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Using Authentic Materials To Enhance Reading Skills In English Language Learners

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Abstract

Competence in a language would mean the ability to use it for communicative purposes. The traditional text books used in the language classroom often fail to build this competence in learners. They are designed for language teaching and do not present language as it is used in real-life. On the other hand, authentic materials have a purpose in real-life and when used in the language classroom, they can help learners build competence in the language. They also increase learners’ motivation as they get a feeling that they are using real language. Authentic materials can be particularly useful for improving reading skills. In real-life, the main purposes of reading are: (i) to gain knowledge (ii) to look for specific information and (iii) reading for pleasure. Authentic materials and activities designed around them can be used to build these skills. This research aims to study the impact of using authentic materials to improve the reading skills of middle-school ESL (English as Second Language) learners, through a quasi-experimental design. An experimental group would be taught using authentic materials, while a control group would be taught using the prescribed textbooks alone. Pre-test and post-test would be conducted to analyze the improvement in reading skills due to the intervention. The experimental group is expected to outperform the control group.

Introduction

Background

In this era of globalization, English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of the world. Therefore, English language education is given a great deal of importance in schools. Both parents and teachers are concerned about their children/students developing competence in the language.

However, what is often misunderstood is the actual ‘competence’ in the language. As a learner finishes school, if he is able to read a given text, write a passage (often rote learnt) and utter grammatically correct sentences, then he is considered to be competent in the language. But, after school, when the learner confronts the ‘world outside’, he gets exposed to real-life (English) language situations. The input received from school is often found to be inadequate to deal with these situations. It then requires a considerable amount of real-life exposure to the language to be able to use it for day-to-day communication. Thus, ‘competency’ in a language can be said to be the ability to use it for day-to-day communication.

When we analyze the language exposure that an individual receives in real-life, we can see that a considerable amount of it is in the form of reading. Day-to-day life activities requires him to read a variety of materials such as signboards, posters, invitations, product information written on wrappers, menu cards, application forms etc. Academics or work requires him to read reports, articles, journals etc. Exposure to different cultures and engagement with different people would get him acquainted with a variety of literature as well – short-stories, novels, poems etc. All these readings help the individual build a familiarity with the language.

A common factor about the above mentioned reading materials is that they are not specifically designed for language teaching-learning. They are all created for some real-life purposes; they are authentic materials.

If authentic materials are brought to the language classroom, they can give learners exposure to the language used in real-life; they can equip them to face the world outside. Often times, the textbooks designed for the classroom, fail to do the very same thing. Cook (1981) rightly articulates this: “All language syllabuses are defective representations of the target language; … The only way we can make sure that we are giving the students all they need to know is by giving them authentic materials.’

Besides, the use of authentic materials can also be motivating to the learners, as they are dealing with real-life language.

Research Problems

Based on the above discussion, it can be said that there is a need to bring in authentic materials into the language classroom, to enable learners to develop ‘competency’ in the language. They can be particularly useful in enhancing the reading skills of learners. As mentioned earlier, in real-life, reading is mostly done ‘to gain knowledge’ (reading academic books, newspapers, journals etc.), to look for specific information (reading sign boards, menu cards etc.) or for the ‘pleasure’ of it (reading literature). Authentic materials need to be used in the classroom to ensure that learners gain competence in these aspects of reading.

Theoretical Background

Authentic Materials

Authentic materials can be defined as “real-life texts, not written for pedagogical purposes” (Wallace, 1992). They have not been written “specifically for language teaching” (Tomlinson, 2013). Morrow (1997) says that “an authentic text is a stretch of real language, produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to convey a real message of some sort.”

Authentic materials are available to us in abundance; they are there all around us. They can be divided into the following three categories (Gebhard, 1996):

  • Printed materials: these include materials that are printed on paper, such as newspapers, story books, magazines, journals, brochures, catalogues, pamphlets, invitations, schedules, maps etc.
  • Visual materials: these include materials that provide a visual representation, often along with written language. Examples: street signs, artworks, online books etc.
  • Audio-visual materials: these materials have both the audio and video components. Examples: movies, commercials, documentaries, theatre etc. Audio materials such as radio talk and songs can also be included under this category.

Using Authentic Materials in Language Teaching

The use of authentic materials in the language classroom has been discussed since the 1970s. Given that these materials aren’t specifically made for the purpose of teaching-learning, learners tend to enjoy it. They also get to experience the language in real-life contexts. “Authentic texts can be motivating because they are proof that the language is used for real-life purposes by real people” (Nuttall, 1996).

Multiple studies have shown that authentic materials bring about an increase in the motivation levels of learners. For example, Thanajaro (2000) observes that the self-satisfaction and motivation of learners increased after using authentic materials in the classroom. Similarly, Hyland (2003) states that authentic materials increases learners’ motivation and reflects positively on the learning process.

