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Using authentic material to teach in the TESOL classroom

In recent years there has been a growing academic interest in the use of authentic materials for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

There has been a shift from narrow instructionally based models of teaching, exemplified by textbook exercises, multiple choice answers, and one-to-one grammar translation, Swaffer (1985), to current broader models embracing the use of authentic materials.  These tend to be learner-centred, focused on cognitive comprehension development, and are forging a new path in language learning.

Abbott (2002) continues to stress how listening to authentic English music in ESL contexts can facilitate connection with the written lyrics.  Listening to memorable tunes, she argues, whilst the teacher points to the words on the board, encourages sound/s-letter connections.  Example activities with adult ESL learners, she reports, are 'word bingo', and 're-ordering activities'.  In the first, lyric vocabulary is placed in a bingo grid, and key words are marked off as they hear them in the song.  The first person to check all the words correctly wins.  In the second, words from a song are listed out of order.  Students listen to the song and number them in the right order.  A variation, with two copies of a short song, verse, or jingle, is cutting the lyrics into strips, splitting the class into two groups, and handing them out. The winning group is the first to correctly reorder them.

In conclusion, authentic newspaper, literature, and music materials, can significantly improve the quality of L2 learning skills in ESL contexts.  The advantages are that they increase motivation, and offer richer language learning opportunities with current real texts.  They expose learners to English culture, provide scope for students to make connections with their own lives, and promote students reading, writing, listening, and communicative skills.  Textbook language learning materials may be appropriate in some contexts, and as reinforcement, but may offer a sterile experience of learning English.  By effectively structuring stimulating lessons with authentic materials, ESL teachers can offer their students a meaningful linguistic experience.  Any perceived disadvantages about increased resource preparation, outweigh the language learning benefits.  Furthermore, ESL teachers have the freedom to adapt authentic materials to fit the language level and age group of their classes.

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