The Use of Authentic Materials in EFL Classrooms

syamsul ma'arif Kamis, Juli 12, 2012 | ,

The use of authentic materials in an EFL classroom is what many teachers involved in foreign language teaching have discussed in recent years. We have heard persuasive voices insisting that the English presented in the classroom should be authentic, not produced for instructional purposes. Generally, what this means is materials which involve language naturally occurring as communication in native-speaker contexts of use, or rather those selected contexts where standard English is the norm: real newspaper reports, for example, real magazine articles, real advertisements, cooking recipes, horoscopes, etc. Most of the teachers throughout the world agree that authentic texts or materials are beneficial to the language learning process, but what is less agreed is when authentic materials should be introduced and how they should be used in an EFL classroom.

Authentic Materials: Definition

The definitions of authentic materials are slightly different in literature. What is common in these definitions is 'exposure to real language and its use in its own community'. Rogers (1988) defines it as 'appropriate' and 'quality' in terms of goals, objectives, learner needs and interest and 'natural' in terms of real life and meaningful communication (p. 467). Harmer (1991), cited in Matsuta (n.d., para. 1) defines authentic texts as materials which are designed for native speakers; they are real text; designed not for language students, but for the speakers of the language. Jordan (1997, p. 113) refers to authentic texts as texts that are not written for language teaching purposes. Authentic materials is significant since it increases students' motivation for learning, makes the learner be exposed to the 'real' language as discussed by Guariento & Morley (2001, p. 347). The main advantages of using authentic materials are (Philips and Shettlesworth 1978; Clarke 1989; Peacock 1997, cited in Richards, 2001):
  • They have a positive effect on learner motivation.
  • They provide authentic cultural information.
  • They provide exposure to real language.
  • They relate more closely to learners ' needs.
  • They support a more creative approach to teaching.
We can claim that learners are being exposed to real language and they feel that they are learning the 'real' language. These are what make us excited and willing to use authentic materials in our classrooms, but while using them, it is inevitable that we face some problems.

Disadvantages of Using Authentic Materials

Richards (2001, p. 253) points out that alongside with these advantages, authentic materials often contain difficult language, unneeded vocabulary items and complex language structures, which causes a burden for the teacher in lower-level classes. Martinez (2002) mentions that authentic materials may be too culturally biased and too many structures are mixed, causing lower levels have a hard time decoding the texts. There comes the question of when authentic materials should be introduced and used in a classroom; in other words, can we use authentic materials regardless of our students' level?

Using Authentic Materials: At Which Level?

Guariento & Morley (2001) claim that at post-intermediate level, the use of authentic materials is available for use in classroom. This might be attributed to the fact that at this level, most students master a wide range of vocabulary in the target language and all of the structures. They also note that at lower levels, the use of authentic materials may cause students to feel de-motivated and frustrated since they lack many lexical items and structures used in the target language. Matsuata (n.d.) states that the use of authentic materials is a burden for the instructors teaching beginning students as they have to spend a lot of time to prepare for authentic materials regarding the ability level of the students.

Do all these mean we are not able to use authentic materials in lower-level classes apart from post-intermediate and advanced levels? According to the findings of the survey carried out by Chavez (1998), learners enjoy dealing with authentic materials since they enable them to interact with the real language and its use. Also they do not consider authentic situations or materials innately difficult. However, learners state that they need pedagogical support especially in listening situations and when reading literary texts such as the provision of a full range of cues (auditory and visual including written language).

What Can be Done to Overcome Difficulties We Face?

We may conclude that learners feel better with authentic materials helping them involve in the 'real' language as long as we, as teachers, provide them with pedagogical support. In order to achieve this, we have a wide range of choices.

Martinez (2002) suggests that teachers may use authentic materials for the learners to listen for the gist of the information presented and also he adds that by using authentic materials teachers will have the opportunity to encourage students to read for pleasure especially certain topics of their interest. Matsuta (n.d.) claims that using audio-visual materials aiding students' comprehension is beneficial since it will prevent students especially beginning ones from being frustrated about authentic materials. Materials such as popular and traditional songs will help us to create a non-threatening environment.

Guariento & Moley (2001) suggest that authentic materials should be used in accordance with students' ability and adds that suitable tasks can be given to learners in which total understanding is not important. According to Jordan (1997), in the earlier stages, non-authentic materials can be used, but stresses that upon students' dealing with materials from their own subject area, authentic materials should be introduced.

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