According to Richard (2001), following are the advantages of using authentic materials in the language classroom:

  • learners get a sense of the culture of target language
  • authentic materials provide exposure to language used in real-life
  • they motivate the learners
  • they enable a more creative approach to teaching

Researchers have studied the positive impact of authentic materials on each of the different language skills – listening and speaking (Miller, 2005), reading (Berardo, 2006) and writing (Allen et al., 1988).

In a study conducted among university students in Columbia, Losada et al. (2017) found that the experimental group which was taught using authentic materials and authentic tasks showed a better progress in (target) language competence when compared to the control group which was taught in the traditional way. They conclude that “the use of authentic materials in the language classroom must be strongly encouraged as they have a positive impact on the students’ linguistic and affective domains.”

Reading

Reading is one of the receptive skills in a language. A significant amount of language input comes in the form of reading.

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Reading can have three main purposes – for survival, for learning, for pleasure (Berardo, 2006). Reading for survival includes all those readings that we do from our surroundings, for our day-to-day activities. For example, reading traffic signboards, bill boards, information on product wrappers etc. Reading for learning includes the readings we do for gaining knowledge, such as academic texts. Those readings we do in our leisure times, such as stories, novels and poems come under reading for pleasure. According to Alderson (2000) reading is “an enjoyable, intense, private activity, from which much pleasure can be derived, and in which one can become totally absorbed.”

Thus reading plays a very important part in the life of an individual. In the words of Holden (2004) “reading is an important gateway to personal development, and to social, economic and civic life.”

Given the global status of English, a lot of language (in English) is available outside to be read. It is important that learners gain the competency to read and comprehend these. Therefore, it is crucial for a language classroom to provide opportunities for learners to enhance their reading skills.

Using Authentic Materials to Enhance Reading Skills

Using a variety of authentic materials in the language classroom can build learners’ familiarity with the target language and this can help enhance their reading skills. Brosnan et al. (1984) state that authentic reading materials help learners discover the meaning more easily by giving them the opportunity to make use of non-linguistic clues – layout, pictures, colors, symbols, the physical setting in which it occurs etc.).

In a study conducted by Akbari and Omid (2016) among Iranian EFL (English as Foreign Language) teachers, it was observed that the majority of them found authentic materials to be useful in their reading classes. Many other researches have studied the impact of using authentic materials to enhance the reading skills of learners. Bacon & Finnemann (1990), observed that authentic materials provide new vocabulary and expressions to language learners which in turn improve their reading skills. Jusoh (2016) conducted a study among diploma students in Malaysia, where an experimental group was taught using authentic reading materials and a control group was taught using conventional textbooks. At the end of the study, it was found that the experimental group outperformed the control group in terms of vocabulary acquisition.

Another research study conducted by Guo (2012), among under-graduate students in Taiwan, also showed evidence of vocabulary gain as a result of extensive reading of authentic texts. It was also noted that there was an increase in the motivation levels of the learners.

Authentic materials that can be used in the classroom include story books, newspapers, journals, children’s magazines, posters, food/stationary/cosmetics wrappers, advertisements, menu-cards, invitations, letters etc. (Berardo 2006, Gebhard 1996). ICT (Information and Communication Technology) can be used to bring online reading materials into the classroom.

Ample guidance and scaffolding would be necessary to initiate learners into reading authentic texts, as these aren’t simplified or abridged for the purpose of learning. However, once learners develop an interest in any of the different kinds of authentic texts, they would be motivated to read further on their own.

It is therefore important that the learners are exposed to a variety of authentic reading materials inside the classroom. Learners’ interests differ and hence a particular student may be more attracted towards fiction while another may be keen towards facts and general knowledge. “The wide variety of different types of text means that it is easier to find something that will interest the learner and may even encourage further reading or reading for pleasure” (Berardo, 2006).

Research Design

Participants

The research would follow a quasi-experimental design. Middle-school learners (classes 6 to 8) from an English medium school would be chosen. There would be a control group which is taught using the prescribed textbook and an experimental group which would be taught using authentic materials.

Pre-test

A baseline assessment would be done to analyze the current level of the learners (of both groups), with respect to their reading skills. The data collection instrument used would be a written test which analyses the ability of the learners to read and look for specific information in a piece of text as well as the ability to read and comprehend an academic text. Additionally, the learners would be interviewed to understand their interests in ‘reading for pleasure’. Data about the kinds of books they read, the frequency in which they are read etc. would be collected.

Intervention

The experimental group would be exposed to authentic texts for a certain period of time. A variety of materials such as short stories, novels, drama, comic books, children’s magazines, newspaper, journals, online magazines and journals etc. would be used. Activities would be designed using authentic materials such as menu cards, invitations, flyers, bus/train time tables, wrappers of various products etc. Regular textbook instruction would also be done simultaneously.

