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Using the News in class
by Katie Riley

In this article on the listening skill I intend to focus on authentic materials, paying special attention to news bulletins, as this is an area my current group of students have expressed interest in. I will attempt to answer the following questions.

1. Why use authentic materials in class?
2. When do native speakers listen?
3. What are the learners' needs?
4. What strategies do learners use when they listen?
5. Why use the news in class?
6. How does listening to the news vary from other types of listening activity?
7. What problems do listeners face?
8. What does a listener do when he listens to the news?
9. What implications does this have for the language classroom?
10. What type of news should be used?

To conclude, I will sum up the arguments made.

1. Why use authentic materials in class?

Rixon (1986) states the main advantages of using authentic materials in class to be as follows;

1. The English heard is real. This makes it more motivating and interesting for students since they are able to understand what genuine English speakers are saying.

2. Work can be done on areas such as accent, tone of voice and expressions etc with the confidence that good linguistic data is being used.

Obviously with lower levels, authentic material is often quite difficult, but this can be overcome by giving students easy tasks to do . However, as well as this superficial type of task, low-level students also need experience of tasks of getting more detailed information from something they can understand more easily, which sometimes means using texts which are not strictly authentic.

2. When do native speakers Listen?

Given the vast amount of different societies, individuals, situations and types of oral discourse, it would be impossible to classify all the different types of authentic listening situation that exist. Nunan (1989) classifies these situations as follows;

1, Planned monologue e.g. the weather forecast, a news report, a lecture etc.
2, Unplanned monologue e.g. talking on the spot about something, possibly in response to an initial question.
3, Interpersonal dialogue (familiar) e.g. exchanging news with family/ chatting at a party.
4, Interpersonal dialogue (unfamiliar) e.g. interviewing
5, Transactional dialogue e.g. asking for directions, receiving instructions etc.

3. What are the learners' needs?

It is clear that not all of the above situations will be equally relevant to all learners. When deciding what to do in class we therefore need to take our learners needs into account. For example, when teaching a group of Upper intermediate students who only really used English to practise social skills with native speakers, I tended to focus on materials that involved conversational skills. In an elementary monolingual class here in Spain, however, who were about to go on holiday to England I considered the skills necessary for listening to announcements in stations, airports etc to be of high importance in the syllabus.
Not all students will have a precise set of reasons for learning English, but in many cases we can draw up a rough set of situations in which our listeners need or would like to be able to listen with success .

4 What strategies do learners use when they listen?

The ways in which learners try to become engaged in the process of listening and try to become engaged are known as learning styles. Learners develop their listening ability in a variety of ways. Rost (1990) identifies 4 different types of learner;

1, Self instruction type - those learners who see useful opportunities for working alone, exploiting video material etc.
2, Social type - those who sense that face to face interaction with native speakers, meeting English friends etc, is an effective way to get authentic listening practice.
3, Language classroom type - those who trust their teacher to provide them with the practice they need.
4, Subject matter type - those who want to listen better in order to have access to ideas in English, to understand about a different subject in English.

There are different strengths in the learning styles of all these learners. Therefore I consider it part of my role as a teacher to look for activities which will actively engage my students.

5. Why the news?

Listening to the news was one of the areas the students in my present class expressed interest in and therefore is one of the areas I decided to focus on.
In addition, Tommalin (1986) outlines a number of reasons for using the news in class. These are;

1. It is the most accessible broadcast to use live in class.
2. It provides an excellent reason for listening, especially if it provides information about the target / the students own culture.
3. News broadcasts are short and concise and therefore do not take up too much time as a comprehension activity. Other authentic listening texts, on the other hand, are often rambling and long, with speakers constantly interrupting each other, digressing or losing the thread of what they're saying.
4.They are a marvellous source of vocabulary and idiom.

As for the media in general, the English language is changing and the radio, newspapers and television reflect that change. For this reason alone I believe that they deserve their place as part of an English course.

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