The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Part 1: The Future of English Motivation in a Global World

The International Symposium held at the University of Toyama on February 19th 2017 was an event which brought together not only many prestigious speakers, but also attendees whose own research has made a valuable contribution to the area. As such, the conference was both accessible and yet well-informed and insightful, with many lively and active discussions both during and between sessions.

In particular, the morning session saw a special seminar with Ema Ushioda, entitled The Future of English Motivation in a Global World, in which she talked through many of the issues that are addressed in a forthcoming issue of the Modern Language Journal, co-edited by Ema and Zoltan Dornyei and due to be published in 2017: 101(3). In particular, this special issue looks at the motivation to learn languages other than English. Ema’s special seminar sought to examine the role of English in a multilingual world, which began by drawing and expanding on Graddol’s book English Next (2006). Graddol talks about the ‘new orthodoxy’ of English, which implies the disappearance of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as English becomes more and more a ‘life skill’. Instead of EFL, English instruction will become more integrated into educational systems around the world, particularly in the form of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). English becomes part of the curriculum, not as a foreign language but as a method of instruction in and of itself. In other words, the ‘new orthodoxy’. Graddol’s book is well-known now, having been published just over ten years ago, and already there is much evidence that his predictions are coming to light. However, (as Ema says, there is always a ‘but’), there is also a very visible multilingual turn in Applied Linguistics, which perhaps rode on the waves of the social turn. In other words, a move away from psycholinguistic, cognitive and monolingual approaches to language. Much of early Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research focused on what has often been termed the ‘deficit’ view of L2 learning. Such a view posits that our L2 will never be as good as our L1, and thus implies that L1 users are ‘better’, which leads to the adoption of native-like norms for setting the ‘standard’. Such a view has been criticised in many different ways, not only because the reality of a native-speaker is based on a myth (Davies, 2003), but also because it leads to a range of practices within ELT that disadvantage the majority of English speaker/users in the world (Braine, 2010; Holliday, 2005; Lowe & Pinner, 2016; Medgyes, 1994; Reves & Medgyes, 1994; Swann, Aboshiha, & Holliday, 2015).

Ema also discussed the fact that the mounting pressure to learn English has actually been shown to damage the motivation to learn other languages (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011). This is deeply entwined with an ‘instrumentalist view’ of language education. In other words, we learn English for the purposes of acquiring greater access to social and cultural capital. We need it, want it, know it will make our lives better. And yet, as this places great pressure on us to learn the language, it de-emphasises other languages and ‘non-standard’ varieties, and it may also inhibit personal autonomy to learn English. At this point in her seminar, I wanted to raise my hand and tell Ema that you could almost say that English becomes a ‘disembodied language’, a point I have often made when examining the idea of Global English in relation to authenticity (Pinner, 2016). In fact, in her talk Ema was mainly talking about motivation and autonomy, yet for me I felt there was a great deal of overlap here with the concept of authenticity as well. As I have discussed in my doctoral research, authenticity, autonomy and motivation seem to form a dynamic triad (Pinner, 2017). Of course, Ema knows all about this, as she is my supervisor, but her talk was already very ‘meta’ and mapping the complexities and intricacies of the global position of English as a ‘world auxiliary language’ (Lo Bianco, 2014) to her own, much more personal, individual and contextually-based approach to motivation and autonomy (Ushioda, 2011a, 2011b, 2015, 2016).

Ema pointed out that such an instrumentalist view of learning is not, in fact, unique to languages but a worrying trend that can be seen throughout education. Ema talked about the new Teaching Excellence Review to be put in place in the UK next year, in which one of the assessment criteria are graduate employment rates. This highlights the fact that education is often seen as a means to an end; there is a utilitarian focus which downplays the humanitarian role of education. Fostering individuals with the capacity for critical thought is not the role of education as the government (and hence many institutions reliant on funding) see it. However, this view is more likely to be held by those who work as teachers. In other words, Ema’s special seminar highlighted the global dynamics, mixed-messages and socio-political agendas around English language education. She drew heavily on Lo Bianco (2014) notion of ‘domesticating the foreign’ to show how local and global policies entwine in the language classroom.

