It is an irrefutable fact that for acquisition of a new language to take place effectively, learners must have sufficiently comprehensible input. Input must be comprehensible in the sense that it is meaningful, authentic, relevant, interesting and learner-based. The importance of input, as one of the vital aspects in learning, cannot be overlooked since it impinges upon the learner’s attitude toward what they are learning.
Input can take the form of teaching materials that can be obtained from various sources such as magazines, leaflets, text-books, novels and newspapers. Of these, newspapers provide the most authentic and genuine impetus for learners in accelerating the process of language acquisition. One, for example, can read the following areas in the newspapers: News (local, state, national, international), editorials, letters to the editor, sports, comics, society, features, entertainment and advertisements, just to name a few. A newspaper offers a rich domain that depicts factual events in real-life settings.
It stands to reason that in order for learners to successfully learn a new language (for instance English), they need to be exposed to the materials of that language. In so doing, they can acquire relevant schemata (background knowledge), which will eventually become a source of knowledge stored in their memory, and which can be utilized when needed.
It follows that by acquainting the learners with the newspaper, we are directly exposing them to reading by entering the “”factual and real-life world”” that they themselves often encounter in their daily life. In this respect, learning can become meaningful as well as interesting, and can eventually facilitate their creative and critical thinking skills.
By learning the content and arrangement of a newspaper, differentiating between kinds of news as well as opinions and facts, learning newspaper’s typical vocabulary, analyzing advertising appeal and learning different pictorial stimuli from the paper, students are not only making intelligent choices from what they read, but they are also unconsciously enhancing their imaginative power.
Equally important is that learning by reading the newspaper can also increase students analytic skills. Through the texts in the newspaper, teachers can create encouraging and stimulating activities by, for example, asking the students to find the gist of the reading text (skimming), to identify subordinate ideas that support the main topic, to locate specific information (scanning), and to read critically by commenting on the text.
In studying the Letter to the Editor section, for instance, students can be asked their opinions or thoughts to respond to problems, complaints, advice and suggestions written by the readers. Or the students’ attention can be drawn to find specific and detailed pieces of information written in the ads, and are then asked to report on what they find out in the them. These and other useful activities can surely stimulate and provoke the students’ thinking and imagination.
The value of relevant input through reading has been recognized by researchers and practitioners, and has in fact been further corroborated by empirical studies. To begin with, reading can significantly affect students’ linguistic maturity and sensitivity toward a new language they are learning. When exposed to reading various types of material on offer in a newspaper, students can promote their language skill, especially writing skills.
In particular, they can gain many advantages such as how to write sentences using different syntactic styles, how to use appropriate vocabulary items (diction), as well as how to employ cohesive devices so as to make a paragraph unified. Thus, better readers tend to produce more syntactically mature writing than poorer readers.
By reading newspapers, students will gradually become aware of the fact that conversational types of discourse are considerably different from those in written discourse. That is to say that they will realize that speech patterns they usually include in their writing do not always reflect the characteristics of good writing.
Viewed from a linguistic viewpoint, reading newspapers can stimulate students’ schemata about the language, content and topic, and will eventually lead to the exploration of those schemata in discovering meaning.
Further, students would benefit from studying text in English newspapers for rhetorical organization, paragraph structures and cues such as transitional words and phrases that establish logical relationships between the ideas, and that can result in successful communication.
Finally, a text that students read might inspire them in discovering topics and ideas that they can write about. Because newspapers offers many types of sections, students are provided with ample alternatives, from which they can choose. Usually the more familiar the students are with the topics they read, the more inspired they will be, and the more likely they will produce written text successfully.
The need to promote the daily habit of reading in our schools hitherto has been lacking, and has become an issue of complete indifference. Attempts wipe out illiteracy in society might be in vain unless the young generation is instilled with a desire to regularly read. One of the best ways to help students develop their interest in reading is to use the daily newspaper with intelligence and discrimination.
It is worth noting here that the daily newspaper is never intended to be used exclusively or to replace existing textbooks and other beneficial reading materials, but rather to be used as an excellent supplementary material that can support and reinforce teaching.
It has become a teacher’s duties and responsibilities in assist students in developing and instilling literacy. If a teacher can help people to acquire the knowledge they need, to develop ability to think critically as well as to develop creativity, he will be doing much to contribute to their future scholastic success.
The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Education, Atma Jaya University in Jakarta.