Authenticity 2.0

At the MATSDA (Materials Development Association) conference held in June 2016 in Liverpool, Freda Mishan gave a presentation entitled Authenticity 2.0.

As language use today moves increasingly into digital fora – social media, social networking and so on, accompanied by an internationalisation of the language most associated with the Internet, English, the concept of ‘authenticity’ in the context of language samples and language use becomes ever more evasive. One route for achieving authenticity in the language learning context can be found, ironically perhaps, in the work of pre-digital theorists such as Van Lier (e.g. 1996), who maintained that authenticity was not intrinsic to learning materials themselves but was a factor of the learners’ engagement with them and of the tasks enacted with them. This conception of authenticity is a perfect fit for the digital era, where more and more of the language use is in interaction on a plethora of different media and applications. In the digital era, therefore it is to interaction and task that we turn for our ‘authenticity 2.0’.

Below is the Prezi for her session.

It seems to me that the relevance of Authenticity, reactions and Online Communication will be something to keep an eye on for the foreseeable future. Getting back to the older, more philosophical definition of authenticity for language learning seems to be the best way of keeping the issue up-to-date for the digital-era.

JALT CALL 2015 Conference – Session Summary

This is the session summary/repository for my two talks at the Japan Association of Language Teachers Computer Aided Language Learning Special Interest Group conference at Kyushu Sangyo University June 5-7 2015. My supervisor Ema Ushioda is giving the Keynote Speech, and the conference theme is Language Learning Technologies & Learner Autonomy. Looks set to be a great conference!

Here is the link to the conference home-page.

I will upload a review and further resources after the weekend. Below are the resources for my session.

Session One: Learner Development SIG Forum

Transportable Identities and Social Networks: a reflection on the pros and cons of out-of-class communication

PDFLogo Session handout

Accept or Decline? Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also a web of connections with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a web of disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (see Ushioda, 2011 for explanation). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of Web 2.0 technology and the inevitable consequences they pose.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210

Session Two: Paper Presentation

A Reflexive Narrative of one Teacher’s Professional Digital Literacy

PDFLogo Session handout

I have always combined my interest in technology with my work as a teacher, thereby developing my own digital literacy to the extent that it has been a very influential factor in my professional development and teaching beliefs. Whilst working in London in 2007, I began teaching IT skills classes to pre-masters students and at the same time I became the eLearning coordinator for a large chain of language schools with over 40 international locations. I was responsible for maintaining an online self-access centre and virtual learning environment with over 10,000 registered users. I created my own consultancy which offered technology training specifically for language teachers. Since moving to Japan in 2011, I have continued to utilise educational technologies in my work. My story may not be particularly unusual, and therefore in presenting a reflexive narrative of my experience I hope to open up a discussion with other practitioners who have similarly developed their digital literacy in order to improve their teaching and career prospects. I will also discuss my views on EFL teacher digital literacy in general, as well as my experience of student digital literacy. This presentation takes the form of a narrative inquiry (Barkhuizen, 2013), based on data collected through the process of reflexive practice (Edge, 2011). I encourage others to utilise narratives as a way of improving their practice.

Barkhuizen, G. (Ed.). (2013). Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edge, J. (2011). The Reflexive Teacher Educator in TESOL: Roots and Wings. London: Routledge.

kyushu sangyo

What We Talk About When We Talk About Authenticity

First Published on Evidence Based EFL, Monday 9th February 2015

Richard Pinner


At the end of 2014, I was lucky enough to be invited on to the TEFLology Podcast to discuss authenticity.

Listen to it here

The reason I was asked is that I am doing a PhD in which I am (attempting) to look at the connection between authenticity and motivation. I am also currently working on a book about authenticity which will be available next year (all being well).

Authenticity in language teaching is a thorny issue, and especially in English language teaching because of the nature of English’s use worldwide as an international language, with many diverse varieties. What do you understand by the term authenticity? For most language teachers, the word authentic is part of our daily vocabulary. It is stamped onto the backs of textbooks, it is mentioned when describing a particularly motivating task, and it is often used alongside other words like motivation and interest. So, just what do we talk about when we talk about authenticity?

Shadow-boxing with the definition

In his now famous article, Michael Breen (1985) identified that language teachers are ‘continually concerned with four types of authenticity’, which he summarise as:

  1. Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners.
  2. Authenticity of the learners’ own interpretations of such texts.
  3. Authenticity of tasks conducive to language learning.
  4. Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom.

