Ad Code

Using News Broadcasts to Improve Listening Skills

Table of Contents [Show]


    Do you use news broadcasts with your learners? This article draws on materials originally used on our Delta Module One course and looks at two issues:   What are the advantages and limitations of using news broadcasts, and how can you use them to improve learners' listening skills?

    a) What are the advantages and limitations of using this
    type of text?

    1. Advantage: Learner engagement. Most learners (other than younger learners) want to
    be able to understand news broadcasts, and will therefore see their use as
    contributing to their needs.  Use of
    current broadcasts can provide Ls with up-to-date information on international
    topics/events that interest them, and sometimes on events related to their own
    country (eg a BBC World Service broadcast on the wildfires in Greece in 2022). Both the content
    and, in the latter case, the international perspective on a national event are likely to be
    involving. This engagement means the language used to describe the event is
    liable to be processed at sufficient cognitive depth to aid retention. 

    2. Limitation : Much of the most important local news will not be covered by the
    international broadcasters as it is only of local interest.

    3. Advantage:  Catering for special needs. Televised
    broadcasts are usually based around a studio anchor who speaks facing the
    camera and often, interviews with protagonists, who again face the camera. This
    is useful with deaf learners who lip-read and cannot therefore follow
    purely audio recordings. Sometimes the interviewer will not be on camera, but
    the questions are usually short and can be given to the deaf learner in written

    4. Limitation: Other televised broadcasts involve camera shots of scenes, eg forest fires,
    with voice-over commentary. These, and radio broadcasts, are clearly not
    suitable for classes containing lip-reading deaf learners.

    5. Advantage:
    Educational value. News broadcasts often focus on topics of general
    importance – eg immigration, or natural disasters caused by climate change. In
    classes of teenage learners, it can be argued that the course should not
    be “just” a language course but should have broader educational aims, raising
    their awareness of such issues, and developing skills such as listening to and
    respecting the opinions of others; formulating and expressing their own
    opinions based on rational argument etc. News broadcasts can serve as a
    stimulus for discussion of these topics, possibly in the forms of debates, and
    of written work on presenting and defending arguments.

    6. Limitation:
    However, as these topics often fall into the
    categories, which are generally considered unsuitable for classroom use, they
    may not be suitable for other classes where older learners may often have fixed
    and conflicting opinions. Focus on the topics could therefore create hostility
    and a negative classroom dynamic and might be best avoided.

    7. Advantage:
    Lexical development. As the news items tend to be topic based they will
    bring up a large amount of vocabulary related to the field. Eg a broadcast I
    used one summer on wildfires In Greece included the items and chunks to fight a fire / to put out a fire / to
    evacuate / a blaze / arson
    and others. These items can be introduced when
    listening to the first broadcast, but recycled by using updates on the
    situation, or items regarding similar situations elsewhere, in later lessons.

    8. Advantage:
    Suitability for various levels. Although authentic broadcasts may seem
    mainly suitable for higher levels, comprehension will be aided by a) the visual
    element in TV broadcasts; b) the Ls’ prior knowledge of the event being
    reported;  and c) the fact that some such
    as those on the BBC website, have subtitles of the commentary and also  allow you to control the playback speed. Some
    items may therefore, with careful scaffolding such as prior reactivation and
    pre-teaching of key vocabulary, be used at lower levels.

    In addition,
    websites such as
    in Levels
    the same (up-to-date) news items graded to elementary, intermediate and
    advanced level.  

    9. Advantage:
    Length. It is not necessary for the learners to work on the whole
    broadcast. The individual news items they contain tend to be quite short
    (around 2 minutes) and can therefore be fully exploited to reach what Thornbury
    has called “Zero uncertainty” – ie the point where the Ls understand the whole
    text fully, so that they are not left feeling frustrated because they know
    that, even if they gained gist comprehension and comprehension of some details,
    there were large chunks of text which they did not understand.

    b) How might you use them to improve your
    learners' listening skills?

    News broadcasts can be used for developing a number of
    listening strategies and subskills.
    Whilst many of these can also be developed
    using other types of texts, news broadcasts are particularly suitable in
    several cases. For example:

    10. Strategy: Listening for gist - ie getting a general overview of what has happened. This
    is the way that we would normally listen to a news broadcast unless it
    contained an item which particularly interested us. As with all texts, it will
    be aided by previous knowledge of the topic (our content schema) and, as with
    all texts these schemata can be activated by asking Ls to discuss what they
    already know about the topic and/or predict what might have happened since the
    last broadcast they heard..  However, televised
    news broadcasts can also be useful for activating schemata when learners don’t
    have this previous knowledge
    .  Where
    the item is portrayed visually – ie filmclips of what has happened rather than
    just “talking heads” – they can watch the item without sound, and use the
    visuals to decide what has happened. This activates schemata in the same way as
    drawing on previous knowledge. They can then listen to decide if they were

    12. Subskills: Inferring unknown words from context / Understanding genre specific lexis :
    The procedures in (10) will also reveal any lexical “gaps” they have – ie lack
    of knowledge of items which are closely related to the topic and frequently occur
    in news broadcasts, but which are rarer in other “every day” contexts. As an
    example, when I used the Greek wildfires broadcast, during the lead-in a
    learner said “Many people have left their houses”. After the gist comprehension
    stage, I boarded this this and other similar paraphrases, and asked the
    learners to listen for the words used in the broadcast (“..have been evacuated”).
    This showed them that. although they may not have known the expression
    previously, they were able to understand the meaning, and also expanded their
    knowledge of lexis common in this genre so that they are more likely to
    understand similar items in the future..

    13. Subskill: Understanding intonational clues to meaning:  News broadcasts are particularly useful for
    developing the ability to recognise the use of a rise in pitch to indicate a
    new item. They frequently start with a summarising list  of all the items to be included in the
    broadcast. As the announcer changes to each subsequent item, the pitch of their
    speech will rise. For many learners this will not happen in their own language,
    they may miss the “clue” and it is therefore useful to draw their attention to
    it. As an English speaker listening to Italian news broadcasts (where it does
    not happen) I have frequently been misled into thinking a piece of information
    related to a previous one when, in fact, the announcer had changed topic. For

    “Wild fires continue to rage in the area
    around Athens and 300 people have been evacuated from their homes. Two
    firefighters have died….”

    Compared with…

    Wild fires continue to rage in the area
    around Athens and 300 people have been evacuated from their homes.

    Two firefighters have died after a crash
    on the M1 involving an oil tanker and…”

    The first
    version, with no pitch change, indicates that the firefighters died in the
    wildfires. The rise in pitch Before Two.. in the second shows that the speaker is no longer
    talking about the wildfires but has moved to a new topic. With my Italian
    learners, I therefore use news broadcasts to bring their attention to this

    14. Subskill: Understanding opinions: When the topic is of eg a political nature, the
    interviews may involve speakers giving opinions. Learners can listen to eg
    interviews with two different politicians to identify what their opinions are,
    how they conflict etc. This can be done by asking in the Gist stage “Do the
    speakers agree with each other or not?”, in the Detailed Listening stage
    eliciting what the opinions are; and in the Listening for Language stage using
    a gapped transcript to elicit the actual words used.

    15. Subskills: Understanding speaker accent, features of connected speech or other features
    of spontaneous spoken English
    : News broadcasts often include interviews
    with protagonists of, or witnesses to an event etc. These people may come from
    a range of backgrounds, and their speech will contain features not found, or
    less evident, in the prepared speech and standard pronunciation of the news
    anchor, voice-overs of films etc. Again, transcript work (or listening first
    without and then with subtitles) can be used to focus on these features. 

    Post a Comment


    Close Menu