Fundamentally, Ema’s main point was that reaching native-like proficiency was not a realistic or meaningful goal for many learners in global contexts. The affordance of English for gaining social capital is important, but similarly with the world moving more toward super-diversity, English educational models would be better served if they were to highlight a multiple competencies approach to learning. Another aspect is that learning should be made personally meaningful, and people should learn to speak as themselves.

Although I fundamentally agree that the native-speaker model is a serious problem for English language instruction and that it has led to the disadvantaging of the majority of English speakers, it may also lead to other forms of discrimination as a result of the entangled ideologies at work in the world. In many ways, it boils down to social and cultural capital. People make judgements about us based on how we speak; and thus it may be disadvantageous for students to focus on learning English that could be seen as deviant, especially if this makes them hard to comprehend. This argument has been made many times; it is the crux of the Kachru-Quirk argument, and also the central justifications between Jenkins’ Lingua Franca core (2000). Also, the issue of language tests (which are based on ‘standard’ notions of the language) are another obstacle.

However, I don’t think that Ema was advocating that we encourage learners to speak in a way which is incomprehensible (although this argument was voiced during the Q&A). I think rather that Ema was promoting the same idea that she put forward in her persons-in-context relational view of motivation (Ushioda, 2009), which resonates with van Lier (1996) call for awareness, autonomy and authenticity as part of the interactions in the language classroom, both of which imply sociocultural approaches to learning and ecological perspectives to language. The key is that a person does not need perfect English, and it is important for students to have realistic goals about themselves and the levels of proficiency they actually need. This has been discussed in very interesting studies by Matsuda (2011) and Kubota (2013), both of whom found that Japanese learners might do well to assess their own goals in relation to what they need to achieve with the language, rather than aspiring to be simply ‘like native speakers’.

Overall, the talk was fascinating and gave me a lot of food for thought. In the next post, I will discuss Ema’s Keynote speech which discussed whether teachers should see themselves as motivators.

 

References

Braine, G. (2010). Nonnative Speaker English Teachers: Research, Pedagogy, and Professional Growth. London: Routledge.

Davies, A. (2003). The Native Speaker: Myth and reality (2nd ed.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching: Motivation (2nd ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Graddol, D. (2006). English next : why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language: New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kubota, R. (2013). ‘Language is only a tool’: Japanese expatriates working in China and implications for language teaching. Multilingual Education, 3(1), 1-20.

Lo Bianco, J. (2014). Domesticating the Foreign: Globalization’s Effects on the Place/s of Languages. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 312-325.

Lowe, R., & Pinner, R. (2016). Finding the Connections Between Native-speakerism and Authenticity. Applied Linguistics Review, 7(1), 27-52. doi:10.1515/applirev-2016-0002

Matsuda, A. (2011). ‘Not everyone can be a star’: Student’s and Teacher’s beliefs about English teaching in Japan. In P. Seargeant (Ed.), English in Japan in the era of globalization (pp. 38-59). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native teacher (Revised ed.). London: Macmillan.

Pinner, R. S. (2016). Reconceptualising Authenticity for English as a Global Language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Pinner, R. S. (2017). Social Authentication and the synergies between teacher and student motivation: an Autoethnographic inquiry into the interaction between authenticity and motivation in English language teaching at a Japanese university. (PhD Doctoral Thesis), University of Warwick, Warwick.

Reves, T., & Medgyes, P. (1994). The non-native English speaking EFL/ESL teacher’s self-image: An international survey. System, 22(3), 353-367.

Swann, A., Aboshiha, P., & Holliday, A. (Eds.). (2015). (En)Countering Native-Speakerism: Global Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

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

Ushioda, E. (2011b). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2015). Context and complex dynamic systems theory. In Z. Dörnyei, P. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 47 – 54). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2016). Language learning motivation through a small lens: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 49(4), 564-577. doi:10.1017/S0261444816000173

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

 

International Symposium on Language, Autonomy and Motivation in Toyama

The Future of Foreign Language Education in a Global World: Exploring Motivation and Autonomy

Dr Ema Ushioda will be in Toyama, Japan in February giving a keynote speech on motivation and autonomy. Other plenaries include Lorna Carson, Yoshiyuki Nakata and Luxin Yang.