Following Breen, I created a visualisation of the domains of authenticity, mainly just because I like diagrams.


This is basically what Breen was talking about, and as one can see there is a lot of overlap and yet authenticity can relate to four very different aspects of the work we do in the language classroom. What is fundamentally important here, is that a teacher could bring in an example of a so-called ‘authentic’ text and use it in a way which is not authentic. For example, a teacher could bring an English language newspaper to class and tell her students read the text and underline every instance of the present perfect aspect or passive tense, then get them to copy each sentence out into their notebooks. Is this authentic? Although for many people the newspaper is a classic example of an authentic text, what is happening in this class is anything but authentic language learning.

Authentic materials are often defined as something not specifically designed for language learning, or “language where no concessions are made to foreign speakers” (Harmer, 2008, p. 273). In the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics, the definition of authenticity is covered in a short entry, and boils down to materials “not originally developed for pedagogical purposes” (Richards & Schmidt, 2013, p. 43). Are there any problems with this definition? When I speak with other teachers, this is generally the definition they come up with, unless we are in the midst of a particularly philosophical discussion, which, don’t worry, I will come to shortly.

Henry Widdowson is one of the biggest names associated with the authenticity debate, and I had the honour of meeting him in Tokyo last year in November 2014. Widdowson made the famous distinction between materials which are authentic and materials which are genuine (1978). Basically, genuineness relates to an absolute property of the text, in other words realia or some product of the target language community like a train timetable or the aforementioned ‘classic’ newspaper. Authenticity, however, is relative to the way the learners engage with the material and their relationship to it. Hung and Victor Chen (2007, p. 149) have also discussed this, problematizing the act of taking something out of one context and bringing it into another (the classroom) expecting its function and authenticity to remain the same. They call this extrapolation techniques, which they criticise heavily for missing the wood for the trees. In other words, simply taking a newspaper out of an English speaking context quite often means you leave the real reason for interacting with it behind, which seriously impairs its authenticity. Another very big problem with this definition is that it seems to advocate the dreaded ‘native speaker’ idea, which as we all know is an emotive argument that has been discussed widely in recent years, particularly with the rise of English as a Lingua Franca and Global English.  When Widdowson made his arguments it was during the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and as part of this methodology there was an explosion in the debate around authenticity. In particular, people writing about authenticity wanted to distance the concept from the evil ‘native speaker’ definition. But what about learning aims? What about the student’s needs? How was the debate made relevant to the actual practice of teaching?

In his famous and fascinating paper, Suresh Canagarajah (1993) discusses the way students in Sri Lanka were not only ambiguous towards, but at times detached from the content of their prescribed textbooks, based on American Kernel Lessons. The students had trouble connecting the reality presented in the textbooks with their own reality, which was markedly different to say the least. Canagarajah notes that some students’ textbooks contained vulgar doodles, which he thought could perhaps have been “aimed at insulting the English instructors, or the publishers of the textbook, or the U.S. characters represented” (1993, p. 614). This connects strongly with What  Leo van Lier (1996) calls authentication; the idea that learners have to make the materials authentic by engaging with it in some way on an individual level. Van Lier’s reasoning is that something can’t be authentic for everyone at the same time, but the important thing is to try and get that balance.

As I think this article has already shown, the concept of authenticity is not easy to define. Alex Gilmore, in his State-of-the-Art paper identified as many as eight inter-related definitions, which were:

  1. the language produced by native speakers for native speakers in a particular language community
  2. the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message (as in, not contrived but having a genuine purpose, following Morrow, 1977)
  • the qualities bestowed on a text by the receiver, in that it is not seen as something already in a text itself, but is how the reader/listener perceives it)
  1. the interaction between students and teachers and is a “personal process of engagement” (van Lier, 1996, p. 128)
  2. the types of task chosen
  3. the social situation of the classroom
  • authenticity as it relates to assessment and the Target Language Use Domain (Bachman & Palmer, 1996)
  • culture, and the ability to behave or think like a target language group in order to be validated by them

Adapted from Gilmore (2007, p. 98)


In order to simplify these definitions I have developed a diagram to show how they overlap and contradict each other. I will use this diagram later as the basis for a continuum of authenticity in language learning.


