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Definition Of The Term Authentic Material English Language Essay

During the last decades, English language has been expanding considerably all over the world. In fact, people have started to talk about English language as the new global language. As a consequence of this impressive evolution, our nation has applied several educational measures to the general curriculum of education in order to teach correctly English as a second language in schools. The creation of the program “Inglés abre puertas” and the changes made to the studying plans of MINEDUC are clear examples of this initiative. Notwithstanding, these attempts of improving the English level in our students did not work at all. Last year, a proficiency test called SIMCE was taken so as to evaluate the level of English language in students of third year of high school, and the results obtained by this assessment were really deficient. Indeed, 89% of all students evaluated were not able to certificate a basic level of English. In light of this pitiful scenario, this paper proposes the use of authentic materials as an interesting and useful ESL teaching technique which can contribute to ameliorate the low level of English in students. In the following paragraphs, it will be stated the definition of the concept ‘authentic materials’ in the ESL field and the sources where teachers can get them. Furthermore, guidelines for the correct selection of these teaching materials will be provided, and the advantages of using them will be described in detail and supported firmly.

As the title of this project says, the subject of study is the use of authentic materials in ESL lessons. Thereby, it is necessary to start by defining what authentic materials really are. Firstly, the conceptualization of teaching/learning materials has to be stated concisely and explicitly. In essence, the term material refers to resources in the classroom which students are able to use with the purpose of improving and complementing their learning process. For instance, a book, a photocopied handout, a poster, a flashcard, a whiteboard, or any technological equipment can be defined as material because they act in a complementary way in the teaching/learning process and include the characteristics mentioned before. As Tomlinson (1998) asserts, they are “anything which is used to help to teach language learners.… anything which presents or informs about the language being learned.”(p.11).

Although it is easy to delineate the meaning of the term teaching/learning materials, the concept of authenticity is a bit more complex of classifying since there are several different authors who have attempted to define it in the field of second language teaching. For example, Heitler (2005) states that “authentic materials are any texts written by native English speakers for native English speakers” (p.5), while Tomlinson (1998) ascertains that an authentic text is “a text not written or spoken for language teaching purposes.” Likewise, Kramsh (1993) adds “the term ‘authentic’ has been used as a reaction against the prefabricated artificial language of textbooks and instructional dialogues, it refers to the way language is used in non-pedagogic, natural communication”, and Little and Singleton (1988) declares that “an authentic text is a text that was created to fulfill some social purpose in the language community in which it was produced”. In the same line, Harmer (1991) defines authentic texts as “materials which are designed for native speakers; they are real texts; designed not for language students, but for the speakers of the language”, and Sanderson (1999) complements the description of authentic materials saying that they are “materials that we can use with the students in the classroom and that have not been changed in any way for ESL students. A classic example would be a newspaper article that’s written for a native-English-speaking audience” (p.3). As it can be seen, there is a spectrum of distinct conceptualizations of authenticity. However, there is an agreement with some specific characteristics of genuine resources among the definitions established before. One of those shared features is the non-pedagogic purpose. Authentic materials are not produced nor adapted so as to be used for teaching or learning a second language; in fact, they are taken as genuine as possible from the reality. In this way, the artificiality of language is avoided completely. A positive consequence since “the artificial nature of the language and structures used, make them very unlike anything that the learner will encounter in the real world and very often they do not reflect how the language is really used” (Berardo, 2006, p.62). In order to complete this pursuit of genuineness, it is essential to obtain materials produced by native speakers. They interact with their peers inevitably in the target language because it is their innate language. Actually, there is not a better version of spoken or written English than the one made by the people who lives in English spoken cultures, so native production becomes another key aspect in the classification of authentic materials. Considering that any interaction between two native speakers can be used as an authentic material, it is unavoidable to look for common situations with the intention of getting real communication in English. Every person uses his own language to transmit a message to other person, and this process of normal communication among people has to be captured so as to have the authenticity desired in ESL teaching. Thus, real communication is a vital facet in the conceptualization authentic materials. In sum, the three basic characteristics of authentic materials are non-pedagogic purpose, native production, and real communication. For the purpose of this paper, authentic materials will be classified and identified in respect of those features.

