Learning a language? Immerse yourself!
It used to be better. Back before the Internet, headlines were almost always followed by what was called a Tag Line, which explained a bit more about the subject of the article. This resulted in headlines along these lines:
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
Water Main Break in Chinatown Snarls Traffic in Sydney
The top line is the headline – a little difficult to know what it means even if English is your first language, possibly impossible if you’re a non-English speaker. Ah, but the tag line clears things up a bit. You might still be a little in the dark about local Sydney events and neighbourhoods, but you at least have some clue what the story will be dealing with.
But in the Internet age, tag lines are fading away, because all of the emphasis is on the headline. The headline is what will turn up in a web search, and it is often all a potential reader will see before deciding whether to read the article. As a result, headlines are becoming more and more simple, declarative, and easy to understand.
What Makes a Good Headline
The problem with headlines from a translation services point of view is that they are often purposefully obscure or poetic in nature, trying to be eye-catching while inviting the reader to investigate further. Many poor headlines give no information concerning what the article is about. Other headlines may seem to be very clear on what the article is about, but give no indication as to why you should read the article at all, as all the useful information appears to be contained in the headline itself. Other bad headlines can be preachy, colouring the subject with a clear bias.
Headlines can be frustrating. When seeking material to read in your target language, it can be difficult to tell what will be worth your time simply from the headline – but keeping some of these problems in mind can make it easier to bypass an inferior headline and get right to the text.