Another way of thinking about authenticity is from a wider perspective, something that encompasses not only the materials being used and the tasks set to engage with them, but also the people in the classroom and the social context of the target language. To better illustrate this, I proposed that authenticity be seen as something like a continuum, with both social and contextual axes (Pinner, 2014b).

authenticity continuum

The vertical axis represents relevance to the user of the language or the individual, which in most cases will be the learner although it could also be the teacher when selecting materials. The horizontal lines represent the context in which the language is used. Using this continuum, materials, tasks and language in use can be evaluated according to relevance and context without the danger of relying on a pre-defined notion of culture or falling back into “extrapolation approaches”.

As you can see, although the word Authenticity is used all the time in staff rooms and to sell textbooks, if we actually drill down into it we get into very boggy ground.

Dogme ELT and Authenticity (and motivation)

Most readers will probably be familiar with the idea of Dogme ELT, which basically tries to get away from “the prevailing culture of mass-produced, shrink-wrapped lessons, delivered in an anodyne in-flight magazine style” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2003). This movement in ELT has strong connotations for authentic language teaching and also provides a very real connection between authenticity and motivation.

In essence, the Dogme approach places a premium on conversational interaction among teacher and learners where communication is authentic and learner-driven rather than pedagogically contrived and controlled by the teacher. Choice of learning content and materials is thus shaped by students’ own preferred interests and agendas, and language development emerges through the scaffolded dialogic interactions among learners and the teacher. Relevant to our concerns here is the value Dogme places on students’ own voices and identities in these conversational interactions. Ushioda (2011, p. 205)


In essence, Ushioda is noting that Dogme is both authentic and potentially motivating because it places the emphasis on the learners as people.

If we take a moment to see where we are with the issue of authenticity, we will realise that the definition of authenticity, although a tangle of concepts and resistant to a single definition, what it seems to be pushing at is essentially something very practical. If something is going to be authentic, it needs to be relevant to the learners and it needs to be able to help them speak in real (as in not contrived) situations. In other words, when they step out of the classroom, what they did in the classroom should have prepared them to speak and understand the target language. In order to achieve this, what they do in the classroom has to be as authentic as possible, and by implication it needs to be engaging. Essentially, authentic materials should be motivating materials.

Authenticity is a good thing. It sounds like a good thing and by association, anything labelled as inauthentic must be bad. However, I think that the word authenticity is complicit with many of the problems in English language teaching. Authenticity is still too often defined in a way which, either directly or indirectly, infers the privilege of the native speaker (Pinner, 2014a, 2014b). However, if we can get away from that, authenticity can be a powerful concept to empower both learners and teachers, because authenticity connects the individual learner to the content used for learning. So, in summary ‘keep it real’.


Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language tests (Vol. 1): oxford university press.

Breen, M. P. (1985). Authenticity in the Language Classroom. Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 60-70.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1993). Critical Ethnography of a Sri Lankan Classroom: Ambiguities in Student Opposition to Reproduction Through ESOL. TESOL quarterly, 27(4), 601-626. doi: 10.2307/3587398

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

Harmer, J. (2008). The practice of English language teaching (Fourth Edition ed.). London: Pearson/Longman.

Hung, D., & Victor Chen, D.-T. (2007). Context–process authenticity in learning: implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 147-167. doi: 10.1007/s11423-006-9008-3

Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2003, Thursday 17 April 2003). Dogme still able to divide ELT.   Retrieved 4th February, 2015, from

Pinner, R. S. (2014a). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1), 9 – 17.

Pinner, R. S. (2014b). The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices. English Today, 30(04), 22-27. doi: 10.1017/S0266078414000364

Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (2013). Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics. Harlow: Routledge.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210. doi: 10.1080/09588221.2010.538701

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

Widdowson, H. G. (1978). Teaching language as communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cite this article as: Richard Pinner, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Authenticity," in UniLiterate, May 15, 2015,

Authenticity as a Continuum

My most recent publication is in the ELTED Journal, all about Authenticity in English Language Teaching.

This paper outlines a workshop which I conducted in Tokyo and Osaka in 2013 as part of an INSET program accredited by the Japanese Ministry of Sports, Education and Culture (MEXT). The course, entitled Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students, aims to give teachers a better understanding of the concept of authenticity as it realigns itself with the way English is used and taught around the world for international communication. My aims as the teacher/researcher were to understand more about how L2 teachers of English perceive the notion of authenticity and how this concept could be broadened to try and empower L2 users of English by helping them to start reconceptualising authenticity from a more international perspective. This paper first looks at some of the issues that arise when attempting to define authenticity and then, building on the distinctions laid out by Widdowson (1978), that authenticity is not something absolute but relative to learners, I suggest that authenticity might be best viewed as a continuum which incorporates international voices and moves away from culturally embedded definitions. With that in place I will describe the contents of the workshop, followed by an explanation of the data I collected as part of the workshop and how analysis showed that participants reported the notion of an authenticity continuum to be empowering and even increased their motivation to try and make their own classes more authentic.