Nowadays, there is a huge variety of different sources where materials with the characteristics established before can be found, so the task of selection of adequate genuine resources has become a tough one. Even though, the globalized world offers multiple options to look for proper authentic materials for ESL lessons, there are three prime sources which are the most typical used: internet, literature, and mass media. The first one provides a limitless range of useful materials for ESL classroom. In internet, teachers can find podcast, videos, songs, websites, images, advertising, and plenty of other resources which can serve as authentic materials. All these resources possess the benefits of being constantly updated, and additionally most of them are interactive. Unquestionably, this source is the one which contains more available resources among the three named before, and the procedure of searching for specific information is easy to do as well. These advantages of abundance and easiness plus the others mentioned above make internet a valuable source for ESL teaching. Opposite to the advantages of internet, literature works with others aspects of language. It does not provide many resources to be used as authentic materials; indeed, it mainly provides books. Despite the fact that poems and fairy tales can also be utilized for ESL teaching, they are not applied in lessons in a frequent mode. In regard to books, they not only serve as genuine resources for English teaching/learning, but they also function as a reflection of the community in which was written. From literature, students can extract relevant information about cultures and know in depth their linguistic characteristics. As Sanderson (1999) states, “language and cultures are intrexicably linked” (p.2), so the cultural background is an important advantage of using literature as a source. In addition to this benefit, there is a special contribution to students made by literature. Most of the books are written with the purpose of transferring human experiences to readers, and these experiences have an intrinsic emotional significance. Hence, teachers can use literature to teach students human values so as to educate them integrally. In that way, they will be exploiting totally these authentic materials, and completing one of the major tasks for educators. By the same token, the other main source for finding genuine resources exhibits benefits akin to the previous ones. Mass media play an essential role in the communication of modern society, and their relevance can be demonstrated with the fact that today people are informed about all the important events which happen in the world due to their communicative labor. Mass media function as a way of global communication, and their product is abounding and immediate information. There are several resources from mass media which can be utilized for ESL teaching as magazines, TV programs, live radio and newspapers, but just the last mentioned provides numerous benefits as authentic material. According to Sanderson (1999), there are numerous reasons to use newspapers in classroom, and the stronger ones are general educational value, cultural background, reader interest, and varieties of English. The first one refers basically to the fact that newspapers inform people about what is happening in the world and elaborate on their general knowledge about their reality. The second one refers to the reflection of the culture where a newspaper is written in the language used within it. It is similar to the contribution of books in ESL lessons. The third reason is explained by the assortment of topics and sections which a newspaper contains. Due to that diversity of subjects, readers can be motivated and interested in working with them. The final argument points out the wide range of text types and language styles that newspapers offer to ESL teachers. It is not easy to find this multiplicity in others resources. In view of the advantages of using newspapers described before, they are definitely a beneficial and practical material for ESL teaching.

Regardless the fact that plenty of texts can be taken from the three prime sources named in the previous paragraph, it does not mean that all the materials contained in them will be appropriate for ESL teaching. Actually, many examples of language use could be too complex, or too informal for L2 pedagogy. Thus, there are certain criteria which serve as filter for this profusion of resources. According to Berardo (2006), some specific traits have to be pondered in the selection of authentic materials. The most important one is the suitability of the text. The material has to be related to the needs of the students, and additionally it must be motivating for them. For instance, it will be absurd to use a conversation about the construction of a building between two engineers as a learning material if the learners are studying medicine or law because the resources utilized do not fit with the needs of the students. For this purpose, it is necessary to know as many aspects of the students as possible, so teachers can look for attractive and relevant genuine resources. A useful way of collecting likes and dislikes of students is the use of surveys. By using that technique, teachers can accrue the necessary knowledge about the target group so as to find apt materials. Other factor to consider in selecting materials is exploitability. The text which will be used in class must have a teaching purpose. It should demand coherent and significant tasks from students in order to be helpful for the ESL lesson. Even though authentic material contains real English language, they could not have a use in the classroom if they do not require students to do fruitful exercises. Consequently, the fact of providing native English language is not enough to select a material for an ESL lesson. The texts extracted from the sources must be compatible with the objectives of the class. In addition to this, the complexity of a text should be also considered in the process of deciding if a material is appropriate for ESL teaching. The language level of the genuine resource chosen must match with the language level of students. Linguistic features as structural and lexical ones can affect directly the understanding of students about the text, as well as the amount of new vocabulary and any new grammatical forms present in the material. A teacher cannot pretend to work with materials which their students are not even able to comprehend. The last element which needs consideration in the choice of proper teaching resources is presentation. The contextualization of the authentic material is a detail that cannot be sidestepped. Pictures, photographs, realia and concept maps can help students not only to grasp correctly the gist of the text, but also can aid to construct an imaginary image of the context in which the genuine resource was created. Besides, those elements add attractiveness to materials and stimulate students to learn the target language. The appearance of texts is the first aspect that students notice when materials a represented to them, so it is vital factor in the attempt of getting the attention of students. Considering the explanations and justifications of each criterion in the procedure of choosing materials, it would be beneficial for the teaching and learning of a second language to apply them. Therefore, teachers have to use the four criteria described thoroughly in the previous lines with the purpose of selecting practical and adequate materials for ESL lessons.

