Enas I. Al-Musallam
Authenticity in the Foreign Language Classroom
I. Authentic Materials:
Nunan (1989): “any material which has not been specifically produced for the
purpose of language teaching.” (as cited in Macdonald, Badger &White, 2000)
Bacon & Finnemann (1990): “authentic materials are texts produced by native
speakers for a non-pedagogical purpose.”
II. Authentic Vs Non-authentic Materials:
Language data produced for real
life communication purposes.
They may contain false starts, and
They are useful for improving the
communicative aspects of the
They are specially designed for
The language used in them is
artificial. They contain well formed
sentences all the time.
They are useful for teaching
(Adams, 1995; Miller, 2003)
III. Sources for Authentic Materials: (Miller, 2003)
Newspapers and Magazines.
Example of Authentic Materials: (Hedge, 2000; Baird, 2004)
Spoken: TV commercials, films, news items, weather forecasts, airport and station
announcement, radio talks, interviews, and debates.
Written: recipes, articles, train timetables, advertisements, brochures, poems, application
forms, and instruction for use of equipment.
IV. Criteria for Selecting and Using Authentic Materials:
A. Important factors in selecting authentic materials:
Suitability of content
Compatibility with course objectives
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B. At which level they can be used?
This issue has been surrounded by controversy in the field of language teaching. Some
researchers such as Kilickaya (2004) and Kim (2000) claim that authentic materials can
be used with intermediate and advanced level students only. On the other hand, others
believe that all levels of students, even lower levels, are able to manage using authentic
materials (McNeil, 1994; Miller, 2005).
C. How Can they be Used in the Classroom?
Authentic materials must be used in accordance with students’ ability. (Baird,
The text should be used to serve its original purpose as if it is used outside the
classroom. For example, if students are working with health brochures, they
must look for information they need, rather than a list of new words chosen by
the teacher (Jacobson, Degener, & Purcell-Gates, 2003). In this respect,
Taylor (1994) states that “authenticity is not a characteristic of a text in itself:
it is a feature of a text in a particular context. Therefore, a text can only be
truly authentic in the context for which it was originally written.”
V. Types of Authenticity:
Breen (1985) identifies four types of authenticity within language teaching. He indicates
that these types are in continual interrelationship with one another during any language
lesson. These types include:
1. Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners.
2. Authenticity of the learners’ own interpretations of such texts.
3. Authenticity of tasks conductive to language learning.
4. Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom.
Each one of these types will be discussed below.
1. Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners:
This refers to the authentic qualities of a given text. Authentic texts for language learning
are any sources of data which serves as a means to help the learner to develop an authentic
2. Authenticity of the learners’ own interpretations of such texts:
Learner authenticity means that the learner must discover the conventions of
communication in the target language which will enable him or her to gradually come to
interpret meaning within the text in ways which are likely to be shared with fluent users of
3. Authenticity of tasks conductive to language learning:
Task authenticity reflects the purpose to which language input is put. It means that the
chosen tasks should involve the learners not only in authentic communication with texts
and others in the classroom, but also in learning and the purpose of learning.
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4. Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom:
The authenticity of the classroom is a special social event and environment wherein people
share a primary communicative purpose that is learning. The authentic role of the language
classroom is the provision of those conditions in which the participants can publicly share
the problems, achievements and overall process of learning a language together as a social
VI. How can speaking and writing activities be authentic?
Hedge (2000) indicates that speaking and writing can be authentic if they reflect the
relevant criteria for task design discussed earlier, and also mirror the real world purposes
and situations in which and for which language is used. Examples of such tasks are:
A note to a neighbor apologizing for a noisy party.
A letter of complaint about a product to the manufacturer.
VII. Arguments for & against the Use of Authentic Materials:
Arguments for Using Authentic Materials:
Authentic materials 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 and interests.
They support a more creative approach to teaching.
They provide a wide variety of text types, language styles not easily found in
conventional teaching materials.
Unlike traditional teaching materials, authentic materials are continuously updated.
They have a positive effect on comprehension and learner satisfaction.
(Kilickaya, 2004; Mcknight, 1995; Wong, Kwok, & Choi, 1995; Berado, 2006)
Arguments against Using Authentic Materials:
Authentic materials often contain difficult language, unneeded vocabulary items
and complex language structures, which causes a burden for the teacher in lower-
level classes and demotivate low level students.
Authentic materials may be too culturally biased.
Many structures are mixed in such materials; causing lower levels have a hard time
decoding the texts.
The use of authentic materials is time consuming for the teachers.
Authentic materials may not expose students to comprehensible input at the earliest
stages of acquisition.
(Guariento & Morley, 2001; Martinez, 2002; Kim, 2000)
VIII. What Can Be Done to Overcome the Difficulties we Face in
Integrating Authentic Materials in the Language Classroom?
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Simplification of the texts.
Design tasks for partial comprehension.
(Berardo, 2006; Guariento & Morley, 2001)
IX. Authenticity in the Saudi Context:
Attitudes towards authenticity among English teachers:
Interviews with some teachers who teach English as a foreign language in Saudi
Arabia have been conducted. I asked them about their attitudes toward the use of
authentic materials in their classes. Some of their responses are:
Dr. N ((teaches EFL at King Saud University)
“I am with the use of authentic materials in the Saudi context, actually in any
context in the world. But we have to take some points in consideration such as the
students’ level. Therefore, I believe that such materials must be implemented
gradually in order not to cause a shock for the students.”
Mrs. May (a supervisor of the English department at a private school in Riyadh)
“I wish that authentic materials can be used in our schools since they connect the
students with the real language. However, I suspect that the students can handle
such materials because of their low English level. I think that we first need some
improvements in our foreign language teaching plans, and then we can think of
such an excellent technique.”
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