We spend hours consuming the news. With one click of a button we have access to thousands of news stories all on our phones. And with so much happening in the world right now, it can be difficult to avoid those breaking news updates.

So why not use this to your advantage and practise a little English?

There are lots of reasons to read the news in English. It keeps you up-to-date with current affairs. It helps you learn everyday vocabulary on a variety of interesting topics. It can even help you improve your reading speed. Not to mention that you’ll learn some very specific grammatical structures.

So stop what you’re doing. Turn on your news alerts. And follow these quick tips for reading the news in English!


1. Take a look at the headlines


Headlines can be a great way to learn English in small doses. They are normally a limited number of words and often contain strong, simple action verbs written in the present simple. Here’s an example from The Mirror. Check out their use of the short and snappy verbs warns and vows:

Headlines often miss out unimportant grammatical words, for example – articles like a, an or the, connecting words like because or auxiliary verbs like is or was. The first letter is also always capitalized. Take a look at this headline from the BBC:

See how they’ve missed out the words “of representatives” from the House of Representatives? They’ve also written delivers in the present tense when it would normally be in the past simple or present perfect.

Headlines often contain humour or a pun like this one from The Guardian.

To take the crown is another way of saying to win. This play on meaning relates to Princess Diana and the success of Kristen Stewart in playing the part in the movie.

It also uses emotive vocabulary to grab the reader’s attention. Doe-eyed means someone who has large innocent eyes – like that of a doe (a female deer).

There’s lots of new language you can get from the headlines. Next time you’re scrolling through your news app, or walking past a newsstand, stop and try to understand the true message.

Any words you don’t understand, use a translation app such as WordReference or Google Translate to help you out!


2. Pay attention to passive tenses


Headlines and main body news articles sometimes use the passive voice. Why? Because it makes the object of the story the main focus.

The active voice tells us who does what. The passive voice (be + participle) tells us what happened but often hides the who. Headlines are a little different, however, because they often use the passive voice without using a conjugation of the Be verb.

Compare these two sentences:

  • Police arrested protesters at a UK nuclear power plant. (active)
  • Protesters arrested at a UK nuclear power plant. (passive)

In the first sentence the police are the main focus and in the second it’s the protesters. In this example, it’s obvious to the reader that the police made the arrests, so there is no need to include them in the headline.

Journalists might use the passive voice because:

  • Who performed the action is obvious. For example: “Scientists awarded Nobel Prize in extravagant ceremony.” In this case it’s obvious the Nobel Prize committee awarded the prize.
  • Sometimes who performed the action is unknown. For example: “World’s largest diamond stolen from museum.”
  • And sometimes it’s because the event or action was more important than the people who made it happen. For example: “Life discovered on Mars”.

3. Choose news stories that interest you


Whether it’s the sports section, the agony aunt or fashion and beauty, choose topics that you find enjoyable to read. There’s no point in reading something you find dull. Scan over the headlines until you find one that engages you. Start reading the article, and if you find it boring, move on to the next.

Another tip is to find a story that you’re already familiar with in your own language. It will make it so much easier to understand and help you fill in the blanks if you encounter any new words.

The Local, El País and Catalonia Today all offer local news in English. Read them in your own language over your morning coffee. Then read back over them in English on your commute to work.

Be careful of what you read though! There’s lots of fake news out there. Reading in another language can make it difficult to spot. That’s why we recommend you always fact-check your news sources.


4. Write down new vocabulary


When you read the news in English, you’ll find lots of new expressions and words. It’s a good idea to keep a pen and paper handy so you can record everything you learn.

Alternatively, keep a record on the notes section on your phone. Make categories that group your news together in vocabulary sets such as financial news, sports, celebrity gossip and politics. Then practise saying each word out loud five times to memorise them.


5. Read news at the right level for you


Make sure you choose news that’s not too difficult for you to comprehend. Lots of people love The Guardian, but it can be quite challenging – even for native speakers.

Only try to read newspapers like The Guardian, BBC News or The New York Times if you’ve been learning English for a long time. Otherwise, start with news sources especially for English learners.

Good examples include The News in Levels and E-News. They both grade their language based on different levels of difficulty. They highlight keywords you might find useful. And E-News has an audio option to practise listening skills while you read.

Other fun news sources directed at language learners are The Times in Plain English, Breaking News English and BBC’s Lingohack.

Check out this video Lingohack has on turning plastic into sportswear. You can download the transcript from their website and read along while you listen.

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Breaking news (n): newly received information about news as it is happening.

Current affairs (n): political news about events happening now.

In small doses (exp): in small amounts.

Play on sth. (exp): a use of a word with more than one meaning.

Newsstand (n): a place where newspapers are sold in the street.

Agony aunt (n): a person who gives advice to others in a newspaper.

Dull (adj): boring.

Local news (n): news that happens in your area as opposed to a national/ international scale.

Fake news (n): false stories that appear in the news.

To spot (v) : to notice.

fact-check (v): to check all the facts in a piece of writing.


n = noun

exp = expression

adj = adjective

v = verb

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