Authentic Materials in Language Teaching? Say No More!
Imagine flying your Japanese class to Tokyo for a book reading.
Or dropping your Spanish class into the audience at a theater in Mexico City.
In an ideal world, we could immerse our foreign language students among native speakers whenever we chose.
In reality, we try our best to bring the world to our classroom. And one of the best ways to do that is to use authentic materials in our teaching.
Authentic materials are texts, audio clips or videos that were created for a native speaking audience, as opposed to a student audience. Think novels, news interviews, movies and cookbooks.
Fortunately for educators today, the internet makes these authentic materials easily accessible for our classrooms. You just have to know where to find them.
Below, we’ll look at some of the basics of finding authentic materials online, and the best resources for incorporating relevant, engaging materials in your target language.
What Can Authentic Materials Do for Your Foreign Language Classroom?
Unlike textbooks, worksheets and other materials created specifically for foreign language learners, authentic materials were generally created by and for native speakers. They’re the building blocks of culture and everyday experiences lived in the target language.
Therefore, one of the most important reasons to use authentic materials in your foreign language classroom is that they expose students to the target language in context. Compared to grammar drills or vocabulary definition memorization, authentic materials will impart meaning and associations in real-life settings which can boost language retention.
Authentic materials also allow you to highlight students’ outside interests. You can use authentic materials to incorporate everything from literature and art to funny movies and sports programs in your lessons. These kinds of fun materials grab student attention and increase motivation to learn overall.
More broadly, no matter what type of authentic material you choose, you’ll be exposing students to target language cultures and preparing them for interactions with native speakers.
How to Tell if Your Online Resource Is an Authentic Material
Discerning authentic materials for inauthentic ones is a simple process. Just ask yourself, who’s the intended audience? The answer should be native speakers, not students. The author of your authentic material ought to be a native or fluent speaker as well.
For the purpose of exposing students to target language culture, you’ll probably also want to stick to materials that haven’t been translated from another language.
As for your online searches for authentic materials, you’ll find that it’s generally more efficient to use search engines based out of a target language country. For example, to find authentic materials for a French foreign language class, you can use Google.fr instead of the U.S.-based Google.com. Here’s a list of dozens of Google domains from across the globe that you can use to localize your searches. And check out this list of alternative search engines that are popular in different countries worldwide.
Below, we’ll get even more specific with digital resources to look up authentic materials in your target language.
5 Digital Resources for Authentic Materials in Language Teaching
1. Digital Libraries
Digital libraries should be one of your first stops during your hunt for authentic materials online. They can open your students up to a world of target language fiction, non-fiction, video and audio that native speakers enjoy.
When exploring digital libraries in your target language, it’s smart to start local. Pick a city where your target language is spoken and see what its municipal libraries offer online. Search local universities to see if they offer anything free to the public digitally, then expand your search to national library digital collections.
Educators whose target language isn’t widely represented in digital libraries may want to expand their searches to catalogues with an international focus. Others may want to take advantage of online libraries with a particular linguistic focus. Here are some resources to get you started:
- The Internet Library for Librarians has a list of international public access catalogues online.
- The European Library offers access to 48 national libraries throughout the continent.
- Columbia University has rounded up digital libraries and catalogues from across Africa/relevant to Africa.
- The Virtual e-Text Archive of Indic Texts will point you to libraries and digital catalogues in “Sanskrit or the other languages of classical Indian studies.”
2. Public Domain Databases
As an educator, you’re likely already familiar with public domain texts which have outlived their copyright terms and are therefore freely available for use by the public.
Whereas digital libraries are useful for browsing, public domain databases are more effective if you’re searching for specific materials like individual texts, works by a certain author, works in a certain genre or works from a time period that your class is studying.
Even if you start out looking for something specific, you may well find that wading around the public domain can get a little addictive and can lead you to some new gems for future lessons.
Of course, copyright laws vary by country, but we won’t be delving into the weeds of that here. From an authentic materials standpoint, what you’ll want to be familiar with are the online databases where you can access public domain texts for your classroom. Here are some fruitful places to begin your searches:
- The Online Books Page by the University of Pennsylvania will point you to a slew of public domain and online literature catalogues in many languages.
- Project Gutenberg offers public domain texts in dozens of languages.
- HathiTrust has a collection of millions of digitized titles from libraries around the world.
