Sick of the same old, same old?
Looking to jazz up your language classes?
Why not consider throwing some authentic materials into the mix?
Authentic materials can be extremely useful when teaching a foreign language class. While it’s of course necessary to approach many grammar topics with more traditional textbooks, using authentic materials in the target language has many varied benefits.
Authentic materials are often more recent and can therefore be more interesting to students, as they pertain to current events that are of interest to them. Authentic materials also provide a firm answer to that age-old student question: “Will I really use this language for anything cool?”
Thanks to authentic materials, the answer to this question is always a resounding “yes!”
Of course, using authentic materials in the language classroom isn’t as easy as simply buying a native language newspaper. As the teacher, you must do your research and discover not only which authentic materials are useful but how to best take advantage of them in the classroom.
Luckily, we’re here to help!
Authentic Language Teaching Materials That’ll Put the World in Your Hands
Current Events Stories
Authentic current event stories are some of the easiest materials to get your hands on for the foreign language classroom, thanks to modern technology. Many foreign language newspapers are available online, so you can access articles in just a few clicks:
- Spanish: Try El Diario de la Prensa, which is published in New York and La Opinion, which is published in Los Angeles. Both of these papers have the added benefit of pertaining to current events that may be relevant to your students. El Pais is a Spanish-language newspaper from Spain which reports news from Spain and the Americas. It’s also available in an English-language version, making it ideal for translation exercises.
- French: Try Le Monde, which is the most widely-read newspaper in France. France also has a strong tradition of satirical newspapers like Charlie Hebdo and le Canard Enchainé, which can be fun reads for students.
- German: Der Spiegel, Die Zeit and Die Welt are all popular, well-researched and reputable newspapers covering international and domestic German news stories.
- English: The New York Times is an excellent choice for American English, while British English is better sourced via The Independent or The Guardian.
- Chinese: Seek out Chinese news articles in papers like Huanqiu, which also offers an English-language version.
Sourcing your materials is only half the battle. It’s important to set your students up for success by pairing materials with appropriate lessons and activities.
Using current events for reading comprehension
For beginners, for example, it might be interesting to pick a very short article (100-200 words) and have them work together to summarize the article. More intermediate students could be asked to respond to the article or even have a debate. Advanced students may be asked to write an opinion piece reacting to the article.
Whatever lesson you choose, be sure that enough class time is devoted to explaining the directions of the assignment before asking students to work alone or in pairs. Start by passing the materials around and asking some general comprehension questions, for example:
- Is this more a political or personal interest story?
- What section of the paper do you think this article comes from?
Once you’ve done this, begin looking more closely at the article, either via comprehension questions or through class discussion. Once you’re sure that all of the students understand the article, you can then address the lesson you wish to teach and the assignment you intend to have your students complete.
Using current events for listening comprehension
You can use the same resources to teach a listening comprehension lesson. Many of the newspapers above offer news stories for the radio. To keep exploring, you may want to track down some radio programs in the target language for use in the classroom.
While you should take the same approach in presenting these audio materials—easing students into comprehension before asking them to formulate a response—you’ll have to consider several other factors should you use a listening comprehension resource instead of a written resource.
- Firstly, don’t attempt to use an audio clip that’s longer than 1 minute. It’ll be too difficult for students to remember everything that they’re listening to, and valuable class time will be used up listening to it over and over again.
- Plan great comprehension questions. When coming up with your general comprehension question, aim for one with an answer that can be found near the middle of the recording, so students have a chance to get used to listening to it.
- Stay organized. When coming up with further listening comprehension questions, make sure to write them in the order in which the answers will be found. This way students will not become flustered if they miss one—they can simply move on to the next question.
Bear in mind that, unlike recordings made specifically for listening comprehension, authentic listening comprehension materials are spoken very quickly and intended for native speakers. Listening comprehension activities with authentic materials are generally best reserved for intermediate or advanced students. Remember that some languages, like Chinese, will pose their own unique challenges for listening comprehension.
