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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tips on How to Listen to the News

Watching or listening to the news in another language is not easy - especially if you are listening to the "real thing,"  rather than a more slowly-spoken ESL version. 

If you are a beginner or even an intermediate ESL student, you should focus  on listening to slowed down ESL versions of the news. There are many to choose from. Simply go to the NEWS links on the right hand side of this blog to find some.  

But, if you are at the advanced level, and trying  trying in an English speaking country, or trying  to get into an English speaking university or college, start listening to the "real" news as often as you can. This can be radio news, television news, or podcast news on the Internet. 

Today, watching  or listening to the news has become much easier than it ever has been because of Internet pod casts and streaming video. In my last post, I promoted one in particular:The National on Demand.  I am Canadian after all

Improving your news listening skills takes some serious practice. But, you can improve if you follow some specific steps. 

The Structure of News Stories 

News  Inverted Pyramid
Most news stories in the west use an inverted pyramid approach. All the important information is in the first one, two or three paragraphs. The development of the story and additional details come next. The least important information is at the end. 

Generally each story attempts to answer as many of the WH questions as possible: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW.  If there is enough time, journalists try to get both sides of an issue in a controversial story, or sometimes 3 or 4 different points of view on the issue.  If this is not possible in one newscast; journalists will still attempt to get other points of view in a separate story later in the day, or the next day.  This  is meant to show that the newscasters do not take sides on a story. 

Also, many events in the news involve ongoing issues or problems. Here are a few examples: the European economic crisis, the war in Syria, and the recent arrest of a man accused of murdering a Chinese girl in Montreal and sending her body parts to Ottawa and Vancouver.  

Often the most recent version of what is happening on that particular story will include a short summary of the older events.  If you watch the news regularly, you will already have some background on the story. The "new" content will not seem so strange if you are familiar with the general story itself. 

No Government Censorship 
Another general  rule in western news stories is that government does not have the right to decide, approve or remove the content  of a news broadcast. The decisions are made by the newspaper's or TV broadcaster's editorial staff. Of course, certain newspapers and TV Broadcasters tend to be seen as more conservative or liberal. However, journalists do not express their personal opinitions unless it is in a special editorial, or column. The only people voicing opinions are the people in the news themselves. 

This is different in "feature" stories, or soft stories, which are longer background stories on a variety of topics. Some can be tragic, such as disaster, or war stories. Others can be entertaining.  

Since all news stories attempt to include the answers to the following WH questions, you should concentrate listening to information covered by these questions. 
  • WHEN did this story happen?
  • WHERE did it happen? 
  • WHO or WHAT is or was  involved in the story? (This can often mean more than one individual or organization. Unless the person is famous or extremely well known, the name is not really important. The title of the group or organization, issue or cause that person represents is more important. 
  • WHAT happened in the story. This is usually the longest part and usually involves more than one thing. Usually all of the events relate to the main story or topic, but  there will be details.  What is important is sorting out the important details from the small details.
  • HOW did it happen. Sometimes this is not importantly. Other times, it adds to the details. For example, if the story is about a mass murder, and the police know how, it will be mentioned. 
  • WHY did something happen, is something happening, or will it happen? What is the reason for the problem, meeting, discussion, disagreement, solution etc.? Why  is one person agreeing and another one disagreeing.  
Tips for Listening 
  • Do NOT try to listen to or understand every single word you hear. Even  native speakers can't do this on one listening, or even two, so why should you think  you should be able to. If you make the mistake of trying to do this, you will immediately find it much too difficult and give up almost immediately.
  • Listen with a purpose. Have a piece of paper ready before you listen. Write out numbers or words such as Story #1, Story # 2, Story #3, and leave space so  that you can write down words or phrases.  
  •  Listen to or watch the newscast, or podcast several times. In listening tests, you are only allowed to listen once, but right now you are trying to practice and improve, so listen more than once.

First Listening  
  •  On your first listening, listen to the entire newscast all the way though in order to get a general idea of what each news item is about. If it a video podcast, or simply a video, try closing your eyes and listening carefully without the distraction of pictures. 
  • Concentrate on and pay attention to listening for key words. These are important content words that can help you figure out the content. Examples of these words are: negotiations,. contract, economic recession, convicted, sentenced, military skirmish, attack, retreat etc.  
  •  Write key words as soon as you hear them. Also write down new vocabulary you have not heard before. Don't worry about the spelling yet.    
  • After you have listened all the way through once, write the number of stories you watched or heard, and what you think the main topic is for each story. Don't try to write sentences. Keep it to words and phrases.  Write down any extra words you can remember. 
  •  Before you listen for the second time, write out WHEN, WHERE, WHO, WHAT. WHY AND HOW under each story and its topic ( if you have one). See if you can remember enough to add information on any of the WH categories.  Leave space for your next listening. 
 Second Listening
  • On your second listening, listen to one story at a time and try the following activities. 

