Skip to main content Accessibility help

The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices: Why authenticity should be represented as a continuum in the EFL classroom

  • Richard Pinner

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.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Braine, G. 2010. Non-native Speaker English Teachers: Research, Pedagogy, and Professional Growth. London: Routledge.
Clark, E. & Paran, A. 2007. ‘The employability of non-native-speaker teachers of EFL: a UK survey.’ System, 35(4), 407430.
Coyle, D., Hood, P. & Marsh, D. 2010. CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dörnyei, Z. & Ushioda, E. 2009. Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Gilmore, A. 2007. ‘Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning.’ Language Teaching, 40(2), 97118.
Graddol, D. 1997. The Future of English?: a Guide to Forecasting the Popularity of the English Language in the 21st Century. London: British Council.
Graddol, D. 2003. ‘The decline of the native speaker.’ In Translation Today: Trends and Perspectives. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 152167.
Hung, D. & Victor Chen, D.-T. 2007. ‘Context–process authenticity in learning: implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing.’ Educational Technology, Research and Development, 55(2), 147167.
Kachru, B. B. 1985. ‘Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: the English language in the outer circle.’ In Quirk, R., Widdowson, H. G. & Cantù, Y. (eds.), English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1130.
Matsuda, A. Y. A. 2003. ‘Incorporating World Englishes in teaching English as an international language.’ TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 719729.
Morrow, K. 1977. ‘Authentic texts and ESP.’ In Holden, S. (ed.), English for Specific Purposes. London: Modern English Publications, pp. 1317.
Moussu, L. & Llurda, E. 2008. ‘Non-native English-speaking English language teachers: history and research.’ Language Teaching, 41(3), 315348.
Pavlenko, A. 2002. ‘Poststructuralist approaches to the study of social factors in second language learning and use.’ In Cook, V. (ed.), Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, pp. 277302.
Peacock, M. 1997. ‘The effect of authentic materials on the motivation of EFL learners.’ ELT Journal, 51(2), 144156.
Pinner, R. S. 2013a. ‘Authenticity and CLIL: examining authenticity from an international CLIL perspective.’ International CLIL Research Journal, 2(1), 4454.
Pinner, R. S. 2013b. ‘Authenticity of Purpose: CLIL as a way to bring meaning and motivation into EFL contexts.’ Asian EFL Journal, 15(4), 138159.
Reves, T. & Medgyes, P. 1994. ‘The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher's self-image: an international survey.’ System, 22(3), 353367.
Smith, L. E. 1976. ‘English as an international auxiliary language.’ RELC Journal, 7(2), 3842.
Suzuki, A. 2011. ‘Introducing diversity of English into ELT: student teachers' responses.’ ELT Journal, 65(2), 145153.
Tan, M. 2005. ‘Authentic language or language errors? Lessons from a learner corpus.’ ELT Journal, 59(2), 126134.
Tomlinson, B. & Masuhara, H. 2010. Research for Materials Development in Language Learning: Evidence for Best Practice. London: Continuum.
Ushioda, E. 2011. ‘Motivating learners to speak as themselves’. In Murray, G., Gao, X. & Lamb, T. E. (eds.), Identity, Motivation and Autonomy in Language Learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp. 1125.
van Lier, L. 1996. Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity. London: Longman.
Widdowson, H. G. 1978. Teaching Language as Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Widdowson, H. G. 1990. Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Widdowson, H. G. 1996. ‘Comment: authenticity and autonomy in ELT.’ ELT Journal, 50(1), 6768.
Wittgenstein, L. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed