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News Literacy Week: How language impacts how you understand the news

The ESL community may deal with misunderstandings when watching the news
Posted at 8:33 AM, Jan 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-26 11:33:20-05
  • Video shows 23ABC studios, English/Spanish language books, photos of ESL course with the Kern Literacy Council
  • Edith Mata learned English when she moved to the U.S. from Mexico and she says the language barrier greatly impacted the way she consumed the news. Now, she's helping others learn English so they can better understand the news they're watching.

National News Literacy Week continues right here in our 23ABC studios where we hold the powerful accountable and highlight the most important stories in your community.
Whether you watch in the mornings or evenings, 23ABC News shares stories with our community as a way to keep our viewers informed on the most important events of the day.

“The news is telling you what’s happening in your own community," Ian Anderson, the executive director of the Kern Literacy Council said. "It’s giving you an opportunity to be an active participant,' but he adds being an active participant requires a critical understanding of the information that’s being communicated to you.

“Your language, your native tongue is really how you’re going to view the world.”

The News Literacy Project promotes the ability to determine the credibility of news to know what to trust, share and act on, but if English isn’t your first language, Anderson says there’s room for misunderstandings and interpretation errors.

This could be the reality for more than 44% of the Kern county population who speak languages other than English, according to the US Census.

“I think it’s important to understand because, and if you’re not understanding or comprehending what’s going on, how can you make an educated choice?” Edith Mata, the ESL program coordinator for the Kern Literacy Council said.

Mata says she was originally born in Kern County but raised in Mexico until she was 9 years old.

When she returned to the U.S., she began learning English for the first time.

“The language barrier, the culture, it was a lot of learning. It was very overwhelming to a certain extent,” Mata said.

Shortly after, she tells me she began watching the news in English.

“At that moment, I didn’t understand anything. Just by the images, I would make up my own story.”

She now teaches an ESL class with the Kern Literacy Council, using the news as a tool to help increase her students proficiency in English.

“Some of them would read the articles in both English and Spanish," Mata tells me. "Others could just reading it in English and understand what was going on, and some others would miss some of the information because they wouldn’t comprehend everything.”

To bridge the gap, both Anderson and Mata suggest that newsrooms offer translations for multilingual viewers and encourage people to learn other languages to increase their critical thinking when consuming the news.

“When we think about those that are fully bilingual and can consume the news in both Spanish and English, they have a much wider perspective,” Anderson said.

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