‘authenticity just won’t lie down’

The words I put in the title of this post belong to my PhD supervisor Dr Malcolm N. MacDonald. He used these very words to inform me about a new book on authenticity (van Compernolle & McGregor), to appreciate my PhD research and, I guess, to motivate me to finish the long-awaited article drafts from my doctoral thesis (Külekçi, 2015).

Apparently, ‘authenticity’ will stay as a popular concept in foreign/second language education and the good thing is that there are some nice attempts that go beyond the simple sloganization of this term in the field (speaking of sloganization, Gnutzmann’s abstract (2014) questions whether ‘authenticity’ is ‘a well thought-out concept’ or it is ‘just a slogan’ in foreign language teaching addresses some interesting points). Two books, for instance, have been published by Multilingual Matters this year and this post aims to introduce them very (very) briefly.

Authenticity, Language and Interaction in Second Language Contexts

This book, edited by van Compernolle and McGregor, discusses ‘authenticity’ through empirical studies conducted in a variety of second language contexts. There are 11 chapters including the introduction and the conclusion, and the chapters address issues such as agency, identity, culture, interaction, competence and (meta)pragmatics in relation of ‘authenticity’ as it is challenged and/or achieved in learning and daily language use. Three principal themes that are common across all of the chapters are listed as (1) What is authentic language?, (2) who is an authentic language speaker? and (3) how is authenticity achieved? As it is written in its description, the chapters indeed ‘serve as an opening to an extended conversation about the nature of authenticity and its development in L2 contexts’. You can find more details about this book here.

Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language

Pinner’s book, also published by Multilingual Matters, revisits ‘authenticity’ for English as a global language in today’s world. In the book, he presents his ‘authenticity continuum’ in detail (also see here) and emphasises the dynamic nature of authenticity  though social, individual and contextual dimensions of the concept in English language education. Doing this and providing some practical examples, he also invites us  to challenge the ‘classic’ definition of authenticity as well as the native-speaker norms and models floating around this concept. There are 8 chapters including the introduction and the conclusion, and the chapters deal with the concept of authenticity in depth in terms of it existential underpinnings, the issue of ownership particularly in the context of using/learning English as a global language and in terms of possible influences of new media and communication technologies. In a rather ‘authentic’ manner, the book aims to establish conceptual links between autonomy, agency, motivation and authenticity more explicitly in English language teaching/learning. You can find more details about this book here.

And, just a  little note – while van Compernolle and McGregor’s book has my PhD supervisor’s blurb on its back, Pinner’s book has my second supervisor’s review on it. Even this itself is a good reason to have both of the books in my library.

Authenticity of textbook topics

This is an interesting article by Aki Siegel on the ‘authenticity’, relevance and usefulness of textbook topics. She claims that while the authenticity of the language in textbooks has been often discussed and debated, the authenticity of textbook topics has been rarely discussed in the field. To investigate this issue, she categorised and compared topics from ELT textbooks and naturally occurring conversations (between Japanese and non-Japanese students at a university dormitory in Japan). In her paper, she describes ‘authenticity’ as ‘L2 users’ language use and experiences outside the language classroom’ (p.365) and problematizes the textbook topics in terms of L2 user norms.

By incorporating more topics that authentic to the specific interests and contexts of the L2 users, I believe the EFL classroom can provide a more suitable context to better prepare students for the ‘world out there’.

You can read the full article here.


SpontaneityLast week I had a presentation on ‘Spontaneity in foreign language classrooms’ in London. It was for the language teachers, most of whom were teaching French or German as a foreign language in the UK. After my talk, I had a chance to chat with some of the teachers and it was interesting to hear about how similar issues can be observed in different language classrooms.

Even though it was about ‘spontaneity’, I drafted the presentation around ‘authenticity’ (have you noticed the reflection in the title?) and aimed at highlighting the interconnectedness between these two concepts. I tried to describe  ‘spontaneity’ in the context of foreign language classroom and its place within the working definition of authenticity in language education. I mentioned some previous studies (e.g. Christie, 2011; Hawkes, 2012) and presented two specific samples from my study. At the end, I emphasised the importance of classroom research by teachers to promote spontaneity, thus authenticity, in the language classroom.

