Use authentic materials?
If asked why they rely heavily on course books for English language teaching, among a variety of other reasons, one that emerges is the seeming unsuitability of available authentic materials. Principal reasons cited for this “unsuitability” can include:
- Unsuitable material level
- Too difficult
- Too long or short
- Use of grammar or language
- Irrelevancy of themes
- Not adapted for specific use
- Not adapted to student learning styles
While these factors are certainly present and accountable, they need not prohibit the use of authentic materials in the English language learning classroom. Let’s briefly examine how authentic materials might be incorporated into an English language teaching curriculum or course of study.
Availability of Authentic Materials
Authentic, that is, materials produced primarily for the use of native speakers of the target language, are easily available from a number of sources for most of the world. Some more common sources include:
- Course books
Most of these sources are readily available even in remote or poor regions of the world. In more highly “developed” regions, they may all be potential sources of materials for the English language learning classroom.
Adapting Authentic Materials
Successfully utilizing a continuing series of authentic materials in your English language learning classroom is simply a matter of adapting those materials to suit the needs of your language learners. Some keys to successful adaptation of authentic materials include:
- converting them into workshop activities
- adjusting the length of the materials
- simplifying or explaining key language elements
- converting authentic materials into a variety of exercise types
Learners benefit from listening materials spoken at “normal” conversational speed vs. English language learner directed listening materials which have been “altered” or “slowed” to enable “improved comprehension”. All well and good, but if the learners ever need to apply that learning and listening practice in a real-life situation – they’re lost. Why? Because – no – body – talks – like – this – in – real –life – in – any – language. (gasp!)
Authentic language videos, CDs, newscasts and radio programs can provide invaluable insight into current events and cultural aspects of English-speaking countries for language teachers and learners in other parts of the world. A benefit of recorded material is the ability to be able to rewind and repeat it as many times as necessary in order to effect increased levels of listening comprehension. The impact of the imagery provided in these clips is incalculable. Course books which are written and marketed for “use in all the world”, simply cannot hold up to this level of cultural knowledge and impact.