Authenticity as a Continuum

Pinner-Authenticity-EnglishBlog post written by Richard Pinner based on an article in English Today

Authenticity is a familiar and well used term in language teaching.  It is also a loaded term, with connotations that go deeper than the origin of a particular material, but all the way to philosophical conceptualizations of self. For this reason, the ‘classic’ and inevitably culturalist definition of authenticity, as something from a target language culture whose original purpose was not for learning, can actually work negatively against people who are not intimately associated with the target culture. Simply put, there is still an embedded and implied connection to ‘native speaker’ countries when authenticity is discussed in terms of language teaching. This native speakerist conceptualization of authenticity rears its ugly head when selecting ideal models to present to learners, whenever a so-called non-standard grammar usage is called into question, and basically whenever a textbook is written.  In my paper I tried to highlight the fact that English is still taught as an Inner-Circle language in many EFL contexts, such as Japan (Matsuda, 2003) and other parts of Asia. As a result of culturally-embedded and Anglo-American oriented views of English, the concept of authenticity in such contexts still lies in the hands of the ‘native speaker’.  In an attempt to address this issue, I adopt the view that authenticity is partly a socially constructed shared experience and partly a sense of validity which comes from the individual self about the teaching/learning situation. In the article I start by outlining some of the difficulties surrounding the notion of authenticity, then go on to argue that authenticity might be better represented as a continuum, which makes greater allowance for the perspective of English as an international language.

As Mishan (2005)and Gilmore (2007) both explain in some detail, the issues around the concept of authenticity are varied, abstract, overlapping and often contradictory. For me, it was a rich place to immerse myself for a PhD, but for most people it simply isn’t practical to read decades of abstract arguments in the literature just to answer the question “what is authenticity”? Further complicating the issue, several scholars (such as van Lier, 1996 for example) seem to be drawing their definitions from existential philosophy. Aside from being an attempt at redefining authenticity to be more inclusive of and empowering for international varieties of English, creating the continuum was also an attempt at simplifying a very complicated argument into an easy to understand diagram which invites people to look at authenticity as essentially a fluid, dynamic, contextually and individually unique component of their class. The more I examine authenticity the more I realise that it is actually something which is negotiated between students and teachers in language learning contexts, and something which is very influential in the success of the classroom. I am still continuing to examine authenticity, specifically how it relates to motivation, but I hope this article with stimulate more discussion on the topic and to encourage people to examine authenticity as it relates to them as social and contextually situated individuals.

Read the full article ‘The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices’ here

References

Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(02), 97-118. doi: doi:10.1017/S0261444807004144

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.

 

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