‘Spontaneity’ has emerged as one of the key themes in my study and I was excited to focus on this issue in my talk. Our (learning and/or teaching) experience in the language classroom can be anything but nothing strictly rehearsed, predictable or undynamic. So yes, it is full of spontaneous moments (or seconds). The recognition and (co)construction of these moments can inevitably shape the personal process of engagement we have in the learning situation. This is why spontaneity and authenticity are entwined with one another. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to coin a term like ‘sponticity’ in language classrooms (actually, it seems someone has already done this in a totally different context).

authenticity continuum

Here is the model of authenticity as a continuum with various dimensions proposed by Richard Pinner, one of my fellow PhD colleagues from Warwick University. The model has two main axes: contextual (i.e. classroom – reality) and social (i.e. individual – community). Just a quick note: before one attempts to claim that the ends of the each axes seem artificially excluded from each other, s/he should read the full description of the model (Pinner, 2014a) and shouldn’t consider these ends as necessarily conflicting with each other (although when it comes to ‘authenticity’, it seems we like ‘conflict’, doesn’t it?).

Rather like the six blind men all touching a different part of the elephant and coming to a different conclusion about its nature, having just one definition for authenticity makes it hard to get a true understanding of the concept. (p.16)

You can read Richard’s previous publications (Pinner, 2012; 2013a; 2013b) to grasp the details and the promising potential of his proposed model.

[updated on 10/10/2014] Richard gave a presentation at BAAL 2014 (47th Annual Meeting, 4-6 September 2014, University of Warwick) on ‘authenticity in a global context’. His presentation was very engaging and enlightening. You can find the slides and audio here on his website.

[updated on 16/03-2015] Richard published two more pieces on his authenticity continuum (see Pinner 2014b and 2015).

authentic learning

authentic learning

I regularly google ‘authenticity in language learning’ or similar phrases to check if there are some new or different references about this topic on the Internet. I have recently found a website called ‘Authentic Learning’ prepared by Jan Herrington of Murdoch University.

The screenshot above is of this website, which is apparently not a new one although I’ve only just discovered it. The website aims to provide ‘resources and ideas’ about authentic learning in general and there are some implications for language learning as well. It is worth noting that there are also a number of references to ‘authentic e-learning’ throughout the website.
After you are bombarded with statements on ‘the necessity and benefits of authenticity’, you can easily get overwhelmed with rich contents and long lists of references. Then you realise that you don’t have to swallow this huge pill in one go. Plus, you don’t have to have it as a whole at all because although everything seems very relevant and useful, some can be ignored for the sake of your mental health. Moreover, you remember that you have a focus as ‘authenticity in ELT’ so although you can utilise any ideas/sources about authenticity in general or authenticity in e-learning, your main references are likely to be from the context of language learning and teaching in the classroom.
To cut a long story short, I wanted to share this website as I found it interesting and full of resources including nice video clips. The sections on ‘authentic task’, ‘authentic context’ and ‘Authenticity Matrix’ in particular seem very informative and interesting. For example, one of the articles on ‘authentic activities in language learning’ by Ildeniz Ozverir, one of the research fellows listed on the website, and Jan Herrington seems well deserved to be read by critical eyes. You can find this article here.

*the second person pronoun ‘you’ is used here to refer to yours truly.

reading ‘authentic’ texts

reading 'authentic' texts

I just wanted to share this screenshot (a facebook post by Teaching English, British Council) because I somehow found it interesting. It seems that ‘every language teacher’ would agree about the possible benefits of ‘authentic texts’ in ELT (no matter how you use them in the classroom I guess?).

There were around 110 comments under this post. Two people directly asked for the meaning of ‘authentic text’ and here are the answers given: (1) A text written in English that hasn’t been written or modified especially for language learners. (2) This kind of text represents a true to life, genuine, original text that originates from the written or spoken aspects of everyday life in the target culture,
employed for EFL classroom use.

These definitions sound similar to the one given in Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010):

authentic materials (n) – in language teaching, the use of materials that were not originally developed for pedagogical purposes, such as the use of magazines, newspapers, advertisements, news reports, or songs. Such materials are often thought to contain more realistic and natural examples of language use than those found in textbooks and other specially developed teaching materials (p.43).

It is worth noting that almost the same description is given for the definition of ‘authenticity / authentic’ (p.42), which is a separate entry in the dictionary (i.e. ‘the degree to which language teaching materials have the qualities of natural speech or writing. In language teaching, a distinction is made between materials that have been specially prepared…’). Again,  there is no mention of how materials are used/interpreted/validated in language learning and teaching.

