Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Cracking the Code of Press Headlines: From Difficulty to Opportunity for the Foreign Language Learner

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Cracking the Code of Press Headlines: From Difficulty to Opportunity for the Foreign Language Learner

Article excerpt


While press materials, are widely used both as an ESP materials resource and as a research source by ESP practitioners, press headlines in English confront the Non Native Speaker (NNS) and to some extent the Native Speaker (NS) with a notorious paradox: headlines are crafted to raise communication potential and yet, rather than communicate, they often perplex the reader. This may be devastating for motivation on the part of the English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) student where even those at advanced level suffer frustration on failing to cope with headlines. The main arguments of this article are that headline perplexity is generated by the very communicatively driven strategies used in their configurations, that these strategies form patterns and that these patterns can be singled out and analysed in such a way as to enable the student to crack the code and thereby turn a liability into an asset, a stumbling block into a stepping stone.


Headlines, headline spin, idiom variation, interface, double grounding, ESP.


Los materiales de prensa constituyen un recurso muy atractivo para la clase de inglés como lengua extranjera y el primer contacto con dichos recursos es característicamente a través del titular. A pesar de que el titular esté diseñado para atraer y captar al lector, muy a menudo resulta de difícil comprensión incluso para el estudiante avanzado en lengua inglesa y esto puede hacer estragos en cuanto a motivación y confianza por parte del alumnado. El artículo actual se propone combatir esta paradoja mediante un análisis estructural de titulares. Mantiene que dichos titulares utilizan pautas sistemáticas que una vez expuestas y analizadas proporcionan al alumnado las claves para su comprensión. El objetivo es doble: por un lado facilita la comprensión y mejora la motivación por parte del alumno y, por otra parte, le ayuda a dominar mejor los entresijos de la sintaxis y la fraseología de la lengua inglesa.


Titulares, pautas estructurales en titulares, idiomaticidad, interfaz, juegos de palabras, inglés para fines específicos.


Headlines constitute a privileged genre in a number of senses. They are privileged by the initial position they occupy (Baicchi, 2003), the space they command, the bold print and size they are allotted and by the frequent syntactic and semantic unorthodoxy they entail vis-à-vis conventional sentence structure. This latter constitutes a salient difficulty factor for the ESP learner. Our analysis will show that, despite the apparent abnormality found in headlines, the end result is nevertheless a discourse that is decidedly idiomatic and it is this idiomaticity which perhaps poses the greatest difficulty for the second language learner. A finding made by Crawford Camiciottoli (2007: 65) is very relevant in this respect. She found that idiom usage by native and non-native speakers of English in giving business lectures in English showed a much lower frequency in the speech of the non-native lecturers. This is, I claim, indicative of the difficulty of mastering the code of a foreign language, the idiomaticity which is inherent to any language. Secondly, if headlines are a masterful use and manipulation of the code of a language, then explicit focus on headline patterns will provide a window to observe both how that manipulation occurs, how it exemplifies a heightened use of idiomaticity and eventually help the student to become more familiar with the phenomenon.

Bell (1991: 186) points out that the key to the actual writing of a successful press article is not a title but an effective lead -the title characteristically is not part of the agenda of the journalist writing the article but is the job of a specialist in that field, a sub-editor. The task of the lead is to summarise the ensuing article. Bell (1991: 150) adds: "The headline is an abstract of the abstract. …

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