There is no end to language-learning possibilities that are available to us through the Internet news media.  Things might be getting dire for newspaper companies, but the general appetite for current affairs continues to encourage the launching of news sites of every flavour.  Here are five you might like to try, as a teacher or a learner, each with a practical suggestion for a learning activity.  The focus is on learning English, but the same ideas can be applied to other languages.

google-news-timeline2

1. Google News Timeline is still fairly new and has loads of potential for language learning to be discovered.  It’s very configurable.  You can set it up for whatever newspapers, magazines, blogs etc. you prefer to focus on.  Specific search queries are also possible.  Type in the query « Ford » for example, and you can trace back articles and events related to the carmaker for as many years as you care to go.

Idea. For a  self-access activity, have learners research the main headlines on the day of their birth, the day of their parents’ birth, their grandparents’ etc. (if they know it).  Interesting conversations ensue about what was happening in the world the day they arrived, leading into how things have changed since. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)

We have also looked at how to set up Google News for language-learning.

2. BBC Learning English has a bbc-words-in-the-news1vast range of English-learning tools that are so well known that they hardly need mentioning here.  Although have you come across the BBC World Service « Words in the News »?  It’s primarily set up for listening and vocabulary activities, but each report contains a link to a corresponding print article that is different to the audio report.  This provides a wealth of possibilities for integrating reading and listening: predictive activities, gap fills, writing summaries.  They put the prescribed vocabulary to be studied in bold – not ideal as it doesn’t allow much latitude for tailoring to your learners’ particular needs.  Some adaptation is usually required.

Idea. Use the prescribed vocabulary list as a predictive lead-in activity. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)

3. Breaking News English
is a language-learning site, not a news site.  It has been a great standby for teachers on those days where all the best intentions of preparing a super lesson go out the window and you need something ready-made.   Breaking News English takes interesting news articles from a variety of sources and subjects, adds language points, discussion ideas and other activities, and puts them all together in an easily downloadable and copiable format.  Just what you were looking for, right?

Idea. Running out of time to prepare lessons is hard to predict, but if you can see ahead of time that you’re going to be running, E-mail the article you choose to your learners before the session.  It avoids the problem of extended reading in class feeling like « down time », and encourages learners to read in their own time for pleasure.  This saves time, gives the learners confidence and allows you to get more juice out of the article during the session. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)
disinformation
4. Disinformation. Claims to have access to « hidden information that seldom slips through the cracks of the corporate-owned media conglomerates. »  You’ll find the fringe, the bizarre, the extreme and the intriguing mixed with more mainstream articles sourced from all over the Internet news.  Suited for more advanced students.

Idea. For an extensive reading activity, to practice fast-reading for gist, choose a provocative article.  It works best with stories that are not too obscure, and that give a new slant on a known news headline.  Set the learners the task of  searching the Internet for two other articles, preferably originating in different countries, which give alternative views or explanations of the stories.  As a follow-up speaking activity the learner could present the different points of view in the article and then discuss which arguments seem the most plausible.  A good lead in for a debate activity, as long as it’s a subject learners have opinions about. (Level: Upper Int., Advanced)

5. Euronews. One of the unique features of Euronews is that it is a truly multilingual newspaper, with the same headline articles in 7 European languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian) and Arabic.  It almost seems to be designed with learners in mind, with it’s very succint articles supported with video footage.  If you’re looking for in-depth reporting, this isn’t your site.  However, it opens up a number  of possibilities for activities where comparing L1 and L2 can be advantageous.

Idea. For learners needing to improve translation skills into their L1,  select 4-5 articles (they are generally short, 120 words or so) which deal with a particular lexical area needing work (there’s a good tabbed menu enabling easy navigation of the different categories of article so not too much hunting involved).  Compare the articles in the L1 and L2 and study how the key words in the chosen field are translated.   The discussion the follows could include which words were translated differently in different articles, which was the most unexpected translation, which words could have been translated alternatively, why did the translator choose a particular word etc. (Level: Intermediate )

5 Commentaires

  1. 1 juin 2009 à 16 h 21 min

    A fascinating, eclectic selection of websites. Four seem excellent, but I have to dissent from the choice of disinformation. We need to focus on student needs, not promote obscure or conspiracy-filled stories in our classrooms.
    Personally, I’d suggest visiting http://www.marketplace.org for excellent business features from the leading business public radio show in the United States. Likewise, I’d feel much more comfortable recommending either the New York Times or Voice of America than the slightly wacky, and often unreliable disinformation website.
    Promoting critical thinking and scepticism doesn’t mean being so wide open that you believe any nonsense – or put into your classrooms. Let’s try to teach that vital distinction between facts and opinions while introducing the academic word list too.

  2. 1 juin 2009 à 20 h 20 min

    I take your point Eric. A site like Disinformation should be used sparingly and with adult students, and I would personally choose the article. It brings up an interesting question: should we bring up controversial subjects in a language class? I think teachers need to come to a conclusion that they are comfortable with. I have seen very effective debate happen in advanced classes, and a language class can be a good « safe » place to practice debating skills. I also like the language practice that can come out of exercises which involve comparing different points of view – such as the activity I suggest.

    No matter what written material we use, it will be written from a certain point of view, whether it be in a language textbook, or authentic articles we might source on the Internet. The line between « fact » and « opinion » is a fuzzy one even in such reputable organs as the New York Times. I think the key is variety, and not taking the material too seriously. The goal is, after all, language practice.

    I would be interested to read any other thoughts readers might have on the subject.

  3. 13 juin 2009 à 12 h 09 min

    Great list. I’d also add VOA News:

    http://www.voanews.com/index.cfm

    Good news in American English, the site also has a section for English learners with very interesting podcasts and videocasts.

    Cheers.

  4. 13 juin 2009 à 12 h 44 min

    I’ve used VOA too and found some good material there. My only beef with VOA is that some of the podcasts are too long, and the speech is unnaturally slow. This is OK for some activities, but I prefer using listening materials where people speak at a natural speed. Great subject matter and variety though.

  5. 19 juin 2009 à 8 h 55 min

    I really like BBC Learning English and Breaking News English. Thanks for creating this list. I will look at the others posted here as well. I agree with Eric’s comment about « unreliable disinformation » when teaching kids but with adult learners it might be more entertaining to look at the unconventional news now and then.

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