Authentic vs. Graded Material in Second Languages

- - Authentic vs. Graded Material

Not sure whether to use authentic materials in your classroom? In this article, Julio Foppoli sums up their pros and cons...

As you all know, the main difference between authentic vs. graded materials is that in the latter, the materials almost always revolve around a particular structure that is presented to the student. For example, if the tense being presented is, say, "The Past Tense", every single speaker in the dialogs or even the texts given to the students are in that tense. It seems as if there were no other tense in the whole world. In reality, when talking about the past, for example, native speakers may use a wider variety of tenses, sometimes even the present tense:

"Last night something very funny happened to me. I was walking down the street and suddenly a man comes and looks at me in the face and says: boy, you ARE ugly".

This is not uncommon in real life, but when it comes to graded materials, you will never find these types of situations that resemble real-life conversations. In spite of this, graded materials are very useful if you want to raise the students' awareness of certain structures or patterns that may be important for them to learn. Every single context they see will contain many instances of the same structure which will enable them to make inferences on how they are used.

Authentic materials, on the other hand, are real in the sense that they are not created for students as the target audience but for native speakers. The obvious advantage, of course, is that by using authentic materials you present students with actual everyday language, just as it appears in real life. The main disadvantage of these materials of course, is that sometimes they are not teacher-friendly, and you may need to spend several hours reading or watching videos until you finally find what you need in order to use in your class. In addition, on many occasions in a whole context or situation you may find just one instance of what you need to present your students with. This could be overcome if you provide students with several situations in which the pattern appears, but again, you need to have the time to research and gather the appropriate materials.

If time is no object to you, you may well spend some time doing this research and you will soon find out that there's myriads of information out there that is terrific for your classroom! However, if you have time constraints, as most teachers unfortunately do, a balanced approach may be the solution for you. You can use your graded materials to present the topic and later on you may find samples of that structure in authentic materials. Mind you, this will not be difficult due to the fact that whenever native speakers talk about something or write about something, they make use of nearly all tenses and structures of the language. You can even tell your class to go over some authentic texts, videos etc. and find similar constructions. Sometimes a combination of both approaches yields the best of both worlds. It is up to you to decide what could be the best for your classroom.

Julio Foppoli is a teacher of English as a Second Language, teacher of Spanish as a Second Language. He is also the creator and owner of, an online educational website with a technological edge, specialized in the teaching of Spanish as second language via audio-conference to native speakers of English from all over the world.


What do you think of this article? Add a comment ยป

Caroline on 22 May 2006

Julio Foppoli makes a valid point regarding the use of authentic materials. I think Julio may also be very "techno" --- so he and his students could create more online to share! Note: myriad is already plural - doesn't need the s... :0)

Russell on 23 May 2006

While we are on the subject of myriad(s), to be correct the phrase should read, 'there is a myriad...' But, maybe the original is a valid grammatical structure: my dictionary entry reads, 'Myriad, noun (also Myriads)! Don't English teachers get finicky?

On the question of the article itself, the author raises some interesting points. It really is a matter of finding that balance between the textbook approach and real-life examples.

Mark on 23 May 2006

"Hi. Thanks for the article. I can relate to what is said here. I have found that at Intermediate and above, the ss can handle such a situation. I use such material especially with writing classes as they rewrite the passage and use alternate tenses to indicate past... Thanks.

Noel on 23 May 2006

"Spot on - at the risk of commenting using incorrect grammar - I use nearly all authentic materials and you really don't need lots of spare time. It's right here on the Internet. Google is my main source, just type in your topic and hey presto! Furthermore, I resist graded texts for lower level and this has improved my students skim skills greatly. Try it!

Hassan on 23 May 2006

"I absolutely agree with the article because I find as a teacher I need that extra edge to make the reading of an article that bit more interesting and the material genuine and ungraded. Thanks for the aticle.

Yelena on 24 May 2006

"There is a point in what the article says about graded and authentic materials - reading texts from magazines and newspapers or watching movies or the news that are not tailored to ESL students is particularly useful and helpful. However, if students are given authentic materials straight away it will be very hard for them to get an idea of grammar, that's where graded materials are vitally relevant. So I suggest using authentic materials in classes for more advanced students, who are more aware of English grammar and won't get messed up.

Sahar on 25 May 2006

"Hi friends: I appreciate your article. It's really very important to use both authentic and graded materials to make the ss familiar with both the rules and the real life use of the language.

Andy on 26 May 2006

"I agree with Yelena - at lower levels graded materials are vital for emphasising the 'rules', which are better understood before introducing exceptions and anomalies, which could cause unnecessary confusion. At the other end of the scale I would say authentic materials are equally essential, as learning English at higher levels largely has the purpose of equipping students to understand text and speech from a 'myriad' of natural sources.