The free event takes place at Toyama University, Sunday 19th February 2017.

Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students

This course offers an insight into how best to select and adapt authentic materials to use with students as a way of exposing them to other cultures and ways of thinking. It has been shown that authentic materials are more motivating for students (Peacock, 1997) and thus the class will feature practical demonstrations of ways in which authentic materials can be used to help motivate students. In the class, participants will look at, observe and demonstrate tasks which utilise authentic materials and participants will also have the chance to a adapt materials and design their own tasks in a hands-on workshop.

EFL Teacher Journeys, Tokyo June 2015

The teaching never stops: reflections on teacher roles, transportable identities and social networks

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To be(friend) or not to be(friend), that is the question. 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 with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a recipe for disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998). As teachers, we are not merely teachers; we each have various identities which both compliment and contradict our professional teacher identity. A quick look on my Facebook page and one can learn that I am a husband and father, a few more clicks and someone could discover what kind of music I like, who my sisters are, where they live and whether or not they are in a relationship. It would also be easy to find embarrassing pictures of me or to read a post which expresses some kind of strongly worded opinion. When I accept students as friends on Facebook, I do so knowing that this is uncharted territory, and as such I have taken pains to learn about online security and how to keep track of my so-called Digital Shadow. I have also tried to become aware of the phenomena known as ‘oversharing’ (Agger, 2012). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of online interactions and the inevitable consequences they pose.

 

Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998)

  • Situated identities, which are explicitly conferred by the context of communication, such as doctor/patient identities in the context of a health clinic or teacher/student identities in the context of a classroom;
  • Discourse identities, as participants orient themselves to particular discourse roles in the unfolding organization of the interaction (e.g. initiator, listener and questioner);
  • Transportable identities, which are latent or implicit but can be invoked during the interaction, such as when a teacher alludes to her identity as a mother or as a keen gardener during a language lesson. (Richards, 2006; Ushioda, 2009, 2011)

References

Agger, B. (2012). Oversharing: Presentations of self in the internet age. New York: Routledge.

Farrell, T. S. C. (2011). Exploring the professional role identities of experienced ESL teachers through reflective practice. System, 39(1), 54-62. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2011.01.012

Glatthorn, A. A. (1975). Teacher as person: The search for the authentic. English Journal, 37-39.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor (Random House).

Richards, K. (2006). ‘Being the teacher’: Identity and classroom conversation. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 51-77.

Sacks, O. (2013). Speak, Memory. The New York Review of Books, February 21.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Identity, context and interaction. In C. Antaki & S. Widdicombe (Eds.), Identities in Talk (pp. 87–106). London: Sage.

 

CAES Faces of English Paper Presentation

Using self-assessment to maintain motivation in a dynamic classroom environment

In this presentation I outline how and why I have established a self-assessment system in which students give themselves a score for class participation, worth 30% of their overall grade for the semester. I explain how my experience of teaching an EFL speaking skills course for the English literature department of a Japanese university has led me to initiate and further develop this method of assessment. By expanding learners’ locus of control I hoped to help them maintain motivation, and in this presentation I attempt to specifically show how abstract concepts like autonomy and motivation have a tangible place in the everyday dynamics of the language classroom. This paper presents the narrative of an ongoing Exploratory Practice inquiry which I have been engaged with for over three years. Data come from pedagogically generated sources and teaching journals, with the aim of the research being to improve the quality of classroom life. I approach motivation from a complex dynamics systems perspective, looking at the interactions and processes that define it. I attempt to bridge the complex dynamics of motivation with actual teaching practices and classroom based practitioner research.

sondadtrust

The slides and handout are available below.

Slides

PDFLogo Handout

Chaos/Complexity

Recent scholars have been viewing both language and the process of acquiring a language from the perspective of complex systems theory or chaos theory (Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2009; Kramsch, 2011; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008; Menezes, 2013). Motivation is also been examined from this perspective, as motivation is dependent upon many other variables and is a dynamic process (Dörnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015). How can such ‘complex’ theories be relevant to the language classroom?