In order to develop a more inclusive concept of authenticity, rather than trying for a single definition, authenticity should perhaps be seen as a continuum with various dimensions.

The Authenticity Continuum
The Authenticity Continuum

Read the full article here

Expanding our Horizons

Engnet-education has been providing eLearning specific consultancy and training since its creation in 2008. In that time we have worked with various clients in England, Scotland, Ireland and Japan, as well as presenting research at international conferences in Europe and virtual seminars attended by people from all over the world.

However, since moving to Tokyo our services have become more diversified and we have adapted to new experiences and challenges, adding more strings to our bow in terms of the types of training, research and consultancy we can provide. For this reason, engnet-education will be undergoing a face-lift in order to reflect our now more diverse offerings. This means that we will now offer the following services:


  • Pre-Service and In-Service Teacher Training
  • Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
  • Materials Development
  • Adapting Authentic Materials
  • Using Literature in the Language Classroom
  • Motivation in the Language Classroom
  • Building and Evaluating Language Tests
  • Doing Action Research
  • Integrating Technology
  • Conducting International Virtual Exchanges
  • Interactive Whiteboard Training
  • Using Virtual Learning Environments


Our research has previously focused particularly on Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) and eLearning. Now, we will be concentrating our efforts more in the field of CLIL, with a specific focus on the use of Literature in language teaching. In particular, engnet-education will focus on materials, specifically authentic materials and their motivational role in the classroom.

 Materials Development

In addition to teacher training and research, engnet-education offers materials development services. We have written language quizzes, text book materials, lesson plans, language tests and assessment criteria, marking rubrics as well as designing and implementing online materials for websites or SCORM compliant items for VLE systems. You can see samples of these plans in the materials section of the site.

VLE implementation

The diversification on engnet-education does not mean we will cease to provide our old services. We still offer full and partial VLE implementation and consultancy – from initial choice and development, project management, training, populating, piloting and presentation.

Adapting Authentic Materials from the Web

This post is all about resources which are invaluable to language teachers – authentic materials. There are so many authentic resources which can be adapted for use in the classroom that it may seem daunting to know where to start, or what the best way to go about altering the materials is to get them class-room ready. In this post I will introduce a few examples and tools which make this job easy, and some general ideas about how to reduce the work on the teacher without decreasing the personalisation factor of adapting materials for the classroom.


If you look at any good coursebook or set of learning materials, you will notice that they have a strong structure with clearly labelled sections which the students and teachers can both identify straight away. Although the content in these sections changes from unit to unit, the section are laid out in the same way and offer a similar range of tasks and activities. This has obvious benefits, especially when you are designing teaching materials which you will use in the future for other classes or even for other teachers to use. This principle of having a strong and clear structure should also help you to speed up the adapting process. A good example of adapted authentic materials are the ones provided by based on articles from the British newspaper The Guardian. Below is an example:

Link to the original page

Straight away you can see that there are clear sections and each one contains a specific task. Also note that from week to week these activities vary only in content, for the most part the type of tasks change very little. This makes the writing process a lot easier, it means you know already what will go in your worksheet and the same is true for your students. Of course, variation of task types is a good thing, but this can be achieved with different worksheets and lessons, if you are writing a series of such materials it is best to have a strong structure, but also don’t be too rigid about it as this will make the worksheets become stale.

Elaboration Theory

Research such as that into the Involvement Load Hypothesis or Cognitive Load Theory have suggested that by increasing the difficulty and required ‘brain power’ used by a task helps with remembering the content and can lead to longer-term retention of the target language. Elaboration Theory utilises this by making tasks in a learning interaction or worksheet become gradually more complicated, thus increasing the chances that the learner will acquire the target language. These theories are easy to incorporate into your worksheets.

