Authentic Materials

Authentic Materials

One of the important principles of communicative language teaching is that authentic language should be used in instruction whenever possible (Omaggio-Hadley, 1993).  But some of the problems are determining what authentic materials are, why it is important to use authentic material in the classroom, and what are the sources for authentic materials? Taken from Peacock (1997), the definition of authentic materials is the materials that have been produced to fulfill some social purpose in the language community. Martinez (2002) defined that ¡°Authentic would be material designed for native speakers of English used in the classroom in a way similar to the one it was designed for¡± (p.1). In this section, the advantages of using authentic materials in language teaching will be explored, and also the drawbacks of using them will be discussed.

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The advantages of using authentic materials in language teaching.

There are many references to authentic material in the language teaching literature (Martinez, 2000; Nunan, 1999; Spelleri, 2002; Widdowson, 1990). Those authors who support the use of authentic materials share a common idea which is ¡°exposure¡±. By using authentic materials in the classroom, even when it is not in an authentic situation, it still provides the learners with many significant advantages (Martinez, 2000). Martinez (2000) summarized several benefits of using authentic materials. The first one is that by using authentic material, students are exposed to real discourse, as in videos of interview with famous people where intermediate students listen for general idea. Secondly, authentic materials keep students informed about what is happening in the world, so they have an intrinsic educational value. Thirdly, as language change is reflected in the materials so that students and teachers can keep abreast of such changes. Fourthly, reading texts are ideal to teach/practise mini-skills such as scanning, e.g. students are given a news article and asked to look for specific information. Also, teachers can have students practice some of the micro-skills of listening, e.g. basically, students listen to news reports and they are asked to identify the names of countries, famous people, etc. Fifthly, different authentic materials such as books, articles, newspapers, and so on contain a wide variety of text types, and language styles not easily found in conventional teaching materials. Thus, it can help student extend their vocabulary and help memorize them in a number of meaningful recyclings. Lastly, authentic materials can encourage reading for pleasure because they are likely to contain topics of interest to learners, especially if students are given the chance to have a say about the topics of kinds of authentic materials to be used in class. As a result, learners will keep high motivation and interesting in language teaching through these meaningful interactions with the materials. Nunan (1999) also supports,

The use of authentic sources leads to greater interest and variety in the material  that learners deal with in the classroom. This authentic material helps bring the contact to life, and ultimately makes learning and using language more meaningful, and, ultimately, easily for students¡± (p. 212)

Spelleri (2002) makes a more practical case for using authentic materials with her adult immigrant learners. She argues that authentic materials offer real language that is contextually rich and culturally pertinent. These materials have a high interest value because of their relevance and because there are at least three layers of learning embedded within them: language learning, cultural insights, and practical application. Authentic materials can customize what textbooks have to make generic because of mass marketing consideration. They can help learners ¡°bridge the gap from the classroom lesson to real life by making immediate use of classroom lessons in their lives¡± (Spelleri, 2002. p.3). By exposing learners to authentic language can help them develop their predication skills and improve their strategies for dealing with uncertainty in understanding or using target language.

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The drawbacks of using authentic material in language teaching.

However, there are drawbacks to using authentic materials in their raw form without adaptation or support. Gardener and Miller (1999) mentioned several disadvantages. The first disadvantage is the complexity of the language. Authentic materials may be too culturally biased or too difficult to understand outside the language community thereby making them inaccessible to beginners or elementary learners. The second disadvantage is the learning burden. Authentic materials may contain items, particularly vocabulary, which are of low frequency and of peripheral use to the learner and may never be encountered again. The third disadvantage is that in learning contexts where authentic target-language materials are not readily available, obtaining them can be time consuming and frustrating. Martinez (2002) also mentioned two other weaknesses of using authentic materials. One is that some authentic listening materials have so many different accents that it is very hard for the learner to understand. The other is that the materials can become outdated easily, such as news in newspapers or magazines. Due to these reasons, some teachers may be frustrated by selecting and preparing these authentic materials for their learners.

Regardless of the drawbacks above of using authentic materials, if our teachers are enthusiastic and take advantage of the benefits and use them properly and in sufficient quantities, we may motivate our learners (Gardner & Miller, 1999). There are many sources of authentic materials (Gardner & Miller, 1999), such as newspapers, magazines, user manuals, leaflets and brochures, TV and radio programmes, videos, literature, songs, etc.  

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