Kurt on 30 May 2006

"First of all, I enjoyed the article, it's nothing that I didn't know before, but it does put things in context of teaching/learning and resources used. I totally agree with Yelena. The use of authentic and graded material has a lot to do with the experiences of the child, or lack there of. Teaching younger children would require an introduction to structures in authentic material, but later in the lesson it would have to be targeted using the graded material. Looking for authentic material is in fact time consuming. Where do I start looking and researching?

Rasamee on 4 July 2006

"I do agree that authentic materials are beneficial for the language learning process. It is, however, sometimes difficult to find authentic texts in a country where English is a foreign laguage. There are some English newspapers or magazines but they are basically written by the citizens whose English is also counted as a foreign language. A lot of texts are written using wrong tenses and seem to contain a direct translation, unfortunately. I, therefore, keep using graded materials for the sake of providing the students with the right language or structure to learn.

Svetlana on 7 August 2006

"It's obvious that we should use authentic materials in teaching English. But why do you concentrate on using them only for teaching grammar? I am convinced that it is rather useful to provide young learners with authentic rhymes (Nursery Rhymes) and original books for children. We don't have to explain the use of tenses while reading such stories with little children (I mean 1st or 2nd-graders, pre-reading stage).

Leila on 4 February 2007

"I really agree with what Julio said, are all of these your words? Please write if there are any quotations, thanks...

Ameera, Yemen on 19 March 2007

"I'm a student and I'm doing research about teaching english by using songs... I found this topic very interesting... thanx for helping me in my research.

Farhan on 16 May 2007

"I like the article and think such things should be done in today's classrooms in order to avoid the monotony and to create interest in the language learning process. Could it be possible if you send one sample song along with different ways of exploiting it in the classroom?

Eslbase on 16 May 2007

"Farhan, please have a look at these two articles and their comments for specific song ideas... Using pop songs and Using songs.

Ahmed on 23 May 2007

"Truly, it's an interesting article for ESL & ESL teachers. I do completely agree with you that ESL & ESL teachers should use songs in their teaching. I personally have been using songs especially those I like (pop & slow songs); they worked well in my class and all students loved them to the extent that they have memorized them. I would be so grateful for more ideas about using songs in teaching because i am so interested in this issue.

Matilda on 9 March 2008

"I'm working on a thesis about songs and I have found out that songs serve many functions and are really useful. Can someone help me with theoretical information about the use of songs in EFL classes?

Jamal on 25 March 2008

"I am an English teacher from Palestine. I have thought about using some songs in my classroom, but I have one concern: Is it legal (copyright wise) to use songs by well-known artists in the classroom, I know that record the company copyright law disallow it, am I right? I am asking because I am Christian and want to do things ethically.

Norela on 2 April 2008

"Thank you Mr Foppoli. Your article manages to give me some insight into the other aspects of authentic materials. Since my thesis is in accordance with your article, it's really meaningful for my extended literature review. Thousands of thanks!

Irate custome on 17 April 2008

"I found this to be interesting. However, I found this guy was using dictionaries and copying from other sites. He knows some of what he is doing but he is not creating personalized materials for students. He is using the same materials for all students just making it a little more difficult depending on the students level. Do not fall for this people...

Lourdes on 15 June 2008

"I like using songs in class but we must remember they have to cover our objectives... so be careful when selecting one... we need them to encourage our students into a meaningful learning.

Zahra on 21 July 2008

"The idea of using songs for teaching English is fascinating. I have used songs in my adult classes as a warm-up for a topic or presentation of a grammar point, but mostly in the form of gap fills. The students find it interesting too. But I'd like to get more professional advice on the format or on the way of presenting songs to the class as a communicative tool. I would be grateful if any of you can help me in this regard. Thanks!

Sarah on 9 October 2009

"I should like to add some comments regarding the use of authentic materials in L2 teaching and learning. Authentic materials are the materials which are not specifically written for teaching. Songs are not the only authentic materials that we encounter in real world situations. There are many more that a L2 teacher can make use of in his classroom teaching. There are no theoritical, empirical an pedagogical evidence that support the claim that using songs in L2 teaching can help learners to improve their communicative competence. Therefore, when someone says something, you need to have research evidence to support it. I do claim that authentic materials can have impact on learners' language skills development and several studies have pointed out that authentic materials properly selected and cretively devised for classroom use can help learners develop their L2 acquisition. For more inforamtion, please refer to Nunan, Krashen, Ellis, Larsen-Freeman and other proponents of CLT.

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