- Gallica from the National Library of France offers books, manuscripts and historical newspapers among many other public domain materials.
3. Digital Newspaper Archives
Most foreign language educators are familiar with the classroom benefits of target language newspapers.
Reporting language tends to be concise and employs essential vocabulary and idioms. Newspapers also expose students to the current affairs and major political and cultural issues of the countries where the target language is spoken.
Here are some places you can go to find newspaper articles in your target language:
- The International Coalition on Newspapers highlights newspaper digitization projects organized by country.
- World-Newspapers.com links to international newspaper websites from across the globe.
- The ipl2 international media database is no longer updating, but its links to worldwide publications remain useful.
There’s no need to go sifting through these huge databases every time you start a new lesson plan. Instead, you can use them to become familiar with a range of target language publications (especially important if your target language is spoken across different countries and continents).
Identify a few newspapers that work for your classroom and see if you can follow them on social media so that they become fixtures in your digital world without taking up too much out-of-class time.
If there’s a particular newspaper that you would like to regularly use for your classroom, ask your school or institution if they can sponsor a subscription. Your institution may already provide access through its library or via a school LexisNexis membership. You can also get in touch with the newspaper’s circulation department directly to find out if discounted educator subscriptions are available.
When searching for authentic materials, you don’t have to confine yourself strictly to texts. YouTube provides access to a wide range of videos that can help introduce your students to native speakers’ pronunciation, accents and slang.
Because of YouTube’s vast library, it can be hard to know where to start searching, especially if you’re teaching a widely-represented language such as English or Spanish. Don’t feel that you need to create time for authentic video materials in every lesson plan—instead, you can incorporate YouTube clips naturally as they coincide with your regular lessons.
Teaching weather vocabulary to beginner students? Show a clip of a native speaker meteorologist giving a forecast. Teaching a play to a language and literature class? Show a clip from a stage production of that play. Keep an eye on the recommended videos on your YouTube homepage, which will learn your interests and may point you to some useful new videos or channels.
As you continue your digital searches, there’s a number of routes to find classroom-friendly YouTube clips and channels:
- At the bottom of your YouTube homepage, click “content location” and pick a target language country. Then click “browse channels” to find popular video categories.
- Search recent clips from the major news channels in target language countries.
- With older students, you can also look to news parody shows to impart the target language through current events in an attention-grabbing way.
- Search clips of famous movies in the target language.
- Ask your native-speaking friends and peers what TV shows they watch with their families, and search for clips of those shows.
Another way to access great YouTube videos for your class is to use FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
Say goodbye to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and hello to focusing on actually teaching your students.
Using FluentU, students will be more engaged and learn better. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find all this authentic content approachable and within reach.
Every word comes with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences. Students can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site. Plus, FluentU provides plenty of tools to actively practice vocabulary and grammar, like flashcards, vocabulary lists, review exercises and more. You can even assign and assess homework assignments right on the program.
5. Podcasts and Radio
These are more great resources to expose your students to target language speaking and accents.
As a general rule, you can rely on radio programs for formal speech and podcasts for looser speech aimed at a younger audience—although of course it depends on the program you choose. If you’re unfamiliar with podcasts, they’re episodic audio programs that you can download onto your computer or phone (and many traditional radio programs are now available as podcasts).
As a first step to find radio shows and/or podcasts that work for your classroom, head to the websites for big networks in your target language and see what they offer. For reference, here are a few examples of what to look for:
- The podcast page from the BBC (for teaching English)
You can also scour iTunes for the most popular podcasts in different countries. In the iTunes app, go to the iTunes store and then scroll to the very bottom of the page. Under the header “Manage” you’ll see the option “change country”—click that, and pick a country where your target language is spoken. Then head back to the store and select “Podcasts” from the drop-down menu that starts with “Music.” Now you’ll find that the top podcasts and top podcast episodes from that country will be displayed.
Podcasts tend to cater to any audience hungry for content that’s both educational and entertaining, so they offer a particularly nice opportunity to diversify your lessons and engage intermediate and advanced students. Look for science- and tech-themed podcasts, music analysis podcasts, sports fan podcasts and anything else that your students are interested in.
With these digital resources for authentic foreign language materials, you have the ability to transport your students to target language cultures without leaving their desks.
Not only will you help them retain new grammar and vocabulary in context, but you’ll also be preparing them for the important goal of communicating with native speakers.