The Surprising Language Learning Benefits of 24-Hour TV News

learn language tv newsWhen 24-hour news channels started popping up, I was quick to realise the dangers.

One day, in 2005, I sat glued to the TV as football legend George Best was hospitalised, about to die.

Reporters were gathered outside the hospital, waiting for the inevitable. Every update on his condition was relayed to the nation – live – on BBC News 24.

And there I was…

Sitting at home on my day off…

Hooked on the rolling coverage.

It was just as morbid as it sounds.

At one point during the afternoon, my flatmate walked in and saw me glued to the TV. I told him what was going on.

(By Andy Welsh via Wikimedia Commons)

“George Best? Who cares?” he replied.

I realised with horror that I didn’t care.

Not in the least.

I didn’t know the first thing about George Best, other than that he was a footballer in the 70s, and was kinda well-known.

And now, apparently, this person I knew nothing about was going to pass away.

I switched off the TV immediately.

Horrified how I was being manipulated by this new media innovation.

(I had no idea at the time about the hidden language learning potential, but more on that later…)

The thing about 24-hour news is that, even though it’s broadcast live, events don’t usually develop all that quickly.

Actual details may take hours… or days… to emerge.

So, as a viewer, you see the same reports regurgitated over and over again, despite the best attempts of news anchors to sound engaging

It’s utterly meaningless from a ‘viewing’ perspective.

And yet…

This can be a huge opportunity for language learning!

Different Perspectives in a Foreign Language

japanese tv news

You see, listening to the same stuff over and over again may be soul-destroying for native speakers…

But as a language learning tool it’s phenomenal.

I discovered this recently.

In a bid to upgrade my Japanese, I’ve been getting all my news from NHK (the Japanese national broadcaster).

This morning, gripped by the images of North Korean leader Kim Jon Un stepping onto South Korean soil for the first time, I started watching the rolling coverage in Japanese on NHK.

As usual, the same basic reports were being looped over and over.

But rather than become irritated by the repetition, I noticed something fascinating…

With every repetition of the reports, I found myself understanding more and more.

Picking up words I missed the first time.

As I became familiar with the facts of the news, I could focus instead on the words and phrases being used.

(Reports like this in Japanese are tricky to understand at the best of times!)

The Benefits of Repetition in 24-Hour News

I realised that this simple activity of watching rolling news coverage is almost identical to my regular language learning routine…

1) Choose a text

2) Find the audio

3) Listen and read over and over

… and bingo!

The only disadvantage of the TV news format is that you don’t have the script to study…

But the “interest factor”, and the short, snappy format kind of made up for that.

(And if you head to the website of the same news channel, you’ll find the relevant written article anyway.)

And the key is in the repetition, which is inherent to 24-hour live news. You don't get that from regular news when you see the report only once.


I’ve decided to get all my news in Japanese from now on.

I read a lot of news anyway, so I may as well do it in Japanese!

Is this something that might work in your language learning?

4 Steps To Learning Languages With 24-Hour TV News

Here goes. This will work for any language.

Step 1: Find the biggest TV news channel in the language you’re learning

Step 2: Go to YouTube, search for that channel, and look for the Live Stream channel. (Look for the “Live” label.)

how to learn a language with live tv

Step 3: Search for the smartphone app from the same station, and find the ‘Live’ feature to get that same news on your phone

Sit back and watch.

Step 4: To consolidate what you've watched, look for the related news article on the TV station's website.

(Pro tip: The benefit of YouTube is you can load it on Apple TV and other tech that syncs to your regular TV…)

learn japanese with live NHK tv news

With a combination of the above steps…

A healthy dose of repetition throughout the day…

And a commitment to get your news in the target language…

You’ll quickly start to be able to cope with current affairs in your target language and feel your listening skills improving!

(For more help specifically with listening skills, sign up for your free email course in the box below.)

Have you tried learning language with the news? Let me know your experience in the comments below!

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