  •  Listen to the entire story. Then stop the player. In this listening, you are trying to catch some of the important details.  As you are listening, try to add additional key words and details to your who, what, when, where, why categories.

  • Use short forms of words That YOU  you can understand. For example, for money, you  write $. For the word conference, you could write conf. For "captured", you could write capt. 

  • As soon as you stop the recording, write out the complete word for your shortened words or symbols. Add any other details you can remember and didn't have time to write down. Remember DO NOT need to understand every word, or remember every detail. 
  • Try to guess the meaning of new words you wrote down based on the topic and the context of the story. Then, look them up in the dictionary to see if you are correct. If you are not, write the definition. 
  •  It would be useful for you to have a vocabulary notebook divided into topics areas, for example, economy, weather, disasters, crime etc. That way you can add the word and the definition in the specific category it belongs to.  
  • After your  second listening of each story, try to write a one or two sentence summary of what the story is about based on what you have already written about the topic key words and answers to the WH questions. 
  • Work with one story at a time. When you finish the first story, listen to the entire  second story and follow the same procedure. Continue until you have finished all the stories. 
 Third Listening
  • If you need to listen to the story a third time, listen to the entire story again and repeat the same procedure as you did in the previous step. 
DO NOT use a stop/start process in which you try to write down every word and go back again and again to make sure you heard each word. Listening to the news, or any video or recording is NOT TAKING DICTATION.  It is learning how to listen for ideas - not individual words. It is also learning how to separate important information from unimportant information.

If you want to improve your listening, you must listen in CHUNKS, not word for word. You will never be able to listen to or remember every word in the real world, so you shouldn't train yourself to do this while you are practicing. 
Remember, even native speakers can't remember every detail of a news story, so don't try to do something even the best listeners can't and don't even want to do. 

Do, however, take notes. No one, including native speakers, is a computer. We do not and cannot remember  details unless we have given ourselves a way to remember them: using key words. 

Listening Comprehension Activity

Follow a lightly different method for the following listening comprehension activity because I have added some comprehension questions.  These questions will help you to focus on listening for specific information.

1.  Watch today's edition of The News on Demand. and follow the procedures in step 1 
     BEFORE you look at the comprehension questions. Write down key words and the
     topic of each story . 

2.; Then, look at the questions for each story, and try to answer the questions.  if you can 
       follow the procedure from above. Then, see if you can answer the comprehension 

 Comprehension questions: 

 Stories  # 1 and # 6

1.   What has Lucca Magnotti been charged with?  

2.   When did he arrive back in Canada? 

3.  How has he pleaded to the charges?

4.   Why did Mr. Magnotti appear in court via closed circuit TV instead of in person? 

5.   Why do the police say Mr. Magnotti has refused to cooperate with authorities? 

6.   Why does Mr. Magnotti's defense lawyer say attorneys will have a difficult time  
       choosing a jury? 

7.   What is expected to happen next in this story?

Story # 2 

1.  What device have border officials stopped using at Canadian airports? 

2.   What did the devices do? 

3.   Why did authorities install them in airports?  

Story #3 

1. What is wrong with the Fraser River? 

2.  What two cities in British Columbia are expected to have problems? 

Story #4:

1.   Why are thousands of people protesting again in Egypt? 

2.   When will the results of the country's recent election be announced? 

3.    What do each of the two candidates claim? 

Story #5

1.  What happened in Texas? 

2.  What do you think the word "vandalize" means? 

3.  What is the name of the famous painter in the story? 

4.  What will the museum  be able to do? 

Story # 7

1   What  negotiations has Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper been asked to join?

 2.   Why is this a positive thing for Canada? 

3.  How much money is involved if things go as planned? 

4.   Will Canada have to give up something to join? What? 

5.  What have European countries said they will at the end of the G 20 Summit? 

 6. Why is this not such a big deal? 

Story # 8

1.  What are soft drink companies doing to get more young people to drink their products? 

2.   What is New York City trying to do? 

3.  What other industry is the soft drink industry being compared to in a recent study?  Why? 

4.  What does another recent study say about young boys between six and 11? 

How did you do?  Let me know in the comment box.

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