This paper is going to look into definition of authentic materials and classification of
these materials. It will also look into what an instructor should consider before choosing a
particular authentic material. Specific authentic materials that this paper shall discuss are texts,
the internet and films. Under each authentic material, there shall be discussion on the pros and
cons for each and how they can be made better authentic materials. A discussion into why
authentic learning materials should be used shall follow there and as with anything that is
positive there has to be drawback to it. Hence, general disadvantages of authentic learning
materials as language learning resources have also been dealt with. Finally, a brief conclusion
into the use of authentic learning materials in language learning has also been explore.
Concept of Authenticity
One of the most vital resources in learning a foreign language is the use of authentic
learning materials. The concept of authentic materials has been defined as those which have been
produced for purposes other than to teach. They can be culled from many different sources:
Video clips, recordings of authentic interactions, extras from television, radio, newspapers, signs,
maps and charts, photographs and pictures, timetables and schedules. These are just a few of the
sources which have been tapped. (Nuna, 1985)
Widdowson (1990) has defined authenticity as natural language behavior. Authenticity
can be taken in the class situation to mean self-actualization, intrinsic motivation, respect and
moral integrity in interpersonal relations (Lee, 1995). Authentic materials are materials that are
not created or edited for language learners. They just happen to be inexistence to serve a totally
different purpose but end up doubling as a language resource. Therefore, almost every object in
the target language can be used as authentic material. Use of authentic materials in language
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 3
learning helps students develop their own strategies for learning a new language and inhibits
them from being dependent on simplified language.
There are four types of authenticity advanced by Breen (1995) which are authenticity of
the texts which an instructor may use as a resource for his students, Authenticity of tasks which
contribute to learning of language, authenticity of the actual real life situation in the classroom
and authenticity of the learner’s understanding of authentic texts. Language teachers will choose
an authentic material depending on: Its authenticity of the text, content suitability, how
compatible it is with the course objectives and if the material has potential for further exploration
Materials are the resources used in language learning. They present the learners with
different modalities of language use; spoken, written, technological communication, different
language registers and to input that goes beyond the teacher’s (Kennedy, 1998). Materials can be
considered to be authentic because they are designed by native speakers for native speakers.
Authentic materials expose learners to real contemporary language use instead of the idealized
form. Traditionally, the main language material has been the textbook. This has been
supplemented in recent times by other written texts, video or audio texts, music and multimedia.
Authentic materials have been classified into: Authentic viewing/listening materials: films, TV
commercials, radio and TV broadcasts cartoons, news clips, sales pitches, radio advertisements,
documentaries, songs, professionally done audio-taped novels and short stories, movies and soap
operas. The other classification is visual materials which include Newspapers, journals, internet
websites, letters/emails, bank leaflets, application forms, paintings, children’s artwork, wordless
street signs, ink blots, postcard pictures, stamps, slides, business cards, brochures, catalogues,
receipts, photographs and x-rays. The last categorization is real world authentic material: Phones,
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 4
dolls, puppets, folded paper, wall clocks currency or anything that can be used visually to role-
play situations (Devit et al, 1988).
When developing authentic learning materials, a language teacher should be able to provide
responses to the following questions: What opportunities does the resource provide in exploiting
language and culture, How does the resource contribute in enhancing target language acquiring,
in what ways does the resource enable learners to make connections between their own lives and
experiences and the target language with its speakers and what sort of learning will the resource
enable and what will it build on?
Authenticity and Task
It is important to note however that the authenticity of a text does not always lie on the
legitimacy of a text, but also with task. Input of knowledge via texts is good but on its own it is
not enough, there is needs to utilize tasks in teaching language. Pedagogical tasks provide
learners with opportunities for production and chances to focus on aspects of form in the target
language (Dastgoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2001). Therefore, a teacher needs to know just the same
way he applied authenticity to texts he can also use authenticity to pedagogical tasks in a
resourceful manner. Task authenticity has four aspects: Authenticity through a genuine purpose
where it explores if real communication happens and if the language has been used for a real
purpose. The real focus in this aspect is on meaning and communication where students have
opportunities to mingle naturally where there will be natural acquisition of language and
increased fluency. These tasks will give faster results than grammar drills which socialize
learners to understand it from onset (Dastgoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2001).
