Using authentic material from the real world to teach English

There are lots of resources available to English language teachers today: from textbooks to online teaching tools, they can all aid and enrich English lessons. Many teachers also introduce authentic English material into their lessons to expose learners to the language as it is spoken...

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There are lots of resources available to English language teachers today: from textbooks to online teaching tools, they can all aid and enrich English lessons. Many teachers also introduce authentic English material into their lessons to expose learners to the language as it is spoken in the real world.

Authentic material is any material written in English that was not created for intentional use in the English language classroom. Using this content to teach the English language can make the learning process even more engaging, imaginative and motivating for students. It can also be useful to elicit genuine responses from learners.

The great thing about using authentic material is that it is everywhere, which makes it easy to find, and simple for learners to practise English in their own time. Remember that it isn’t limited to articles from newspapers and magazines. Songs, TV programmes and films, radio and podcasts, leaflets, menus – anything written in English constitutes authentic material.

Selecting authentic material

The best content to select depends on the learners, their level of English and the course content the teacher wishes to focus on. It’s also a good idea to find out the learners’ interests – after all, there’s no point trying to get students fascinated by a text on the latest sci-fi movie if they’re all fans of action films.

The materials should reflect a situation that learners may face in an English-speaking environment – this will help them transition into a world where English is the norm. In this world, people use abbreviations, body language is important and they’ll use “filler” sounds – such as “ummm” – when they are speaking English – and learners will encounter these in authentic material.

It’s important not to overwhelm learners with the first piece of authentic material. So to begin with, choose articles, songs or sections of TV programmes or movies which aren’t too difficult to understand or take too long to get through.

Some ways to use authentic material

Here are two ideas for using authentic material in class: do remember to develop the ideas into proper lesson plans and explain the aims thoroughly to your learners…

1. Restaurant menus: order your favourite dish
Food is important to everyone, so introduce language learners to some of the common dishes in English-speaking countries so that they will be able to order meals with confidence. Many restaurants have their menus online, so you can easily download them (no need to walk or drive around the neighbourhood!). Try to use local restaurants, which will make it more meaningful for your students, and make sure you have plenty of copies of the menu.

You can then either go through the menu and ask students to guess what the meals are, or they can write down what they would order. You could use different menus for each course, which would widen the types of dishes you can cover during the learning activity. You or another team member could pretend to be the waiter or waitress and your students can practise their spoken English by reading their order back to you.

At the end of the task, you could encourage learners to add up the cost of their courses to calculate their bill – and even ask them to add on a 10% tip to mirror the experience of being in a real restaurant.

Remember, that these suggestions focus on different skills, so you could use them to form lesson plans for a “speaking” lesson, a “reading” lesson, etc.

2. Songs: recognising English lyric
Listening to songs with English lyrics is a great way of boosting skills in listening and pronunciation, and confidence in using the language. And students will always respond positively to a lesson that involves their favourite singer or bands.

Ask your learners to write down their favourite artist and a song by them that they like and have listened to a few times. They can then try to remember the lyrics, or look at the video on YouTube – they only need to write down a few lines of the song.

Then ask them to really listen to the lyrics for useful vocabulary, phrases and expressions for everyday language that includes colloquial speech. The language used in lyrics can be casual, tell a simple story or convey strong emotions, which should help learners to establish a connection with the language because it will give them new ways to describe their feelings in different situations. You could even ask them to come up with alternative words, as a way of further increasing and using their vocabulary.

Some song lyrics are commonly misheard, so you could create a quiz in which learners have to choose the next words – words that grammatically fit into the lyrics. This can be a funny lesson – for you as well as your students!

We’d love to hear from you if you have used authentic material in the classroom – or are using authentic material to learn English. Let us know in the comments section below…

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