Bringing authentic materials into the language classroom has definite benefits. With a teacher’s support, “real” language becomes more accessible. However, there are some dangers we need to avoid. Pitfalls include:
- Selecting texts that are too advanced. Many authentic texts, especially in the media and academia, are too challenging for lower level students. The vocabulary and grammar used by the writer present unfamiliar items in too large of a number to allow adequate comprehension. Even for upper level students, we need to be sensitive to the amount of new information and the number of unfamiliar words and structures.
- Restricting exposure to authentic materials among the lower levels. Authentic doesn’t necessarily mean complex. Simple advertisements or excerpts from song lyrics can present digestible chunks of real language to lower level students.
- Presenting too much at one time. As mentioned above, students need manageable amounts of authentic text. An article might superbly discuss and exciting topic from several points of view, but for the purpose of a language lesson, does the entire article need to be discussed? Sometimes an excerpt will suffice, and students can be encouraged to finish the text on their own. In other cases, simply breaking the text into parts over the course of a lesson or two different lessons makes the material more digestible.
- Working with a text quickly and superficially. A single reading even with a teacher’s support doesn’t allow a student to get the most he or she can from the material. Increased familiarity allows for heightened sensitivity, and chances are with multiple readings a student will pick up on a language item completely on his or her own. You may be using the text to call attention to the used of adverb clauses, but during the second or third reading one student may take note of a new idiom. Another student may finally realize the correct way to punctuate a direct quote. If possible, you may be able to recycle the same text in the context of more than one lesson with the same group of students. One day the focus may be on the grammar of the text. Another day you may base a class discussion on it.
In my next posting, I’ll share specific ways an authentic text can be used in the context of a lesson. Perhaps you’ll recall activities and strategies you’ve used as well.