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Rethinking authenticity in ELT texts and materials: A perspective of an author

Mohan Singh Saud, PhD Scholar

Setting the scene

The concept of authenticity “is a pervasive ideology within ELT” (Holliday, 2006, p. 385), which initially referred to the texts and materials reflecting native-like features and produced by the native speakers of English. However, at present, it is believed that such ideology damages the ELT profession as well as popular perceptions of English and culture disbelieving the cultural contribution of the non-native speaker teachers. Kumaravadivelu (2016) also argues that native-speakerism represents an unresponsive ‘native speaker’ hegemony in ELT. This ideology is what Phillipson (1992) calls ‘native speaker fallacy’. Along with the application of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), practitioners often talked of authentic texts and materials in ELT. More recently, new approaches and concepts have been proposed and even practiced, such as Kumaravadivelu’s (1994) notion of post-method pedagogy, Kachru’s (1985) World Englishes, McKay’s (2002) English as an international language, and Jenkins’ (2006) English as a lingua franca (ELF), which have challenged the native speaker fallacy.

There have been debates regarding the concept of authenticity, indicating a need for rethinking authenticity in ELT texts and materials. In response to the traditional EFL approach, it is essential to focus pedagogy considering the diversity of the local context with various purposes of learning English. Scholars argue that ELT should be culturally sensitive and socially responsive valuing multiculturalism.

The discussion above proves to rethink authenticity in ELT texts and materials of ELT, especially in non-English speaking countries. Authenticity is a relative contextualized concept since “authentic materials may mean different things for different people” (Shomoossi & Ketabi, 2007, p.149), and was the main focus of CLT in the past (Bax, 2003). In this background, this article explores the concept of authenticity concerning ELT texts and materials.

Authenticity as a social construct

A traditional definition of authentic materials refers to the materials created by native speakers of English and are used to teach for second or foreign language learners of English (Day, 2004; Rafalovich, 2014). However, my perspective on the authenticity of ELT materials is different. Agreeing with Rafalovich (2014), I believe that the authenticity of ELT texts and materials is determined by needs, availability, classroom environment, teacher-student relations, and the perception of the reader. Any text can be authentic if it is produced in English (or even bi/multilingual), may it be by a native or non-native speaker of English, and if it can be appropriated for the classroom teaching-learning purposes.

The main concern about the authenticity of texts was in relation to CLT in ELT. Those teaching materials were considered authentic, which were produced for real-life communicative purposes and used for teaching-learning purposes. CLT placed more importance on using authentic materials in the classroom. Thus, authenticity in the traditional sense is a social construct based on the ideology of native-speakerism promoting English culture. This notion needs to be reconsidered as English is no longer the language of the native English speakers only. As such, I define authentic texts as those texts that are written in English reflecting different cultures and can be appropriate in ELT.

Glocal ELT materials

With the globalisation of the English language, English no longer belongs to any single nation or group and new forms of English have been emerged in non-Western contexts (Kachru, 2004). As such, authentic materials do not mean those produced in Anglophone countries, but those could be produced in any part of the world and can be adaptable to teaching-learning purposes. It is essential to rethink the authenticity of materials that better meet their students’ diverse needs and those texts and materials should promote cultural awareness and intercultural understanding among them (Nault, 2006).

Although ELT texts and materials tend to adopt the contents from English-speaking countries and native English speakers, the globalization of the English language has demanded them to be inclusive across cultures. Materials must be culturally sensitive and socially responsive. ELT pedagogy is truly pluricentric (Sharifian, 2014). English is a pluricentric language, with variations in the spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc. between the United Kingdom, America, New Zealand, Australia, and other English-speaking as well as non-English speaking countries, including dialectal variety within these areas. As such, no national authority can set the standard for the use of English. Moreover, a tripartite traditional distinction between English as a Native Language (ENL), English as a Second Language (ESL), and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) (Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, & Svartvik, 1985) have been debated, and Kachru (1985) put forward the three-concentric-circles model of World Englishes with inner-outer-expanding circles distinction.  English, therefore, spoken in different countries and regions is increasingly taken as a pluricentric language. This reflects the need of focusing on the culturally sensitive and contextually appropriate use of English.

Byram (1997) proposed intercultural communicative competence (ICC) for effective and appropriate communication with people from various language and cultural backgrounds. The basic tenet of ICC advocates the need of including texts and materials from various cultures which could raise cultural awareness among the learners. Various studies have shown the importance of integrating varied cultures in the ELT curriculum to develop intercultural communication. Therefore, it is important to rethink the inclusion of the local and indigenous texts and materials in producing ELT textbooks and other materials in Nepal, with a multiplicity of linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups. It is time to challenge and resist the ideology of preferring texts and materials produced by American or British writers and ELT industries, but all those across the culture around the world that can be appropriate for teaching and learning English. Doing so will assure justice for all cultures and the true application of inclusive pedagogy in ELT.

Reconsidering native speaker mindset in text selection

I have been involved in selecting texts in the process of ELT coursebook development. Although I advocate the inclusion of local and indigenous texts for the expansion of native knowledge prioritizing non-native English speaker writers, it has been difficult in practice due to some other obstacles and our traditional ideology that only the native speakers’ texts can be appropriate, standard, and authentic. This kind of mindset needs to be challenged and textbook/material developers need to take inclusive, glocal, and pluricentric perspectives while selecting texts and materials appropriating the needs and level of learners.

Moreover, it is not easier to get the suitable texts to the level and needs of Nepali learners. I wanted to represent the local and indigenous texts and materials in the coursebook, but such texts are not easily available. Nonetheless, I attempted to include texts from diverse cultures across the world considering that authenticity remains in the text rather than who and where it was produced. I hope the textbook and material developers in the days to come would respect local culture and value Nepali writers rethinking the authenticity of texts and materials in ELT in the context of Nepal.

Conclusion

The concept of authenticity appeared in English language teaching along with the advent of the communicative approach in the 1970s. However, this article has argued that the authenticity of texts and materials used in English language teaching should be rethought

to reflect the multiple perspectives inherent in EFL pedagogy. Any text and material that is culturally sensitive and socially responsive can gain authenticity in the globalised context of English and English language teaching. It is recommended that the English curriculum should include the texts and materials representing varied cultures.

It is crucial to rethink text authenticity in ELT instead of promoting the traditional notion of authenticity of texts and materials in relation to CLT. It can be justifiable to use appropriate materials that will be fruitful and purposeful for students to learn the language effectively. Therefore, it is advisable to choose appropriate materials that will best suit students’ needs for language development, regardless of the origin and the originator of the materials. Even if the materials are produced by non-native English speakers, they can be taken as authentic if they serve the purpose of developing language and are readily accessible, appropriate, need-based, and socially responsive.

About the author: Mohan Singh Saud is Associate Professor of English Education at Kailali Multiple Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is a PhD scholar at Graduate School of Education, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is also the author of Grade 11 compulsory English textbook under Curriculum Development Centre, Nepal.

 

References

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Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. Harlow: Longman.

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Sharifian, F. (2014). Teaching English as an International Language in Multicultural Contexts: Focus on Australia. In R. Marlina, & R.A. Giri (Eds.), The pedagogy of English as an international language: Perspectives from scholars, teachers, and students (pp. 35-46), (Vol. 1). Springer.

Shomoossi, N., & Ketabi, S. (2007). A critical look at the concept of authenticity. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching4(1), 149-155.

Cite as: Saud, MS. (2020). Rethinking authenticity in ELT texts and materials: A perspective of an author. http://eltchoutari.com/2020/10/rethinking-authenticity-in-elt-texts-and-materials-a-perspective-of-an-author/