Friday, January 6, 2012

Reading News for Fun

I enjoy reading The Economist's blog on language, Johnson.  Today's post asks English teachers to offer suggestions on how they can support language learners.  Be sure to share your thoughts!   There are a number of good ideas in the comments so far, too.

I posted something that's been on my wish-list for a while, though I didn't have the nerve to suggest it to an actual news publication until this invitation came along.  I would love to see a newspaper or magazine include a regular feature that supports a new reader's efforts to take up recreational reading.  Give it a title or logo that makes it easy to find and sprinkle such articles around the publication in a way that encourages poking around.

From NS Newsflash
Of course, there are newspapers for new readers (such as News for You  from New Readers Press) that have leveled articles with audio, exercises and vocabulary support.  I have a folder of News for You back issues and make them available to my readers for recreational reading. The many additional features are wonderful as a support for explicit learning.  However, I wonder if they detract from the quality of the input in terms of implicit learning.  A whole newspaper that's just for learners, with highlighted vocabulary, etc. seems to scream out: "this is a learning experience, not reading for meaning!"  Boldfaced vocabulary may or may not highlight the words a reader doesn't know, but it suggests that someone somewhere thinks these words should be known. And I know from my own experience listening to Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten that, when listening to audio as an L2 learner, there's a temptation to focus on how the words are said rather than what they mean (I catch myself parroting phrases rather than paying attention to what follows!)

I think it would be nice if well-known news and information providers offered some of their content in an easily-recognized and relatively digestible form, but without making much of a fuss about it.  Give the feature a name so it can easily be found, but not something that implies that the information is watered-down for learners. No boldfaced vocabulary, no audio support (unless it's offered for all articles anyway, or it provides supplemental details) and no links to comprehension questions or grammar exercises.  Limit, but don't eliminate, complex sentence structures.  Include selected idioms, but don't get too clever.  Embed clues for inferring the meaning of challenging words.  Let the new reader get used to going to the news site and browsing for articles that are interesting or informative, then reading.  In short, make it as close to the actual experience of reading the news as possible.

This would benefit the reader, obviously, who would eventually find him or herself skimming other articles with more and more comprehension.  It would benefit the publisher, too, as readers get into the habit of coming to their site.  These articles would also be a valuable resource to native-speaking literacy learners.

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