Another aspect of task authenticity is that the tasks must be related to real world tasks.
Students can engage in real world tasks like renting apartment and getting a bus pass. Classroom
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 5
based pedagogical tasks need to be near approximations of real world target tasks and learners
can role play them. Besides the relation to real world tasks, pedagogical tasks can also focus on
classroom interactions. All class activities do serve as good authentic material with potential for
communication (Dastgoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2001). These activities can be students paired up
into groups for discussion, giving of feedbacks to the teacher and homework tasks. The last
aspect of authentic tasks is that the learners need to take on the task and view it as worth it. It is
this notion that will play a huge role in students accepting the task as authentic that they will be
genuinely taken on its purpose and get its relevance. A task can be made to be authentic to the
learners by the teacher’s careful explanation of its rationale.
Task authenticity and its limitations
At times, task authenticity is compromised when working with low level students.
Selection of difficulty tasks have been equated to language complexity and cognitive load. For
this level of students, they engage in tasks which are relatively simple. However, these simple
tasks are still useful resources for communicative purposes since they are still true approximation
of the real world target tasks (Dastgoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2001).
Another limitation is the separation between text and task. This separation is only synthetic
since in real classrooms situation, language input and output all take place as part of an
integrated process of communication. Hence current instructional texts are used as an incentive
to tasks (Dastgoshadeh & Jalilzadeh, 2001).
Texts are used as authentic learning materials particularly in class situations. In using
texts, learners are exposed to real language where the examples and texts in textbooks are
invented hence the syntax and lexis used are modified to meet the learner’s level in language
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 6
learning (Guarinto, 2001). Textbooks that are going to be authentic need to be realistic and the
book’s content must be real life experience and the people recognizable as human beings be able
to bear witness to the content.
Textbooks are also good authentic materials since they provide both the teacher and
learner with a more considered syllabus and structure than week by week lesson planning from
the teacher (Harmer, 2001). The syllabus reduces gaps in learning and the learner is aware how
the lessons are/will progress since textbooks outline this.
They have enough research evidence and teachers adapt commercial materials that they
can use as bridge to complement the textbooks. In so doing, they act as prompters to creativity
since they allow input to them (Johns, 1997). Activities required in the textbook also add
knowledge to teachers and learners alike.
Textbooks are also products of many years of research and dialogue between teachers,
writers and publishers. They also make teachers’ work easier by doing most of the work for
them. When using textbooks as resource materials, there is no tension between sound pedagogy
and product marketability (Harmer, 2001).
Inauthenticity of Textbooks
Textbooks are faulted because they have been found to understate disciplinary variation
in style and language. They are found to rely too much on intuition or folk beliefs when
attempting to describe academic discourse norms. Textbooks need to be more based more on
research (Harwood, 2003).
Textbooks are used as teaching manual yet they do not provide the true academic
discourse picture. Granted, most language teachers are more or less unqualified on pedagogical
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 7
issues, they end up using textbooks as sole guide without writing knowledge of their own and
this results to misinformation of the students as well (Luke et al, 1989).
Textbooks have been viewed by students as an authority, true source of knowledge and
they accept it unconditionally even when most of the times the contents are at odd with research
evidence. In the same vein, many writers have become ‘big names’ because they know what
discipline will be a commercial success but in real sense they lack theoretical knowledge and
classroom experience. Writers have also been criticized to lack language learning theory
knowledge, methodology and fail to explain the rationale behind the selection of language to be
taught (Harmer, 2001).
Textbooks become problematic as resource material since they are not designed to meet
student’s particular needs, respond to their local needs or give content that is relevant to them.
Artificially written texts lack natural coherence and as a result learners miss the opportunity to
see formation of the text structure (Harmer, 2001).
Inathenticity: Sample Text
The sample text has many grammar drills that require students will need students to
master what is required of them in advance. For instance, students will need to know about
reduction (p27) which is more of intermediate level than beginner. Besides, recorded teaching
aids tend to be delivered at a faster rate than the normal discourse. Such exercises would be more
relevant and authentic if such drills were done by a native speaker and in person because then a
learner can observe movements of the speech organs, intonation and diction.
