Use of Authentic Materials in Language Classrooms: A Fashion or Compulsion?

-by Suman Laudari

What is authentic material? What is the authenticity of a material? How do you determine whether a material is authentic or not? We had had a lot of prolonged discussion on the authenticity of the materials that we use in our classes to teach a language, in particular English Language.
For the last one decade or so, in Nepal, the communicative approach has been widely discussed and now, more or less, it has clearly substituted more traditional methods of teaching English like Grammar-Translation Method. Communicative approach advocates the use of real English in situation that is close to reality. This emphasis on the real English influences the choice of language matter that we use in our classroom and also the materials that we use in our textbooks.
With the booming of communicative approach, authentic text has gained much attention. Authentic texts, which were defined as those which were designed for native speakers, make it feel that the text being used in the classroom is real. Harmer, in his book “The Practice of English Language Teaching,” rightly says that authentic texts are real texts designed not for language students, but for the speakers of the language in questions (Harmer, 1991)
However, the perception towards authentic materials has changed now. Nowadays, people just do not see whether it was designed for the native speakers but whether the language used sounds authentic in part or in its entirety and also whether students are likely to hear or read it in real situations. Thus, anything a native speaker of English would hear or read or use can be described as authentic such as the news cast of BBC, 103 F.M., or online version of New York Times or local newspapers that are published in English. These materials can rightly be called authentic materials of English because these materials are not designed for the EFL learners. They are also not graded to fit the need of the learners. However, teachers have to be very much careful while selecting such materials because the uses of such materials demoralize students if they are higher than the level of the students. However, according to Harmer (1994), the use of authentic materials helps learners in the following three ways.
1. It helps them become better readers and better learners which ultimately helps them produce good language
2. The acquisition will be better and faster
3. Students feel triumphant over their accomplishment because the skills that they acquire make them feel that they can handle the situations in the real life too.
Non-authentic materials, in my opinion, are the materials which are especially for language students. Such texts sometimes concentrate on the language we wish to teach but not on what students’ need are. These types of materials, what I feel is, are highly artificial because the language items being used are perfectly formed sentences all the time (as I am doing in this piece of writing). Yet, in real life the language is not used just like that. If one studies the structure of the language he/she is likely to find the language extremely unvaried. Hence, such kind of language, if taught, does not encourage students become better learners. The language is manipulated in such a way that the students will, at certain points of time, feel that they are not going to encounter such language in real life.
It is easy saying things that you should not use graded materials because it does not contribute in language learning but how do teachers use authentic materials. So, now, in this section I would like to share some of my personal experience which I think will make teachers realize that they can do it too.
The first idea is about using ‘English Songs’ in an ELT classroom. Here, English songs do not mean the songs that have been sung in the class for a long like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ etc but popular music, country rock or Blues. For example Michael Jackson’s ‘The Earth Song’ or Shakira’s ‘World Cup Song’ or Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’.
Many teachers might just wonder how could it be done in the classroom and what will their headmaster do or it is not my cup of tea or they might have many more excuses. But, if the teachers really want it they can do it making it the part of their lesson. When you talk about environmental issues like depletion of Ozone Layer, in ‘How Sane Are We’ in BBS first year’s course book you could play Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ in which he expresses how human beings have changed the Earth and so many environmental issues. You could provide your students with incomplete lyrics with some gaps in it; play the song; have them listen to it and complete the lyrics. After that you could give them task (which is designed on the basis of your student’s level of English) based on the song; put them in group and get them to complete the tasks. And, as the production activity, you could ask them to write how they felt about the song.
Similarly, you can exploit local newspapers that are published in English to teach English. Newspapers are great source of learning in many ways. To mention few you can use newspaper to teach reading, writing, vocabulary and cultural issues. One can also use newspapers cutouts for other fun activities which can be used as starters. For examples, newspaper cutouts can be used to make picture jig-saw; you can have an activity to match pictures with captions or headline.
So, using authentic material should be a compulsion; an inner compulsion from the inner self of the teachers. When you use authentic materials you expose your students to real discourse (real discourse in the sense that they become aware that that is the kind of language used in a language classroom. Use of authentic materials reflects the language change in the classroom which helps teachers and students keep aware of such changes. On top of all, use of authentic materials, as said earlier, acquire English better than those who do not. Thus, use of authentic materials must be a compulsion not only fashion.
Harmer, J. 1991. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman
Harmer, J. 1994. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman

3 thoughts on “Use of Authentic Materials in Language Classrooms: A Fashion or Compulsion?

  1. Dear Suman,
    Your article fabulously hits to the hot issue regarding the teaching strategy of Nepalese English teachers. No doubt using authentic materials in the classroom should be a compulsion but not a fashion. In addition to this, there is deteriorating situation of Nepalese English language teachers inside the classroom where they just want to escape from the problems and challenges rather facing it with courage. This is why they do not want to change their teaching strategy and ultimately they can not be changed. I mean, using authentic materials in Nepalese classroom is a challenge for the English language teachers but at the same time it is a good platform to develop language teachers professionally also.
    -Shyam Pandey

  2. First thanks for the article on ELT and hope to get some more.

    This is the cry of the present situation in teaching and learning of English language in Nepalese context; I totally agree that the Use of aunthentic materials in language clasroom should be compulsion rather than fashion.

  3. Thanks for this very useful article. your views on the use of authentic and non authentic materials for language teaching is explicit and i agree totally.

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