Why Is It So Difficult to Understand the News in English?

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It is essential to understand the news, especially with everything going on in the world today! How can you quickly and easily improve your listening and understanding of everything you hear? This is important, not only for your English skills, but to give you more knowledge and better information.

In this lesson I’m going to explain some common misunderstandings about English news.

I Can’t Understand News Reporters!

Many English learners believe that reporters speak too quickly. That’s actually not true. Most newscasters tend to speak more slowly and clearly than normal English speakers. They also use less slang and they use a standard American dialect.

It’s a Matter of Vocabulary

First, you should understand the difference between global, national, and local news. Local news will have references to local businesses, economy, and landmarks, and it might be more difficult to understand if you aren’t from that area. It doesn’t mean that your English is bad! It just means that you’re not familiar with that location.

To improve your understanding of the news in English, listen to the same stories in your native language first. Then watch or listen to the same stories in English. You might find words that are considered “cognates,” and these words will help you understand the English version of the story.

What are Cognates?

Cognates are words that have the same meaning in two languages. This can be helpful because there are many cognates, and they are usually words that are more formal, so you will hear them more often in formal speech, such as a news report.

For example, in Spanish you find the word “virus,” and in English you will also find the word “virus.” These are spelled the same but just pronounced a little differently. If I hear the Spanish word “virus,” I can guess that it probably means the same as “virus” in English.

If you listen to a new story first in your native language, and then listen to it in English, you’ll be able to guess the main idea even if you don’t understand all the words.

The news is full of new words that you have probably never heard in your English class! Words that are specific to the weather, or politics, or the economy are very common in the news. This is why it’s so important to listen to the news in your native language first, then listen to it in English so you can try to guess what they are talking about. Learning how to guess the meaning of what you hear is a very useful skill, and it will help you learn English much faster!

Try Not to Use a Dictionary

If your language doesn’t have a lot of cognates with English, or any other words that sound similar or that are spelled the same, then you might want to start looking up words in the dictionary or online. But before you do that, really challenge yourself to guess the main idea before you look it up. You will begin to trust your listening skills and your ability to catch the meaning of new words without having to look them up.

Reading the News

I highly recommend reading news stories before you watch them on TV. When you read, you give yourself more time to understand the words. You have more time to think about the meaning or to guess the meaning.

This is what makes learning English as an adult easier than learning English as a child, because you can compare your new language to your old language. If you are reading, you have time to look up new vocabulary, because you don’t feel pressured by the fast speaking pace of the reporter.

English News Uses Easy Grammar

Using the news to improve your English Is fantastic for improving your vocabulary because the news is generally written at a 5th grade level. That means that most 10-year-olds can understand the grammar in English news. It’s not complicated. It usually uses the present tense. Because it doesn’t report on historical fact or things in the past, you won’t hear a lot of past tense verbs.

However, you will find some specific or advanced vocabulary in the news. For example, if you’re reading about health, technology, or politics, you will find very specific vocabulary.

If listening to the news in English is still difficult after following these tips, try simply reading the headlines. Starting with short phrases is much less overwhelming. Then, move on to short news stories.

Talk About the News With a Conversation Partner

Practice talking about news stories with an English-speaking conversation partner. This will not only help you understand the vocabulary, it will help you remember the new vocabulary because you are using it. Find someone who is patient and will help you understand the new words.

It can be super helpful for you to learn to talk about the news and ask questions, if you don’t understand something that’s happening. Ask your conversation partner his or her opinion about the news story. How do people from their culture feel about the news?

Good Sources for News

Be careful where you get your news. Not all news sources are created equal!

I would suggest CNN, NPR, and the BBC. These sources are created for native speakers, but they can be a great source of global and national news, so you can listen to the same stories in your native language.

VOA, or Voice of America News, is specifically for English learners. It has stories that are shorter and easier to read. Also, Breaking News English is a good source, with news for all levels.

If you have a lot of trouble understanding native speakers, watch my video called “Learn How to Understand Fast English Speakers Better.” You can find it by clicking the link.

Do you usually watch news in your native language or in English? Have you ever thought about using the news to improve your English listening skills before? Let me know in the comments! I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

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