Learning of vocabulary can be tough even for a native speaker of a language. A second
language learner finds it harder to study vocabulary like colloquial expressions. Expressions like
cats ‘n’ dogs need to be delayed for later stages before learning them. The exercise on camping
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 8
also tests on synonyms and it cannot be easy for a student to provide words with alternative
meanings when in the first place they are not yet comfortable with the first meaning.
Making the Sample Text more Authentic
Generally, texts are considered to be difficult linguistically and may not seem relevant.
The sample exercises can be made simpler for easier comprehension by the students. This can be
achieved through adaptation. Adapting will depend on the age and level of the student. It can be
done at the levels of semantic levels, lexical elements, discourse statements and syntactic
elements. Semantic will mean meaning of connotation of words. It is important that words used
don’t have double meaning where a student will be confused on the intended meaning. For
instance on the Camping exercise, the word ‘incredible’ has been used in this instance to mean
unbelievable or very surprising. As an adjective, depending on context it can have several
meanings like absurd, implausible, far-fetched, awesome and perfect. Therefore there is need for
learners to be first tested/made aware of word’s original meanings. Lexical elements will refer to
the usage of difficult words and phrases. In adapting lexical elements, a teacher will look into
using frequently used words, idioms which are culture bound, verbal complexity and ambiguity.
For instance, in the exercises, there is the term winter break. Winter break is not common and a
student learning English in Africa can have problems since the continent only experiences a
warm climate where the cold season does not escalate to what can be referred to as winter. Also,
school year in Africa begins in January.
Syntactical elements take into account punctuation, elliptical forms/deletions, different
structures like passive forms and parallelism. Other sentence elements that can be looked into
under syntax are modifiers and inverted structures. In the exercises, (p31) there is an exercise on
taking notes on specific information. The sentences to be filled have deletions which may be a
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 9
source of confusion more so when trying to figure out which words were done away with in the
process of ellipsis. For example ‘decided to go’ instead of ‘I decided to,’ ‘Weather was’ instead
of ‘The weather was’ among many others. It would therefore be more authentic if the original
sentences were maintained. It can be made more authentic by being complemented with live
simulations in form of lecturers which offer students opportunity for live interaction. To integrate
the textbooks effectively in a language classroom the teacher can also come up with tasks for
partial comprehension (Harmer, 2001).
The internet is a very useful authentic resource in language. In internet usage as an
authentic material there is emphasis that every word they master is essential as it helps to boost
their confidence and it gives them a sense of achievement. The internet which falls under
information technology influences learning from the perspectives: Social, cultural and value.
(Heemskerk et al). It is advantageous since it has different language styles, different text types
and uploaded interviews from news websites that are recent and in proper target language. These
may not be available in books.
Different text types mean that chances are very high that the learner will find something
that is interesting to them and this may serve as grounds for further reading. This means the
internet creates authentic learning environment which allows reading, writing, listening into one
(Warschauer, 1996). In so doing, the learner will develop desired skills like skimming, summary
making, extensive reading, essay and email writing, mapping and sorting. These skills can grow
deeper into oral performance which could be conversations, newscasts, interviews, presentations,
lecture giving, report writing and presentation and newscasts. The internet can prove to be very
effective since there are fewer activities that require identifying or producing of every word
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 10
given by the teacher and again learning is student-centered meaning all power has been
transferred to the student.
Advantages of the Internet as an Authentic Resource
Once internet learning has progressed to be two-way learning process, it becomes quite
effective authentic material which promotes competence in listening and critical thinking as well
as interacting with others. Learners in using the internet take responsibility in interactions and
enhance development of independent learning skills. In cases where the content interests the
learner, it can be taken to relate to the learner’s own experience.
Technology use increases learner’s language learning motivation by allowing them to
choose activities, media sources and content topics which are most suitable to their style of
learning and interests (Prensky, 2008).