This is where the fun begins.

teacher as person

‘Teacher as person: The search for the authentic’ is the title of Alan A. Glatthorn’s article in 1975 (yes, seventy-five). It is just 3 pages (yes, three) but definitely a precious gem in the literature. You can understand this from the very first paragraph of the article:

What is good English teaching? It is an authentic person-teaching English. Good English teaching does not have to do with a teacher-proof curriculum, an open classroom, or a learning package. It is the act of an authentic individual who is able to stay real in a very artificial world.

He says ‘it is the teacher as person who ultimately makes a difference’ and it is indeed all about teacher’s authenticity, which includes ‘authentic awareness, authentic relationships, authentic language and authentic action’ in the classroom. You ‘should’ read the article and see how amazingly he describes each aspects of these elements. I really liked the part about the authentic classroom relationship and how he differentiates between ‘love’ and ‘caring’ in this relationship.

At the end, he writes:

So in a dizzying world we have found a place to stand. We call ourselves teachers. We stand there with those who need us. We teach in our own way, speak with our true voice, search for a deeper self. We know the pain of failure and the joy of success. In our own becoming, we touch them and help them to come alive again. And for a little while our own lives make some sense once again.

You can find the article here.

webinar 2010

webinar 2010

Here is a screenshot from Sue Kay’s webinar on Authenticity in ELT in 2010 as a part of ‘Teacher Training Webinars’ by MacMillan English (for other webinars, visit here). Her webinar is mainly about selecting and adapting ‘authentic texts’ and designing ‘authentic tasks’ to help learners improve their language skills. The following quote is from her abstract:

… speaking tasks that encourage learners to talk about things that actually matter to them, rather than playing roles or exchanging invented information.

You can watch Kay’s webinar here (just click ‘watch again’ and allow the system to launch Blackboard Collaborate). You can also find the PPT slides online.

van Lier – interview

The following excerpt is from an interview with Leo van Lier (Cots & Tuson, 1994), which was published in Sintagma, Journal of Linguistics. The interview includes issues on language education, classroom research (action research), linkage between theory and practice, language awareness, grammar teaching and even quantitative and qualitative approaches in resarch methodology. But I guess one of my favourite parts is the excerpt below:

‘In your work, the classroom has always been a key concept, and it is presented both as a research context and as a learning context. Could you tell us a bit more about the role you assing to the classroom?

It is very hard to separate those two things. One of the things that’s always bothered me is that the classroom is regarded as an artificial environment for language. This is very common in the literature. You always read about it. Teacher talk is artificial and the kinds of questions and answers that are given are artificial, and in fact for some years there has been a trend to try and make the classroom look as little like a classroom as possible, to turn it into… not a classroom, and it seems to me that that is counter-intuitive, because people come to the classroom because it is a classroom, and you don’t make it more natural by pretending it is not a classroom. So there is a paradox  there of naturalness. The classroom, for most students, is the place where they either beocme interested in learning or become uninterested in learning. That is the key of it. It is not a question of the naturalness of the language, because it has… it ought to have its own pedagogical naturalness, which does not have to be the same naturalness as the bar down the street, or the discotheque or the beach, or wherever else people might use language. The classroom should be respected in itself as the place where people go to learn language and therefore, its authenticity should not be compared to authenticity in other places … The classroom should give the students the curiosity and the sort of puzzlement to work with the language in their heads and to notice the language outside the classroom – wherever they see it, wherever they find it – to be busy with the language in some respect, especially in places where you only have 2 or 3 hours a week … Therefore, it is of crucial importance to use the lesson as motivation, to motivate the students to be busy with the language when they are not in the classroom. Otherwise, we could not expect it to be successful.

You can find the full interview here.


If you are interested in authenticity in language teaching, there is no way you can miss ‘Gilmore’ name  in the literature. After all, he is the guy who wrote the ‘State of the Art’ article on authenticity and presented a great review of literature. So, I thought it would be nice to list some of his publications here.

Gilmore (2004) is his article on a comparison of textbook and authentic interactions in terms of discourse features. Gilmore (2007a) is his ‘state of the art’ article titled ‘Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning’ which is actually composed of literature parts in his PhD thesis. And Gilmore (2008) is the PhD thesis on ‘investigating the potential of authentic materials to develop learners’ communicative competence’ in Japanese context. Interestingly, he prefers to call it as ‘getting real in the language classroom’ in the title. Finally, Gilmore (2011) is an article-report on his PhD thesis and findings.