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Using authentic materials in developing receptive skills

Artykuł zawiera informacje na temat znaczenia materiałów autentycznych w nauczaniu języka angielskiego, jak również kryteria wyboru odpowiednich materiałów oraz ich źródła.

It is generally agreed that foreign language learners often learn artificial, unnatural language structures which are not, in fact, used in every day life or they learn vocabulary items or certain structures by heart without understanding them. "'Classroom language is unnatural' means in practice that language use in the classroom is different and distinguishable from language use elsewhere. In addition, it implies that language use is natural in all places, except in classrooms" (Leo van Lier, 1996:123).

The reason why some second language teachers provide authentic materials in their classrooms is that they want their learners "to be able to cope with the same kinds of reading that are encountered by native speakers of the target language" (P.Ur, 1996: 150). Similar reasons are for listening. Learning with the usage of authentic materials help students deal with the language used in real life as it presents some situations in the context. It is generally agreed that it can be very valuable for the students of foreign languages. Classroom listening seems to be very easy in comparison with the real life situations. As the research show, many students have problems with understanding ‘real' language although they were very good at listening in the classroom. That is the reason for providing authentic listening materials in teaching ESL students.

Using authentic materials in teaching receptive skills, i.e. reading and listening skills, seems to be a good idea at almost every level of teaching. It appears that it can be especially helpful at higher levels of education from intermediate up to adult learners. However some sources, like songs that learners can hear every day in the radio or TV, may be used at lower levels as well.

Selection criteria

To choose which authentic materials to use in the classroom we have to reflect on some basic criteria. First of all, the material should be chosen cautiously. The exact purpose of the tasks the students will perform using the material should be known. There are four major factors that influence the choice of materials. They are:

1. topic,
2. target language area,
3. skills,
4. students needs and interests (suitability of the content).

The most important criterion is the appropriateness of the topic. Before choosing a given material the teacher should answer two fundamental questions - if the topic is interesting for the students and is it suitable for their age.

Another criterion the teacher has to take into consideration is the length. As it was said before, some articles and listening materials are too long and it is easier for the students to lose concentration while reading or listening to them. It may be both too demanding and discouraging for the learners. If we decide that a chosen article is too long we can edit it by omitting or cutting some paragraphs off.

Next important selection criterion is the language content that the given materials provide. When choosing the materials we should think of the usefulness of contained lexical sets, grammar exponents, syntax and writing style. Preparing the tasks for the students we should know how the language can be exploited and the tasks themselves have to be suitable and as realistic as possible.

What is also very important is the students' background knowledge. It is better for them to know something about the topic presented by an authentic material they are going to work on. We have to make sure that the learners have at least some experience with the topic.

The language itself is significant. It is fairly certain that the students will not know all the vocabulary used in the text or listening material. Apart from the level of difficulty we should consider known and guessable language items as well as the number of metaphors, idioms and many other expressions that may cause problems.

There are also some technical features of the materials that we should take into consideration. In case of reading it is for example the organization of the text. The text has to be organized in a clear way. The visual support, like pictures or illustrations, is of great importance too. In case of listening we should pay attention to the sound quality at first and then answer the question how many speakers participate in a conversation as it is very meaningful issue as well.

Sources of authentic materials

Authentic materials are the materials which are used by the target language community in their everyday life. This includes such short texts commonly used such as train or bus schedules, menus, labels, brochures, receipts or even currency as far as reading is concerned and every kinds of announcements when we take listening into consideration. On a broader level, music, literature, newspaper articles, TV and radio programs and Internet websites are used.

The sources of authentic materials are available worldwide and it is not a problem to acquire them.

I recommend these kinds of materials as a teaching tool especially in teaching higher-level students.

1. Harmer, J. (1991). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman
2. Komorowska, H. (2005) Metodyka nauczania języków obcych. Warszawa: Fraszka Edukacyjna.
3. Van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the Language Curriculum. Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity. London: Longman Group Limited
4. Ur, P. (1996). A course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Anna Pawłowska

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