For both these currents events materials and the upcoming fiction materials we’re about to discuss, don’t forget that you have FluentU to employ as a teaching tool.
FluentU has its authentic videos leveled across six skill levels, and every word is carefully annotated so that learners have plenty of support. For any subtitled word, you can view an in-context definition, relevant image, audio pronunciation and multiple example sentences. Simply click on a word to see how it's used in other videos across the site.
With FluentU, your students will learn the real language—the same way that natives speak it. They'll hear their new vocabulary words in context, spoken naturally and casually.
Every student is guaranteed to find videos they love to watch, and you're guaranteed to find videos that meet your teaching needs. FluentU will provide tons of inspiration for lesson plans, in-class activities, homework and long-term projects. Say "goodbye" to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and say "hello" to focusing on actually teaching your students!
FluentU has a very wide variety of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that your students are learning. It uses that vocab to give students a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
You can organize chosen videos into "courses," name your courses and assign them to your students for homework or in-class activities. They can each sign in using nothing but a secret password that we bestow to you, the teacher. Then you can track their progress individually and as a group. How many videos and activities have they progressed through? What percentage of the exercise questions are they getting right? You'll be able to see all this information and more.
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Current events aren’t the only authentic materials that you can use to get students interested in learning a foreign language.
While fictional materials can be more difficult to use in the classroom, when studied properly, fictional materials are a great resource for students when it comes to learning the language. Plus, they’re great for helping students understand the foreign culture associated with their new language.
Comics and cartoons
Beginning students may not be ready to be fully immersed in long fictional materials, but you can always source comics from international dailies. These short fictional scenes can be studied with students and even imitated via their own comic strips produced in class for a fun activity.
You must be sure to select comics that students can understand! Remember that humor is very often just as much—if not more—about culture as it is about language. Make sure that the jokes in the comics will be comprehensible to your students, or endeavor to address the topics in the comics in class to give them the tools to understand.
Books and films
Beginning students can also be shown short films, particularly films made for children and animated features.
Consider showing them films with subtitles, either in the students’ native tongue or in the language of the film.
One interesting approach can be to use subtitles in the native language for the first half of the film, allowing students to get used to the actors’ voices and the words in the film, before switching and putting the subtitles in the target language for the rest of the film. This gives students the ability to check their comprehension against the written form, which is easier to understand, but to start to move away from translation and into strict comprehension.
While each language has its own films that can be used for this technique, one good resource to bear in mind for any foreign language is Disney films. Disney films have several benefits: they’ve been translated and dubbed into most languages, and they’re familiar to most students. Students know the storylines and, depending on your students, they may even have some lines memorized by heart! They’re a fantastic resource for beginning and intermediate students.
Intermediate and advanced students can progress into authentic resources created for native speakers. Consider devoting an entire unit to the study of one film or one book. Use it as a primary source for vocabulary, grammar points and discussion topics. In order to source these materials, try some of the following resources:
- Spanish: Our list of Spanish movies will definitely help you choose some new favorites for the classroom. This guide to essential Spanish books is perfect for advanced learners, while this guide is aimed at beginners and this one is for intermediate students.
- French: Try Time Out’s Top 100 French films or our list of French books for French learners or French drama series.
- German: For resource inspiration, refer to this great list of recommended German movies or these timeless classics of German cinema. We’ve even got some helpful insights on learning German movies prepared for you.
- English: This list of English language movies will ensure fun in the classroom!
- Chinese: Try Time Out Shanghai’s Top 100 Chinese Films, and be sure to see our favorite Chinese movies.
- Japanese: Japan’s rich television and anime culture means that choices are nearly infinite—check out our list of modern Japanese classic films as well!
Strive to get a handle on this teaching approach using authentic materials in the foreign language classroom.
Soon you’ll come up with a host of unique ideas on how to make these techniques your own!
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