The control group would be taught using the prescribed textbook alone. No authentic materials would be used with them.

Post-test

An endline assessment would be conducted to analyze the post-intervention reading skill levels of both groups of learners. The instruments used would be similar to that of the pre-test – written test analyzing (i) the learners’ ability to read and look for specific information in a piece of text (ii) their ability to read and comprehend an academic text; personal interviews to understand their interests in ‘reading for pleasure’.

Data Analysis

The results from both the tests (baseline and endline) would be compared to see the progress in reading skills of both groups (experimental and control), over the period of intervention. The scores of the written tests would be compared to see the differences in ability (i) to read and look for specific information in a piece of text (ii) to read and comprehend an academic text. The data from the interviews would be compared to see the difference in variety and frequency of materials being ‘read for pleasure’.

The difference in improvement of reading skills between the groups would be analyzed to understand the impact of using authentic materials in the language classroom.

Expected Outcomes

Both the experimental group as well as the control group would show almost similar performance (reading skills) in the pre-test. However, the experimental group would outperform the control group in the post-intervention test. Besides, as a result of the intervention, they would have done a lot more ‘reading for pleasure’ when compared to the control group.

References

  1. Alderson, J.C. (2000). Assessing Reading. Cambridge, C.U.P.
  2. Allen, J., and Widdowson, H. G. (1979). Teaching the Communicative Use of English. The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  3. Bacon, S. M., and Finnemann, M.D. (1990). A Study of the Attitudes, Motives, and Strategies of University Foreign Students. Modern Language Journal 74, 459-473.
  4. Berardo, S. A. (2006). The Use of Authentic Materials in the Teaching of Reading. The Reading Matrix, 6 (2), pp. 60-69.
  5. Brosnan, D., Brown, K., and Hood, S. (1984). Reading in Context. Adelaide, National Curriculum Resource Center.
  6. Cook, V. (1981). Using Authentic Materials in the Classroom. Modern English Teacher Vol. 9, No. 14 (1981).
  7. Gebhard, Jerry G. (1996). Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language. Ann Arbor, Michigan, The University of Michigan Press.
  8. Guo, S. (2012). Using Authentic Materials for Extensive Reading to Promote English Proficiency. English Language Teaching Vol. 5, No. 8 (2012).
  9. Holden, J. (2004). Creative Reading. London, Demos.
  10. Hyland, K (2003). Second Language Writing. Cambridge University Press.
  11. Jusoh, JS. (2016). Using Authentic Reading Materials to Improve Students’ Vocabulary Acquisition. National Conference of Research on Language Education.
  12. Kusumawardhini, R., Santosa, R., and Roschsantiningsih, D,. Explore the Use of Authentic Materials to Teach Reading for Junior High School. International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding Vol. 5, Issue 4 (August, 2018), pp. 298-307.
  13. Losada, C. A., Insuasty, E. A., and Jaime Osorio, M. F. (2017). The Impact of Authentic Materials and Tasks on Students’ Communicative Competence at a Colombian Language School. Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 19(1), 89-104.
  14. Miller, M. (2005). Improving Aural Comprehension Skills in EFL Using Authentic Materials: An Experiement with University Students in Nigata, Japan. Unpublished Thesis, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.
  15. Morrow, K. (1997). Authentic texts in ESP. In S. Holden (Ed.), English for Specific Purposes, pp. 13-15.
  16. Nuttal, C. (1996). Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language. Bath, Heinemann.
  17. Omid, A., and Azam, R. (2016). Using Authentic Materials in The Foreign Language Classrooms: Teachers’ Perspectives in EFL Classes. International Journal of Research Studies in Education Vol. 5, No. 2 (April, 2016), pp. 105-116.
  18. Oura, G. K. (2012). Authentic Task-based Materials: Bringing The Real World into The Classroom. www.jrc.sophia.ac.jp/kiyou/ki21/gaio.pdf.
  19. Richard, J.C. (2001). Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. C.U.P.
  20. Thanajaro, M. (2000). Using Authentic Materials to Develop Listening Comprehension in the English as a Foreign Language Classroom. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.
  21. Tomlinson, Brian. (2013). Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London, Bloomsbury.
  22. Wallace, C. (1992). Reading. Oxford, O.U.P.

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Using Authentic Materials To Enhance Reading Skills In English Language Learners. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/using-authentic-materials-to-enhance-reading-skills-in-english-language-learners/
“Using Authentic Materials To Enhance Reading Skills In English Language Learners.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/using-authentic-materials-to-enhance-reading-skills-in-english-language-learners/
Using Authentic Materials To Enhance Reading Skills In English Language Learners. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/using-authentic-materials-to-enhance-reading-skills-in-english-language-learners/> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
Using Authentic Materials To Enhance Reading Skills In English Language Learners [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/using-authentic-materials-to-enhance-reading-skills-in-english-language-learners/
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