Newspaper English

By Gail Nichols,2014-02-10 06:19
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Newspaper English

    Newspaper English

    ―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; orrather-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

    Octoberthe dishest dish in the areawas 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 countriesnews

    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

    social transactions.

    The leadthe first paragraph of a news storyis 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

    Chapter Six.

    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

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