22 Oct What Is the Right Authentic Material for Your Language Class? 3 Things to Keep in Mind When You Select It
Author: Ilinca Stroe
While coursebooks seem increasingly more shaped by authenticist ELT philosophies such as Dogme, including radio show extracts for listening exercises and (adapted) newspaper or magazine articles for reading tasks, using unedited authentic materials in the language class as a complement to the textbook is still very tempting for teachers, for a number of reasons:
- they usually contain fresh, present-day, natural language (words, collocations, chunks and phrases)
- they facilitate the learners’ contact with/immersion in the culture of the language learned
- psychologically, they can give learners a feeling of reward and satisfaction, as they manage to “conquer” a piece of real-life language
The downside of using authentic materials is, of course, well known, too: they can expose learners to too much unfamiliar language, causing panic and frustration at not being able to understand the meaning, thus blocking the learning process and being, overall, quite counterproductive. That objection, however, can be easily refuted: with proper pre-teaching of possibly blocking vocabulary, the unadapted authentic material should go down well and smoothly. Besides, coming across unfamiliar words or phrases can stimulate subskills such as guessing meaning from context.
So, when all is said and done, using unedited authentic materials in the language class is a good idea because it brings real-life language into the otherwise lab-like classroom environment. Still, before introducing authentic materials to your class, there a few questions to consider:
- Are they interesting? It’s probably not recommendable to use authentic materials in your first classes with a new group. Go with the coursebook for a while, and meanwhile try to get to know your students. What are their interests and hobbies? What kind of news do they consume? Is it sports? Is it celeb gossip? Do they have a favourite book/film genre? Once you’ve got that, make sure you choose an authentic material the content of which is appealing to all or most of your students. If some of them are into sports and some others are interested in the zodiac, find a piece on, say, Rafael Nadal’s sign. Researching to find the right material is key to its success in the classroom.
- Are they level-suited? If you present your elementary-level students with a Washington Post article, chances are they will struggle with it and in the end feel demotivated and put off by a level of difficulty that’s simply unreachably high for them. Choose your authentic material so that it corresponds to the students’ language level. With beginners, you might want to use restaurant or website menus, forms, bills, receipts. With intermediate students, it’s probably safe to go for flyers, posters, leaflets, websites, blog posts, radio or TV ads and maybe songs. With higher-level students you can easily do radio and TV broadcasts, newspaper or magazine articles, and film excerpts.
- Are they relevant? Many of the resources nowadays freely available on the Internet (and so accessible especially for online classes) are simply fun to read or watch. But does that make them relevant for a language class? When you choose your authentic materials, always bear in mind the linguistic goal they should serve: your lesson aims. If it’s Passive Voice you have to teach, you might want to find an article or documentary describing the production process in a factory. If it’s fluency you want to focus on, make sure the blog post or film excerpt you get has the potential to stir controversy and debate. Keep the target language and your linguistic objectives in mind whenever you look for a relevant authentic material. Again, careful research is key.
Also, when it comes to using authentic materials in the online class, it is advisable for you to plan ahead whether you will do synchronous or asynchronous teaching with them, and whether they might not be better suited for some flipped learning.
Finally, when you select an authentic material from the online abundance of resources, do double-check that it is phrased in accurate language, as many Internet items can be linguistically flawed at least because they have typos. So make sure you offer your students not just the content- or culture-derived pleasure an authentic material can give, but also a sample of correct, proper language.
International House Bucharest runs regular CELTA and DELTA courses for teachers of English at its Teacher Training Centre, as well as training eventst online, onsite or at partner locations. To sign up for a course or event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.