Inauthenticity of the Internet
In the course of their internet usage, a student may find words that are difficult to
understand since not every vocabulary is relevant to the student’s immediate needs. Internet
surfing can prove to be very time consuming to search, select and collect necessary authentic
materials. This calls for special preparation which may proof to be hard due to time
Internet lacks natural intonation, repetition of forms and phrases, redundancy, overlap
between speakers, background noises, turn taking, false starts, accents and dialects all of which
are characteristics of a natural discourse. All these are quite essential in the natural learning of a
new language. While surfing, a learner can come across headlines, signs, adverts, abbreviations
that need precise knowledge of the subject or cultural background which in most cases the
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 11
language learner lacks. The internet does contain authentic materials that have become outdated
for example articles and news stories.
Audio Visual: Film and TV Shows
Gilmore (2007) films and TV shows give a richer source of input for learners and
increase the potential to be exploited in different ways on different levels to develop
communicative competence of the learner. Most importantly in watching films, learners naturally
acquire the sense of language in action in the aspired target language. Language in action entails
participants using language to refer to action in an easy way since it is taking place before their
eyes (McCarthy and Carter, 1995). Further, there is no need for elaboration since a lot of
knowledge is shared and some references can be mutually taken for granted. In other times while
watching films, scenes are not clearly elaborated since viewers recognize and understand them
from watching previous scenes. This is very similar to what transpires in daily life. Language in
action and shared knowledge are very common and natural for one to be able to articulate them.
Learning a target language via film can lead learners to realize a fresh these concepts and help
them develop performance and target language such as facial expressions and body language
(Higuch, 1998). While watching films, language learners may not be directly involved in the
language interaction but they are pseudo participants in the film.
Films facilitate continuous stream of speech with reduced sounds and stammering which
are characteristics of everyday discourse. For learners to deal spontaneously with real
conversations in the target language, they can benefit from trying to grasp these forms by
listening. Films with sound and pictures expose learners to language in action. Besides, learners
are exposed to highly pseudo-real spoken language in target language. This can be beneficial in
the initial part of listening then the higher skill of producing what they have acquired.
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 12
Films can be abused and used for pleasure only. For children who may not be responsible
enough to desist from this abuse, there is need to be chaperoned by an adult while watching
them. In movies, actors/actresses speak very fast for a language learner so in my opinion
listening via headphones will of great help. This way, a learner will master word’s diction faster.
Also, the machine being used to watch the film should have the options of pause and rewind for
the learner to learn at their own pace. It would also be of great help if the film have subscript
wording in target language so the learner can affirm what they heard and observe the word’s
Why Authentic Materials
Authentic materials make language learning become natural. They simplify and alter it
for easier understanding purposes and give clues to word meanings. Authentic language
materials present students with a chance to deal with a small quantity of material which at the
same time contain complete and meaningful messages. Printed authentic materials give students
opportunity to make use of non-linguistic clues. These clues include colours, layout, pictures,
symbols and physical setting all of which help learners get the meaning faster. For adults who
are learning foreign language need to relate the relevance of classroom’s content to the outside
world and authentic materials make this a reality (Breen, 1985).
General Short Comings of Authentic Materials
Authentic materials in language learning have proven to be very beneficial however they
do have shortcomings. Linguistically, they tend to be difficult with complex syntactic patterns
and vocabulary. In novels, stories, and in texts generally, new grammatical items arise which
require previous knowledge which may supersede the intermediate level which is what second
Authentic Materials in Language Learning 13
language learners possess in most cases. This in turn can cause learners to react negatively,
frustration and de-motivate them (Hymes, 1971).
In dealing with the above problems, I would suggest the linguistically complex syntactic
patterns be selected or used for lexical and syntactic complexity exercises. New grammatical
words and phrases can also be taken in stride as part of content familiarity and analyzing how
predictable language can be. These complexities can also be used to elicit inauthentic language
behaviour which in some contexts can be translated into authentic language behaviour.
Authentic materials in language learning have proven to be very beneficial: Educational
benefit, communication, information exchange and resource for development of professional
knowledge. Language learners encounter similar problems which include vocabulary, authentic
spoken language, length of texts, outdated learning materials. Authentic language materials can
be quite motivating to learners if they are used at the correct learner’s level. How the material
will be used in class situation should also be considered by the teacher. These authentic materials
can be used by the teacher to introduce real life communication examples to student s. Use of
authentic materials can prove to be very taxing but the results are usually visible for those
students who engage in the various activities required of them (Whitaker, 1995).
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