Authentic Vs Graded Material in Second Languages

What are the pros and cons of using authentic versus graded material in the second language classroom?

Julio Foppoli
Authentic vs. Graded Material in Second Languages

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.

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Julio Foppoli

Julio Foppoli, Teacher of English as a Second Language, Teacher of Spanish as a Second Language, 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. The website offers free listening comprehension activities with Spanish from all of the Spanish speaking world.

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  • Mousumi Dutta

    Please tell me the exact meaning of graded listening

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Mousumi

      Graded listening refers to listening materials and/or comprehension tasks that are adapted to the level of the learners. So as a learner progresses, the “difficulty” of these is increased.

  • Sarah

    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 classroom teaching. There is no theoretical, empirical or 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 creatively devised for classroom use can help learners develop their L2 acquisition.

  • Lourdes

    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.

  • Keith profile photo
    Keith Taylor

    Farhan, please have a look at these two articles and their comments for specific song ideas… Using pop songs and 9 Reasons Why You Should Use Songs to Teach EFL.

  • Farhan

    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 you send one sample song along with different ways of exploiting it in the classroom?

  • Svetlana

    It’s obvious that we should use authentic materials in teaching English. But why use them only for teaching grammar? I am convinced that it is useful to provide young learners with authentic rhymes (nursery rhymes) and original books. 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).

  • Andy

    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.

  • Yelena

    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 would suggest using authentic materials in classes for more advanced students, who are more aware of English grammar and won’t get confused.

    • Kurt

      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?

  • Noel

    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!

  • Mark

    Hi. Thanks for the article. I can relate to what is said here. I have found that at Intermediate and above, the students 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.

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