Source Material

No matter how good your tasks and activities, they are only ever as good as the source material. When choosing the source material which you are going to adapt, there are a few things you might want to consider before making the final selection. These are authenticity, relevance, curriculum fit and potential for further learning. Peacock (1997) found that authentic materials were more motivating for students, even lower level students, than unauthentic materials. However, there have been a lot of debates over what constitutes as authentic and what doesn’t. Henry Widdowson (1990) makes the distinction between ‘authentic’ materials and ‘genuine’ materials. Here, authentic materials are originally written for non-learners of the language (proficient speakers or L1) and used in the same way in the class with the learners. Genuine materials have been adapted from authentic materials in order to emphasise linguistic components for learning. Both of these are good things, but obviously when choosing the source material we must also consider the difficulty it may pose to our learners. There are a number of ways of doing this, but one quick and easy way is to use the Flesch–Kincaid readability test, which is built into Microsoft Word and can be used on any text you have in there. A score will be produced which you can use to roughly guess how hard the text will be, based on a number of criteria derived from corpus linguistics, such as word frequency, length, etc.

I will expand on this idea further in a later article, but please feel free to contact or use the comments below to discuss.

For me, the main thing I look for when choosing materials to adapt for class is whether they interest me or not. If they do, I am more likely to be able to get my class interested. At the end of the day, you may have to use a number of objective criteria to fine tune your choices, but the main decision will be subjective based on your own teaching preferences and this is a good thing. Teaching and adapting materials for you class are highly personal, and if they are not the lessons you do will fail because of this.

Further Reading

Widdowson, H. (1990),  Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Peacock, M. (1997)  The Effect of Authentic Materials on the Motivation of EFL Learners in English Language Teaching Journal 51


Sending out student feedback is essential. Good materials design needs to incorporate student feedback. Also, after assessments and tests, it is vital that students receive personalised feedback in a supportive way.

Below is a training video which I made to help teachers automate student assessment feedback through MS Word’s built in Mail Merge features.


Many people ask me about the difference between an LMS and VLE, and also CMS and LCMS. Although you might find articles and posts that state otherwise, I believe that there is an important distinction between LMS and VLE, and I would also use the term CMS to mean something different. Let’s start with a definition of each.

LMS stands for Learning Management System. For me these are primarily for training, rather than education. They are often connected to mandatory CPD (continual professional development) and generally tend to be used internally rather than being client-facing or used in education. Having said this, JoomlaLMS is clearly calling itself an LMS and in my view it would fit in more with the description of a VLE. So, as you see the two terms are used interchangeably. I would like to create a distinction here for clarity, nonetheless.

VLE stands for Virtual Learning Environment. These would often be characterised by constructivist pedagogical principles and are often used as a place to collaborate and extend discussions rather than merely hosting trackable learning objects. Many VLEs and LMSs have the same features, but the emphasis and also way they are being used would distinguish them. It is possible to use a Moodle, for example, for purely behaviourist mechanical drills and compliancy training and thus it becomes an LMS through the way it is used.

The reason I am making this distinction is that I still see a lot of ambiguity about the terminology in eLearning, perhaps due to its relative infancy as a discipline. I have seen institutions make the wrong choice when considering commercial LMSs and VLEs and I blame the lack of precise definition for this. In language teaching as well, we are often in the rearguard when it comes to implementing new technology, and thus many institutions fall into the trap of simply buying or creating a load of online grammar and vocabulary drills which have been authored as eLearning and then making this available to their students as the final and finished component of their eLearning implementation.

Now, I am not saying this is bad or that we shouldn’t provide such resources for our students. What I am saying though is that this is not much different from a glorified practise book. While the online format means greater access and the possibility for flash animations and embedded video/audio, at the end of the day these are still drills which are useful primarily for test preparation, but not for helping students to acquire communicative competence. No matter how good such activities look, they still fall under the category mostly of Behaviouristic CALL. With small adjustments, it is possible to expand the eLearning platform into the realms of communicative and collaborative CALL. For example, one of the tasks for students on the VLE should be to introduce themselves on the forum. Moodle supports collaborative wikis which are ideal as group projects, and can be given as assignments or class work. There are also blogs, which can be created for free and allow comments and following. These are great ways to get the class working together on projects and have the advantage of showing students ways to continue learning and practising in authentic ways after their course has finished. Another idea would be to have a high scores table or similar, which gives students the option of posting their best scores on a game and challenging other students. This should of course be optional, but works very well for more competitive students, is a brilliant example of this.

VLEs do not have to contain all the content within them either, they should provide links to outside content and encourage students to source their own materials. On our VLE we have a side block which shows the latest RSS feeds from the BBC learning English site, which also keeps your site contemporary.

I would love to hear what you are doing at your school and if you have any questions or ideas please share below and keep the discussion going!