Some people are addicted to news and current affairs. If you are a language learner who is also a “news junky” – who enjoys following the latest news, here’s a great idea for improving your reading skills and increasing your vocabulary.
It is true that the language of newspapers is often very complex. It is estimated that to read an English language newspaper fluently you need about 4,000 words. This can be overwhelming for some learners. And then there’s the question, with so many newspapers, where do I start? Few of us have the time in a day to search the Internet for the articles that we find interesting.
Enter Google News. When I first looked at Google News, the thing I liked about it was that it brings all the breaking news from a variety of the world’s newspapers and puts them all together in one place. But I didn’t realise that it can do a lot more.
One of the best motivations for improving reading skills is reading things we are interested in. This sounds so basic, but perhaps you remember doing reading comprehension exercises in school which you found really difficult, mainly because the subject matter was so boring! What do you like to read about?
First select the country of your choice for your Google News page. The default setting is for the US (why am I not surprised?) This will give you a standard layout like this:
You might decide that you are interested in sport, but not interested in entertainment. You can move the sports section up the page, and delete the entertainment section. You can also easily add news headlines from several different countries by selecting “Add a standard section“. Let’s say you are studying French. It is possible to add news from France, French-speaking Canada and Belgium to give you a more international perspective.
Let’s say you are particularly interested in Finance, or perhaps you are learning English vocabulary for an exam like the TOEIC, and you need to work on your financial words. Google News allows you to create your own personalised content. You select “Add a custom section“, and then “advanced options“. Let’s say the words you are revising are banking, finance, interest, loan and credit. Type in these key words, then give the section a label, “Finance” for example. Once you have saved these options you will see that a selection of Finance articles, each containing your chosen key words, is waiting for you. You can move it up or down the page to suit you.
You can change your content as often as you like. The best way to revise vocabulary is according to theme. This week it might be finance, next week transportation. You could create a new section for transportation with related key words to replace the one on finance. The point is that the best way for revising vocabulary you know, and for learning vocabulary that is new, is in the context of real everyday language. Memorising lists of words is not usually an effective way of increasing your vocabulary.
Google News is a great addition to your language learning toolbox. Do you use it already? Have you found it useful? How do you like to use Google News? Join the conversation in the comments.
One of the problems using the Internet to improve language learning is “where do you start?” You can easily be overwhelmed with the number of language-learning tools and sites available.
Google has a number of tools that can help you get just the information you need for second language learning, and we will be posting some ideas of how to set up these tools to help your language learning.
I use Google Reader as a web page that I can personalise to bring the specific information I need for teaching and language-learning directly to me, without having to surf the web to look for it.
Let’s say you are a business English student trying to improve your language skills to get a better job. The first thing to do is to create your own Google Reader site. If you don’t have a Google account you will need to create one.
You have probably seen a little orange icon on many websites, often accompanied with the label ‘RSS’ which stands for ‘real simple syndication’ but you don’t need to know that (unless you want to impress someone in Trivial Pursuit!). This is the link that will allow you to subscribe to the content of a website or blog in an ‘rss feed reader’ such as Google Reader. The ‘feed’ is simply a data format used to provide users with content that is frequently updated.
Try it out with this blog. Click on the “subscribe” tab above and see what happens. You should land on a page that looks something like this. You can see that Google Reader is not the only option, so experiment to find one that suits you best. They all function in similar ways. If you select Google, it will return you to your Google Reader page, and Englishonthe.net should appear in your list of subscriptions:
What tends to happen with a feedreader is that it gets so filled up with subscriptions that information overload soon sets in. One way to avoid this is to organise your subscriptions into folders. As you study Business English you may discover some great podcast sites to help you with listening comprehension. A good example is Business English Pod. You could just bookmark the site for future reference, but then you have to check the site regularly to make sure you don’t miss any good new content, and this is time-consuming. So, subscribe to the feed in Google Reader following the instructions above. You can organise your study time better by separating your subscriptions into folders. You do this by selecting “manage subscriptions” at the bottom of your list of subscriptions. The following screen should apear :
Selecting “Change folders” will enable you to create an appropriate folder for your different feeds. For Business English Pod you may choose the title “Podcasts”. Select categories that correspond to your learning needs, and use them to organise a powerful weekly study programme, where you can select different areas to focus on each day (listening, reading, grammar, writing, vocabulary etc.)
In the next post in this series we will look at how to use Google News to improve your reading skills and increase your vocabulary.
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For fun listening exercise, you could also watch this subtitled video entitled RSS in Plain English.