millions that read every day.
―Headlines are another problem. The English reader scans the headlines to find out what the news stories are
about; the foreign student has to read the stories to find out what the headlines mean.
―The popular press, in order to print as much information in as small a space as possible, had developed a content-packed sentence, every often crammed with compound words of a highly complicated nature, that needs
to be treated warily at first. For example:
Warwickshire police announced late last night that Arthur Prentice, a 35-year-old lorry driver of
Babblesthorpe, Cambridgeshire, wanted in connection with the disappearance of 17-year-old Glenys Dennis from
her home in Cambridge last March, had been arrested in the Solihull area of Birmingham and was helping police
with their enquires.
―There are at least 15 facts in this one sentence. Such has to be digested slowly. If the student of English
attempts to absorb a lot of this sort of thing at speed, he will understand very little of what he has read…‖
from WHAT’S IN THE NEWS?
By Geoffrey Land
English by Newspaper By Daniel Dropko
There are several advantages to using a newspaper to teach reading. A paper is inexpensive, easily obtained,
and authentic in the sense that the English is unsimplified and intended for native speakers. It is also true that a
great many foreign students who come to the United States in university programs want to be able to read the
papers, if only because they are already newspaper readers in their own countries.
There are, however, other considerations. For one thing, newspapers are easy to read. We have become so
used to journalistic style as it appears in wire service stories or in locally written news copy that we sometimes
lost sight of the fact that newspapers rely on a highly specific and colloquial structure. For another, foreign
students frequently want to read newspapers because they are interested in news from their own countries—news
that is often not included in American newspapers. Moreover, much of the news that is included relies heavily on
the reader‘s knowledge of social and cultural institutions that visitors to our country cannot be reasonably
expected to possess. Just as a university newspaper reflects the particular campus on which its is published, or a
local paper identifies itself with a particular community, our English language newspapers mirror our national
values, habits and preferences. Newspaper reading, rather than being simply the acquisition of new information, is
a kind of passive participation in the life of the national community. Any student or foreign visitor willing to
spend the time necessary to understand the social and cultural context of what appears in the papers will probably
find the effort rewarding.
There are certain things about newspapers that favor their use in ESL classes. Though they often use complex sentences, the actual number of these structures is relatively small, and their use is consistent from story to story.
Information is often recycled, both within a single story and in the day-to-day coverage of continuing stories.
Finally, they provide an up-to-the-minute source of public language, the English of most of our business and
The lead—the first paragraph of a news story—is crucial to the understanding of the entire story. It is, in
effect, a one-or-two-sentence summary of the particular event being reported. Because so much information must
be compressed into a small space, multiple-embedded sentences are the rule…
What I find attractive about this chapter is the practice it gives students in analyzing and sorting information found in long, often complex sentences, a skill that can be applied to other types of reading as well.
Headlines are approached as abbreviated forms of complete statements, and students are asked to reconstruct complete statements from sample headlines and to identify the general subject of a story on the basis of its
The two chapters on reading the body of the news story and on other types of newspaper writing are principally content-oriented, and the exercises are straightforward comprehension questions. The chapter on
words-in-context and scanning use conventional approaches. Teachers should note that the chapter on scanning is
placed first in the book. For use, scanning has always been as much as a matter of discarding irrelevant material as
of recognizing the relevant. Consequently, it is difficult to scan something that contains unfamiliar vocabulary and
sentence patterns. In my own reading, I seldom ―scan‖ a newspaper story, since the headline and first paragraph
effectively summarize its content.
The only chapter about which I have major reservations is Chapter Six, ―Reading a Story Critically.‖ I very much like the idea of teaching students to assess the reliability of a story based on information about its source,
but some of the examples offered in the book are unconvincing. For example, ―U.S. intelligence sources‖ are
consid3red more reliable than ―Brazilian intelligence sources‖ when discussing aerial reconnaissance flights over
Cuba by U.S. planes. While it is true that U.S. sources may have better access to the information, they might also
have reason to conceal or alter that information. We should remember that in this chapter, as in other sections of
the book, the concept of news reporting is approached from the viewpoint of the Western democracies, and may
not reflect the experience of those who might be using the book. Discussions of the credibility of news reporting
should certainly have a place in a book like this, but I think the issue is more involved than it is presented in
One final point ought to be made for those who are contemplating using newspaper material in a class. Reading a newspaper is not a sociologically ―neutral‖ activity—Newspapers, because they are an integral part of
the ―real‖ world, often involve us in matters about which we feel strongly. They can delight us, but can also
frustrate and anger us. If your classroom has enough room in it for frustration, anger, and delight as well as verbs
and participles, then English by Newspaper may be a welcome addition to your syllabus.
From TESOL, 1986