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Why should language educators use authentic materials in their teaching?

By Sanako Blog on July, 13 2022

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Sanako is a Finnish Educational Tech company helping schools and language teachers to improve language teaching efficiency and results.

From textbooks to timetables and from menus to movies, there’s a multitude of different materials and resources for language educators to use in their teaching. Yet for many educators, the most effective and engaging resources they use are materials created in the target language they’re teaching. These truly expose learners to how the language is actually spoken and used in the real world.

Such resources are commonly referred to as authentic materials. Their rise to prominence has coincided with the increasing use of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and associated versions of this approach (including Content-Based Instruction (CBI) and Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT)) place significant emphasis on the use of authentic materials. But what are authentic materials, how can educators source the right content and how can they be best deployed in classrooms? This blog post aims to give you all the answers!

 

What are authentic language learning materials?

Thornbury (2006) defines authentic materials as any learning resources that have not been originally made for classroom teaching. As such Morrow’s 1977 quote on authentic discourse is also highly applicable:

"...a stretch of real language, produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to convey a real message of some sort."

Authentic materials have not been specifically created for second language learners and make no deliberate attempt to address specific grammar, vocabulary or learning objectives. What makes them so useful is that they’re developed on the assumption that readers can understand the language used at the level of a native speaker or close to it.

The best authentic materials therefore come from genuine sources like news organisations and podcasts but could also include bus timetables, menus, pictures, novels, songs or TV programmes. Educators can create active and engaging lesson content around the authentic material, all carefully tailored to the ability of their learners.

 

Why should language teachers use authentic materials in the classroom?

There’s a host of compelling reasons why these materials are really powerful tools in supporting your students’ learning. A summary of the most notable advantages follows below.

  • Authentic materials provide real-life examples of the language actually used in everyday situations.
  • Educators can introduce content relating to topical or local news / events. 
  • As such, authentic materials can add more engagement and interest for the learner. 
  • The real and rich language found in authentic materials provides an invaluable source of quality input that language learners need for language acquisition.
  • They build students’ understanding of and integration into their chosen target culture.
  • Authentic materials allow and inspire language teachers to become more creative in the content they deliver in their lessons
  • Exposing learners to authentic materials treats them as native speakers. This helps improve their confidence and overall learning experience.

Importantly, this point also introduces the most commonly disadvantage claimed against the use of authentic materials in the classroom - that they’re only suitable for higher ability students. But this is, of course, the whole point! As the British Council suggests: “Your text, written or recorded, is likely to be too hard, even, in some cases, for advanced students. The trick, regardless of the text used, is not to edit and grade the text, but to grade the task according to your students' abilities.”

 

So how do I choose the right authentic materials?

Of course, finding and then choosing the right authentic materials to use can be a difficult and very time consuming process. But here are some tips on what to look out for.

High-quality authentic materials are widely produced by leading online newspapers, book and magazine publishers and podcasts in all global languages. Take the time to check the content for suitability before incorporating it into your lesson plans!

Once you’ve found some suitable content, it’s also worth thinking through the following:

  • How can the resource be easily used in your lessons? Where’s the fit with the curriculum you’re teaching?
  • Do the resources challenge but not overwhelm your students? This relates to their language skills, their age and their reason for learning.
  • Is this resource interesting / relevant to your students?
  • Does it contravene social norms, traditions and expected behaviours?
  • How does the resource reflect a situation that learners might actually face when using their target language for real?

It’s also important to start small and short and build from there. So start by choosing authentic materials that aren’t too difficult or too long to begin with - once your students know what to expect, you can introduce more difficult resources.

An effective alternative to the above is to ask your students to source material that fits given criteria. They can then present their choices to peers explaining the content chosen and highlighting the reasons why they are recommending it.

 

How can I use authentic materials most effectively?

As outlined above, the use of authentic materials can be a powerful stimulus for learning in all language classrooms. In most cases, a piece of “authentic” text can be deployed in the classroom in the same manner as a traditional textbook. Pre-reading / preparation activities can be deployed to help students to think carefully about what they’re reading and form the basis for comprehension tests, quizzes and conversation activities that might follow. 

Indeed as Preply identify a news headline or article could be used by a creative and skilful teacher to generate

  • A prediction activity: After reading the headline, ask students to predict what happened next.
  • A research and writing activity: Have students research the story and write their own blog post.
  • A debate: Give students roles and have them prepare an argument (via a peer or in a group) based on the content. 
  • A grammar transformation activity: Have students rewrite the headline using different tenses or in the passive voice, for example.

As with other language learning activities it may be necessary for educators to provide careful scaffolding around the content so that learners can use their background language knowledge and interpretive strategies to understand the material presented. Educators should also avoid translating any new words and expressions that appear in the materials. After all, in authentic situations, students will not have such assistance and should begin to develop coping strategies to continue communicating.

 

How can Sanako products support the use of authentic materials?

Sanako’s market-leading tools include a wealth of unique features that help language educators to use authentic materials in their teaching. It’s why the world’s leading educational institutions choose Sanako as their preferred supplier to support online and in-person lesson delivery. 

Sanako solutions enable educators to:

  • Create lessons that grab their students' attention, are creative and which make use of a wide variety of different authentic stimulus material. Sanako Connect makes it easy for teachers to upload a wide variety of learning material for students to use. Any number of interactive content, PDFs, presentations, YouTube videos and web pages can, for example, be easily attached to an online lesson plan and shared with students.

 

An example role-play activity using authentic material from English literature.

Connect_Narrating an audio book-min


  • Make lesson resources easy to find and to access synchronously and asynchronously. In Connect, students can flexibly participate in lessons from anywhere with an internet connection and can conveniently access all of the language lesson resources within a single application.
  • Tailor their teaching to every student’s needs. Sanako Connect helps language educators to identify student engagement with each lesson and each sub part. Connect notifies the teacher when, for example, students recorded their speaking practice or whether they opened the translation exercise. Teachers can clearly identify progress (or the lack of) and address areas for improvement with targeted lessons and resources.
  • Offer a wide range of opportunities to practice core language skills. In fact, Sanako Connect has been specifically designed to increase the time each student spends speaking and actively practising conversations during classes whether you teach in the classroom, in hybrid mode or remotely.

 

Click here to learn more about how Sanako Connect supports language teachers and students. Contact us now to book a FREE remote demo with one of our experts.

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