As it has been already defined the term authentic materials and has been proposed guidelines to select appropriately them, it is the time to say explicitly why genuine resources should be used in ESL classes since that argument is the gist of this research paper. In concise words, the main reason for utilizing genuine resources in ESL lessons is they provide varied and exclusive advantages to the teaching/learning process of English language. Actually, numerous investigators of the field as Nuttal, Widdowson, Berardo, or Martinez have identified many benefits from the use of authentic materials, and in the following lines the most important ones will be presented to support the idea stated.

The first and chief advantage of using authentic materials in ESL class is the exposure to real English. One of the central principles in the application of this kind of teaching resource is to immerse students to as much natural language as possible because learners are accustomed to receive an artificial version of the target language in their normal classes. Inevitably, the English language adapted to instructional purposes loses certain incidental features of genuine communication and reproduces the view of teaching designed by the people in charge, whereas using authentic materials provides readers with the chance to practice English with real models of language and to realize differences between communication of native speakers and non-native speakers. This last sentence offers a convenient bridge to explain the sense of achievement which will be the second advantage highlighted in this section. As students do not commonly work with authentic materials in English classes, they can feel afraid of misunderstanding the whole texts or committing mistakes when they will be working with them. The fear towards materials made in foreign countries affects directly the way in which students acquire the target dialect, and the sense of achievement can be explained with regard to that assumption. As it is believed that genuine resources are complex and hard to work with, students feel really happy and proud of themselves when they are able to grasp the main ideas of texts or to complete the tasks demanded for the material. Any improvement produced by learners pertaining to the comprehension and exploitation of authentic material will be significant for them. It is a unique and progressive procedure of delight in learners. Similar to the last benefit of using authentic materials, the next one is also concerned with the affective dimension of learners. Indeed, the third advantage which will be examined in depth is motivation. Generally, students react in a positive way upon the use of novel teaching/learning materials in everyday classes. These innovative pedagogic resources stimulate learners to practice language in an enthusiastic mode. Introducing authentic materials to an English lesson can attain the affective consequences named before since that kind of materials are unusual for students. Besides, genuine resources usually contain diverse visual stimuli which make them more appealing for learners. Videos, newspapers, brochures, and job advices are examples of that motivating characteristic. In light of the advantages about motivation and sense of achievement, it is important to mention that the affective factors of learning a second language have been investigated exhaustively during the last decades. As a matter of fact, Krashen (1977), who is considered one of the most important authors in the field of second language acquisition, states a hypothesis called affective filter which is about the relevance of feelings and attitudes in the L2 acquisition process. Returning to our focus, the fourth advantage of using authentic materials in ESL lessons is cultural background. By way of genuine resources are real communicative situations extracted from their natural context, there are traits of the context embed in them. Thus, cultural information about a country or a community can be obtained from the use of this type of teaching/learning material. Students not only learn a foreign language when using authentic materials, they also learn about cultures from different parts of the world. Thereby, learners can develop a global knowledge of the lifestyles outside of their country and be acquainted with what is going on in the world around them. In the section about sources of possible materials, there were described some resources which include this advantage as their primary characteristic. The final advantage which will be outlined against the use of common instructional materials is variety. This facet of the use of authentic material possesses two connotations. The first one refers to the multiplicity of types of texts that teachers can utilize as genuine resources. In the part of the paper where it was discussed the diversity of sources, there were named around twenty distinct authentic resources which can be utilized in ESL class. In there, it was demonstrated that there is an abundance of kinds of genuine resources, and teachers only have to select one according to their teaching purposes. Besides, this wide range of texts includes a variety of language styles too. Students can benefit from them, and develop their basic skills of English language. For example, learners can ameliorate their listening skill by hearing different accents in conversations extracted from native speakers from distinct countries, or they can improve their reading skill by comparing diverse writing styles presented in books which were made in different cultures. The second connotation refers to the assortment of topics which can be found in the sources of genuine resources. This mixture implicates teachers can choose materials considering likes and needs of their students and prepare a lesson which will be relevant and motivating for them. As it has been confirmed in previous paragraphs, the interest of students upon a learning resource can change radically the effectiveness of the class. With all these unique and practical features at their disposal, ESL teachers have to start questioning why they do not use authentic materials commonly in class because at the moment there is not a solid argument to stand out these advantages and benefits.

It is compulsory for ESL educators to investigate about different ways to teach English so as to possess a spectrum of distinct methodologies or techniques. Thereby, they can choose an appropriate one pondering the characteristics and needs of their target group of learners. In this respect, authentic materials are teaching resources easy to find and select, and additionally they provide exposure to real English, sense of achievement, motivation, cultural background and variety to ESL classes. Therefore, they must be considered as a valuable and useful teaching/learning material for teachers in the ESL field, and undoubtedly they must be used in a more frequent way in their lessons.

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