Autonomy and Motivation

Self-Determination Theory (Deci, Kasser, & Ryan, 1997; Deci & Ryan, 1985) posits that learners are more likely to be motivated and show engagement in the learning process if they have a degree of autonomy – meant as self-volition in this context; competence -they believe they are able to succeed in the task; and relatedness – here meaning the social relations between people or “feeling close and connected to other individuals” (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011, p. 25).

The importance of autonomy in L2 motivation is also a key theme in much of Ushioda’s work (2007, 2011b) and is very much an embedded principle in her person in-context relational view of motivation (2011a; 2009) which encourages us to view learners as people “with particular social identities, [within] the unfolding cultural context of activity” (2009, p. 215). Simply put, my basic rationale for introducing self-assessment in my teaching was that by fostering learner autonomy or increasing my learner’s ‘capacity for control’ (Benson, 2013) I hoped to engage them more in the learning process. This was a strategy to help my learners maintain motivation, not just over the course but in language learning generally as a long-term endeavour. One way I felt I could foster autonomy was by encouraging reflection, and the most obvious way to do this seemed to be self-assessment.

Self-Assessment

In education, self-report has been shown by Hattie (2008) as “one of the greatest influences on student achievement” (p. 31). In this study, Hattie synthesized 800 meta-analyses, effectively reviewing thousands of studies relating to student achievement in order to identify the major contributors. Self-report grades were found to have the highest effect size of all the 138 other impact factors identified.

Exploratory Practice

The data I present come from on-going Exploratory Practice (Allwright, 2003; Allwright & Hanks, 2009) inquiry on using self-assessment, see Pinner (2015).

References

Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory practice: Rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7(2), 113-141.

Allwright, D., & Hanks, J. (2009). The developing language learner: An introduction to exploratory practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. London: Routledge.

Deci, E. L., Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1997). Self-determined teaching: Opportunities and obstacles. In J. L. Bess (Ed.), Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 57-71). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Dörnyei, Z., MacIntyre, P., & Henry, A. (Eds.). (2015). Motivational dynamics in language learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching motivation (Second ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Ellis, N. C., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (Eds.). (2009). Language as a complex adaptive system. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning : a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Kramsch, C. (2011). Why is everyone so excited about complexity theory in applied linguistics? Melanges CRAPEL, 2(33), 9 – 24.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Menezes, V. (2013). Chaos and the complexity of second language acquisition. In P. Benson & L. Cooker (Eds.), The Applied Linguistic Individual (pp. 59 – 74). Bristol: Equinox.

Pinner, R. S. (2015). Trouble in paradise: Self-assessment and the Tao. Language Teaching Research, 1-15. doi: 10.1177/1362168814562015

Ushioda, E. (2007). Motivation, autonomy, and socio-cultural theory. In P. Benson (Ed.), Learner Autonomy 8 (pp. 5-24). Dublin: Authentik.

Ushioda, E. (2011a). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011b). Why autonomy? Insights from motivation theory and research. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 221-232. doi: 10.1080/17501229.2011.577536

Ushioda, E., & Dörnyei, Z. (2009). Motivation, language identities and the L2 self: A theoretical overview. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 1-8). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Authenticity Poster, CAES Faces of English, Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

Authenticity in the language classroom is approached from a social and existential perspective. In this poster I attempt to reconceptualise authenticity as a dynamic component of language as a complex system, which interacts with motivation, autonomy and self at multiple levels. I propose that authenticity be reconceptualised as a continuum, incorporating contextual and social dimensions. This represents an attempt to shift the focus of authenticity away from a culturally embedded definition to a more dynamic model which focuses on relevance to learners. The authenticity continuum features a stronger emphasis on society, self and identity, thereby attempting to empower learners and strengthen the link between authenticity and motivation.

Here is my poster from the CAES Faces Of English conference in Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity
The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

I appreciate all of your comments and questions at the poster presentation time between 1-2 on Friday 12th of June. Please see previous posts such as this one and this paper for more information about the Authenticity Continuum.

 

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

Introduction

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.

Domainsofauthenticity

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.

Gilmores8

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’.

References

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 http://www.theguardian.com/education/2003/apr/17/tefl.lukemeddings

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, http://uniliterate.com/2015/05/talk-talk-authenticity/.