When choosing the reading materials we use in class, teachers face a quite important dilemma. Should they use authentic or non-authentic texts? Which are most suitable for the age and level of understanding of their students? Which are more beneficial for the students? We should use texts which are likely to be understood by our students and easy to read, in order not to discourage poor readers or beginners, but we should also face them with texts they may encounter in everyday life, for, after all, school is just a stage that prepares people for reality.
Whatever type of text we choose to read in class, we should make sure that they are interesting and motivating for our students (Jill & Charles Hadfield 2008). Texts should be appropriate to the age and the level of the learner and they should include topics and ideas that are of interest to them. Otherwise, students tend to become bored and non-willing to read and perform the tasks accompanying the text.
Catherine Wallace (1993) suggests that we should use texts that are familiar to the learners. These texts should be used mainly with beginners in order to increase their self-confidence. If the topic and the genre of the text are not familiar to the student, he/she will have difficulties in understanding the meaning of the text and will lose interest and motivation. They can also be discouraged and become hostile to reading activities when the texts speaks of ideas and concepts they are not accustomed to.
Texts should also vary in genre and length. It gets tiresome when having to read very long texts or texts that deal with the same topic or which are written in the same genre. Therefore, students lose concentration and, once again, interest.
Also, says Wallace (1993), the reading material should be exploitable in classroom; it should offer the teacher the possibility to use different classroom activities in order to make the lesson attractive, interesting and dynamic, and to involve other skills, such as speaking or writing. Because we do not read in class for reading’s sake. We read with a purpose. We read in order to use the text to produce something else.
Non-authentic texts are reading materials written by teachers of English especially for language students. As Harmer (1991) points out, these texts focus rather on the language and grammar problems they wish to teach the students. Consequently, the language provided by them is artificial. The sentences are perfectly formed and they repeat the grammar problems or the vocabulary issues the teachers want to instil in the students.
Our English textbooks are full of such examples, especially the textbooks designed for younger learners. I use them too when I want my students to learn some new vocabulary or when I want to illustrate a grammar problem and I need my students to recognize that specific problem in the text.
However, with elder students, reading such texts becomes tedious because they feel that these texts are not proper illustrations for the spoken English language. Many of them already read authentic texts on the Internet. They listen to music and watch English speaking movies. They have travelled abroad or they have foreign friends and penfriends and they use English in order to communicate. By doing all these, my students have realized that the texts in the textbook are similar but not alike the texts used in real life. Therefore, when they are asked to read and work upon such texts, they tend to lose interest.
On the other hand, authentic texts are those texts written for native speakers of the English language. These texts are context based. There are newspapers written for people who want to read the news, advertisements written in order to convince consumers to buy a certain product, instructions written for people who want to reach a destination or to assemble something, novels written for the reader’s pleasure and entertainment, and many other texts. Each of them are written with a specific purpose and for a certain audience. The vocabulary and grammar patterns of these texts are various.
Communicative teaching insists on using authentic texts in class in order to prepare the students for real life situations, when they could be required to use a text.(Adriana Vizental, 2007) It is recommended that teachers use a wide variety of written English genres, says Catherine Wallace (1993).We should use texts written to inform, instruct and entertain and we should familiarize students with the language and the genres they will encounter in everyday life, when traveling or studying abroad, when communicating with people of other language, when working or improving themselves for their future jobs. It is important for students to become familiar with lots of text types in order to help them become better readers and to show them how to make meaning out of what they read.
As mentioned before, these texts may contain vocabulary and grammar problems that are not familiar to our students. If this should occur, the advice is, according to Francoise Grellet (1996), to simplify the texts the teacher desires to use in a reading lesson. One can simplify the texts by replacing the difficult words or structures by others which are already familiar to the student. The teacher can also convey the information in the texts in his/her own words, or he/she can rewrite the difficult passages, in order to make the reading material more accessible. Harmer (1991) recommends also pre-teaching vocabulary or grammar needed for text comprehension. Cora Lindsay and Paul Knight (2006) insist on helping the students to stimulate their previous knowledge about the topic of the text they are going to read in order to anticipate the content of the reading material and to understand the meaning better.
Whatever advice teachers decide to follow, I believe that we should keep in mind that, in real life, there is nobody beside you to help you by pre-teaching vocabulary and grammar, or by simplifying the text for you in order to help you understand what you read. So I think that it is better if we encourage our students to deduce meaning from the reading context. Of course, when working with younger students, yes, it is advisable to simplify and pre-teach grammar and vocabulary. If not, they get discouraged when facing a text which is difficult to read. But, as their English level improves, one can encourage them to deduce the meaning from the context. It is very motivating, especially for teenager students, and it is also fun, too. They enjoy themselves a lot when they guess the meaning of a word from the text. They also feel more involved in the teaching-learning process and, consequently, they feel useful and they also get a sense of pride for their work.
I use both authentic and non-authentic texts during my reading classes. Generally, I use non-authentic texts with younger students. Authentic texts are the reading materials which I use mainly with elder students. Both texts are useful in class as long as teachers set suitable tasks for them and offer their students a purpose to read.
1. Grellet, F. (1996). Developing Reading Skills, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
2. Hadfield, J. and C. (2008). Introduction to Teaching English, Oxford University Press, Oxford
3. Harmer, J. (1991). The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman Group UK Limited, Harlow
4. Lindsay, C. and Knight, P. (2006). Learning and Teaching English, Oxford University Press, Oxford
5. Vizental, A. (2007). Metodica predarii limbii engleze, Collegium Polirom, Iasi
6. Wallace, C. (1993). Reading, Oxford University Press, Oxford