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The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices

Why authenticity should be represented as a continuum in the EFL classroom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2014

Extract

The choice of what materials to use in the language classroom is perhaps one of the most fundamentally important and difficult decisions teachers and those responsible for choosing textbooks are faced with. Authenticity is often seen as a desirable component in the content we select and adapt for our language learners, and it has been shown that authentic materials are more motivating, even for low-level learners (Peacock, 1997). The term authentic is often used to describe materials which were not originally designed for the purpose of language learning, but that were designed to have some purpose within the target language culture, such as a newspaper or novel. An unfortunate consequence of this is that authenticity is still often defined in reference to the target language's ‘native speakers’ or L1 community, particularly in EFL contexts, or what Kachru (1985) would label the Outer Circle communities. In other words, where English is taught as a foreign language, both teachers and students often regard ‘native-speakers’ as being the ideal model and therefore an example of authenticity. For example, Tan (2005) criticises corpora investigations of learner English for holding the view that authentic language use is equivalent to ‘native-speaker’ usages. She goes on to criticise not only corpus research but also textbook publishers for still not taking into account ‘the inextricable link between language and culture’ (2005: 127). In the academic world, culturally embedded notions of authenticity relating to ‘native-speakers’ have been challenged for decades (Smith, 1976). And yet I would argue that in mainstream textbooks and in most EFL language classrooms the native speaker still retains a ‘privileged position’ (Clark & Paran, 2007: 407). As Widdowson (1996: 68) puts it:

Authenticity concerns the reality of native-speaker language use: in our case, the communication in English which is realized by an English-speaking community. But the language which is real for native speakers is not likely to be real for learners […] They belong to another community and do not have the necessary knowledge of the contextual conditions which would enable them to authenticate English in native-speaker terms. Their reality is quite different.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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