In order to prepare for the épreuve d’anglais at the concours, the rapports de jury often say that you need to read the news. But what does that mean in practice? It’s not simply a case of reading your newspaper of choice from cover to cover: you’d just end up reading lots of things that aren’t relevant, and wasting your precious time. In this blog we’re going to show you what, why and how to read.
Rather than reading every article in each issue of the Economist, say, you need to be selective in what you read, always thinking about how it will help you in the concours. Newspaper texts will help you in a number of ways:
Their most important function, and the reason examiners recommend you read them, is that they give you a sense of the key debates in Anglophone current affairs – the debates that you need to show awareness of in essays and commentaries.
They give you facts, figures and examples, enabling you to support your ideas in essays and commentaries.
They give you a chance to practise creating problématiques for the épreuve orale.
However, not all texts perform all of these functions: different articles are useful to you in different ways. So it’s important to know what you are reading and why. The first thing to be aware of is that when they’re talking about the news proper (as opposed to film reviews or sports, etc), newspapers generally contain two types of text:
News reports: these simply report the news as it happens, and contain no comment or analysis from the journalist (though they will probably contain short comments from people affected by the news – the British Beer and Pub Association, for example, if the news is a proposed tax on alcohol).
Comment/analysis/opinion pieces or editorials: these offer expert interpretation either from a journalist, the editorial board, academics or other experts; their aim is to provide the reader with the insight necessary to make his or her own mind up – something that news reports, where information is provided in a “rawer”, less processed form, do not do.
(For more on distinguishing news reports from opinion or analysis, see this blog.)
As you prepare for the concours, what you need most is the second type of text: these will help you form your own sophisticated opinions and avoid producing naive ideas or offering impossible solutions. For example, if you simply read “raw” news about a shooting in the US, with no comment, you might be tempted to think, as students have sometimes said to me, that “the president should do something about the problem of guns.” But this ignores the fact that where guns are concerned, the president (the last one at least) is the problem! Comment texts would
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