5 news sites for authentic language-learning

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.


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)
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 )

How to improve your reading skills with Google News

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.

google-news-1-2One 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.

google-news-4Let’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.

News words: transplant

plasterThis week many international newspapers reported that a man may have been cured of AIDS.  A number of health-related words can be learnt from these stories.  Note that a cure is something that makes someone with an illness healthy again.  It is pronounced /kju:r/.


Doctors in Germany say a patient appears to have been cured of HIV by a bone marrow transplant from a donor who had a genetic resistance to the virus.

BBC News

A transplant (n.) is when something is transplanted (moved from one place or person to another), especially an operation in which a new organ is put into someone’s body.


The clinic said since the transplant was carried out 20 months ago, tests on the patient’s bone marrow, blood and other organ tissues have all been clear.

BBC News

Bone marrow (n.) is soft fatty tissue in the centre of a bone.


The virus has infected 33 million people worldwide.

As Dr Huetter – who is a haematologist, not an HIV specialist – prepared to treat his leukaemia with a bone marrow transplant, he recalled that some people carried a genetic mutation that seemed to make them resistant to HIV infection.

New Zealand Herald

To infect (v.) is to pass a disease to a person, animal or plant.  A person, animal or plant having received the disease is infected (adj.), and is said to have an infection (n.).  A disease that is able to infect is said to be infectious (adj.)

Infectious can also have a positive meaning, as in an ‘infectious laugh’ or ‘infectious enthusiasm’, describing something that has an effect on everyone who is present and makes them want to join in.


Roughly one in 1,000 Europeans and Americans have inherited the mutation from both parents, and Huetter set out to find one such person among donors that matched the patient’s marrow type. Out of a pool of 80 suitable donors, the 61st person tested carried the proper mutation.

CityNews, Toronto

Mutation (n.) is the way in which genes change and produce permanent differences.  The verb is mutate.

News words : solve

If you are learning online, the latest news is a good place for learning English words.  This week’s news word is:


Let’s look at how this word and related words are used in the world’s newspapers this week.  Click on the links to see the words in their original context.

Gaza crisis

BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Compromise and concession between Israel and Hamas, instead of military force, are the only way to solve the ongoing Gaza crisis, Chinese analysts say.

To solve (verb) something is to find an answer to a problem.

Reconciliation is the only solution to the decades of Israel-Palestine conflict, Wang said, emphasizing Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to show extraordinary political courage and vision to solve the conflict.

A solution (noun) is the answer to a problem.

As early as Jan. 8, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza « leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces. »

A resolution (noun) is an official decision that is made after a group or organization have voted.

Quotes taken from Xinhua.

gas_rangeGas crisis

The Russian leader said Moscow was ready to do « everything it could » to resolve the gas crisis.

To resolve (verb) is to end a problem or difficulty.  It is a synonym for solve.

MOSCOW, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday that efforts to find a resolution to the gas dispute with Ukraine had so far yielded no results.

A resolution (noun) can also be a synonym for solution.  ‘Resolution’ is more formal than ‘solution’.

Quotes taken from Reuters.

US Recession

New York Mayor Resolute Amid Recession (headline)

To be resolute (adj.) is to be determined in character, action or ideas.

Quote taken from tothecenter.com.

Note that solve/solution is pronounced differently to resolve/resolution.

solve (/s/)  resolve (/z/)

solution (/s/) resolution (/z/)

resolute (/z/)

Resolution is a useful word for the month of January, when we make « New Years Resolutions ».  In this context a ‘resolution’ is a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad.  My new year’s resolution is to offer useful material on this blog to help you learn English or to learn French.  What’s yours?

News words: « break »

Every week we will focus on a key word in the news. The best way to learn new vocabulary is in context, so we will look at how each word is used in the world’s newspapers.

The word from this weeks world news is

break / broke / broken

Todays quotes are all taken fromguardian-logo Click on the links in the quotes to open the original article.

The Russia-Ukraine gas crisis

But analysts point out that, since the last serious crisis broke out in 2006, Europe has done very little to avert shortages

If something dangerous or unpleasant breaks out (phrasal verb), it suddenly starts.

The dispute, viewed by the EU as a purely commercial one until recently, threatens a fresh breakdown in relations between Brussels and Moscow.

A breakdown is a failure to work or be successful.

The crisis in Gaza

Even if the Israeli forces break (verb) Hamas’s grip on power, officials admit any such « victory » may be temporary and will bring more difficulties in its wake.

(verb) To cause something to divide into two or more parts our groups (to weaken something)

Khalid Mish’al (This brutality will never break our will to be free, 6 January)

(verb) To cause something to stop working by being damaged

The president-elect, Barack Obama, broke his silence by saying he was « deeply concerned » about civilian casualties on both sides.

(verb) To interrupt or stop something

Ideas for a weekend holiday


A break (noun) is a short rest.

The costs of environmental measures to the automotive industry

EU schemes for improving consumption and safety and reducing emissions would add « billions of euros of cost to the industry at a time when revenues are below break-even for most companies ».

To break even is to have no profit or loss at the end of a business activity. If revenues are below break-even (used as a noun), this means the business has made a loss;

Notice that newspapers like The Guardian often talk about « breaking news« , which is news about events that have only just happened. The « breaking news » about something is probably the first time the event has been reported.