As an English language teacher, you’ve no doubt come across a wide variety of different language learning materials such as course textbooks, vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, flashcards, audio recording and language learning apps.
While they can be highly beneficial with the right guidance of a trained EFL teacher, they can have some shortcomings.
As experienced language teacher and polyglot, Dr Gareth Popkins says; “Language textbooks (can be) boring and demotivating. They focus too much on dry grammar, impenetrable explanations, interminable exercises and dull texts.”
That’s why many language teachers choose to supplement their classroom materials with authentic, real-world language content that engages their students, gets them excited to learn English and allows them to further develop their language skills.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at these authentic English language materials and discovering how they can benefit your students, where you can find them and how you can use Text Inspector to optimise their use in your EFL classroom.
What are authentic language materials and why use them?
Authentic language materials are simply texts, audio and video that have been designed for native language speakers.
Unlike traditional materials that have been created especially for second language learners, they aren’t structured in a special way and they don’t use specific grammar or vocabulary because they assume that the reader can understand the language used to a native level.
Using them provides a whole host of advantages:
1. They bring creativity to the classroom
As we mentioned earlier, they allow language teachers to become more creative in the materials they use in the classroom, bring the language to life and inspire and motivate their students.
“Interest is a powerful motivational process that energizes learning, guides academic and career trajectories, and is essential to academic success…” said Professor of Psychology, Judith Harackiewicz and colleagues in their aptly named 2016 paper ‘Interest Matters: The Importance of Promoting Interest in Education’…“Promoting interest can contribute to a more engaged, motivated, learning experience for students.”
2. They help the student develop a relationship with the language
Using these real-life language materials can also help your ESL student to form a meaningful connection with the language and relate better to the content, supporting the entire learning experience.
3. They expose the student to real-world English usage
Of course, we’re not just teaching students English as an academic pursuit. We want them to be able to use the language in the real world to achieve their goals, progress in their careers, move to an English-speaking country and succeed in whatever they set their minds to.
As linguist Christine Nuttall Heinemann said in her 1996 book, ‘Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language’; “authentic texts can be motivating because they are proof that the language is used for real-life purposes by real people”.
Without exposure to these kinds of authentic language materials, they may struggle to cope when using language outside of the classroom.
How to choose authentic English language materials for your ESL students
As you’ve seen so far, supplementing your traditional ESL materials with native texts brings huge benefits for both student and teacher. However, finding and choosing the right materials can be a challenging and even time-consuming process. Here are our tips:
Look for high-quality authentic materials
The world is your oyster when it comes to finding authentic language resources for your students, although it can get overwhelming at times. We highly recommend the following sources:
- Online newspapers: These can be a useful source of texts on a variety of topics. Visit the site World Newspapers to find materials suited to both British and American English such as The New York Times and The Guardian.
- Books: The Online Books library has links to English language texts and collections of all sizes. You should also consider visiting your local library for both physical books and digital books.
- Magazines: Many English language magazines have digital versions that can be accessed online for free. We like Reader’s Digest, Fast Company, People and National Geographic as great sources of learning materials.
- Podcasts: Podcasts are a great source of authentic English language materials, especially if they come accompanied by a transcript. We like the BBC’s ‘The Why Factor’, ‘This American Life’ from the USA, and Canada’s ‘Tai Asks Why’. If you need a transcript, you can consider using Google Docs’ Voice Typing tool.
Select the right texts
Once you’ve found some interesting materials, you’ll need to bear a few points in mind before you make your decision. These are:
- The CEFR level of your students: The materials need to be challenging enough but not overwhelming
- The course content you wish to focus on: What topic, vocabulary or grammar point to you wish to cover?
- Your student’s interests: What do your students enjoy reading about or listening to? What are their ethnic backgrounds? Cultures? Traditions?
- Your students’ ages: This will affect what types of materials they can relate to.
- The length of the material: Shorter is usually better, especially with lower CEFR levels.
Understanding the CEFR level tends to be the most challenging and time-consuming of all of these. After all, unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the vocabulary used at each level, how can you tell?
If you get it wrong, you risk giving your ESL students a text that is way beyond their current ability levels, harming both their motivation and their confidence. On the other hand, if it’s too easy, they could simply get bored, lose interest and not gain any benefit from working through the text. Their skills aren’t stretched and they are unlikely to learn anything.
This is when Text Inspector can help. You can use our language analysis tool to:
- Understand the overall CEFR level of your text
- Adapt existing texts for classroom use
How to use Text Inspector with authentic language materials
Here’s a step by step guide on how you can get started with Text Inspector’s language analysis tool to find the right texts for your students and make the right changes where necessary.
1. Assess the overall CEFR level of your Text
Start by analysing the text to find out its overall CEFR level using the Scorecard tool on Text Inspector.
You can do this by copying and pasting the text of your choice into the analysis box on the website, choosing whether the text is reading or listening, and then clicking the ‘Analyse’ button.
You’ll be taken to the Text Inspector results page. At this point, don’t get overwhelmed with the huge amount of data available to you, simply look for the tab on the left-hand side ‘Scorecard’.
This will provide an easy at-a-glance rating of your text, graded according to the CEFR levels.
You’ll also find a range of other information relating to the text such as readability, syllables, and lexical sophistication, but you can safely ignore this.
2. Tweak your text to fit your desired CEFR level
If you find that the CEFR level of the text you hope to use in the classroom doesn’t match the language level of your students, for example, they’re at B2 level when your students are A1, you don’t need to give up immediately.
Instead, you can use the information provided by the Text Inspector analysis to identify which are the ‘problematic’ words and adjust the text accordingly. This can save huge amounts of time, maximise your resources and also help you stick with those real-life materials that you believe will get your students inspired.
To do this, look back at the left-hand menu for the option that says ‘Lexis: EVP’. The EVP is the English Vocabulary Profile created by Cambridge University Press and will tell you the CEFL level of the individual words.
You’ll see a summary at the top of the page, followed by detailed information on each word. First, you’ll see the words groups according to their CEFR level, then find a ‘word cloud’ which tags each word according to the CEFR level in the order it appears in the text. It’s quite normal to find that the words in the text are spread across several CEFR levels.
At this point, you can identify the words you’d like to substitute by replacing them with synonyms or alternative words.
Remember, you don’t have to remove or substitute all ‘problematic’ words. According to natural language acquisition experts such as linguist Stephen Krashen, including these more challenging words can help stretch your student’s language abilities and mimic real-world usage of language. They can also provide a useful opportunity to develop your students’ problem-solving strategies when dealing with more challenging texts.
3. Check your text again
As you’re finding replacement words, it’s worth checking their CEFR level as you go to save time. Text Inspector allows you to check individual words- simply type in your word, click the ‘analyse’ button and then select the ‘Lexis: EVP’ tab for details.
It’s also a good idea to run the entire edited text through Text Inspector again to double-check the CEFR level before using it in the classroom.
The Text Inspector analysis tool can help you overcome many of the challenges that using authentic English language materials in the classroom can pose. Simply analyse your text and access the Scorecard* and English Vocabulary Profile* tools and you can simplify your EFL lesson planning process and get the most out of your students.
Need help finding the right English texts for your ESL students? Sign up for a Text Inspector subscription today
*Available with subscriptions.