Listening can be viewed as one of the most important skills that need to be acquired by learners in any language. It is one of the four skills that language learners acquire, and out of the four, it is one of the skills that are most frequently used by the individuals.
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Most instructors teach listening and speaking simultaneously. However, it is noted that beginners in any language, and specifically those that are considered to be non-literate, need to be exposed to more listening than speaking processes, again making listening a vital part of learning any language (Bygate 2001).
Rost (2002b) is of the view that instructors use many types of techniques and activities as they teach listening. These activities are more often than not informed by the needs and traits of their students.
There are those activities where the learner is expected to produce a language and others where this production is not necessary. For example, a learner may be expected to physically react to commands that are given by the instructors (Rost 2002a). This is for example commands such as “please come here”.
Just like there are many techniques that are used by the instructor in the teaching of listening skills, there are many forms of materials that the instructor can use to instil these skills on their learners. These materials are divided into two major categories; authentic and non-authentic materials (Hughes 2002). The latter are also referred to as scripted materials, given the fact that they are edited and specially prepared for the classroom.
Debate has emerged as to the advantages and disadvantages of using authentic materials in teaching listening. There are those who argue that use of authentic materials in teaching listening is more beneficial both to the learners and to the instructors as compared to the use of scripted materials.
On the extreme end of the continuum are those who argue that it is more beneficial to use scripted materials in teaching listening skills than to use authentic materials. Each of these schools of thought has justifications that they use to support their arguments.
This paper is going to look at the benefits and disadvantages of using authentic materials in teaching listening. The author is first going to look at the various definitions of authentic materials and the various sources of the same.
The author will then look at the advantages of using these materials as compared to using scripted materials. The disadvantages of these materials will then be addressed, and these will mainly be the limitations that the instructors face as they incorporate these materials in their classrooms.
Use of Authentic Materials in Teaching Listening: Benefits and Disadvantages
Authenticity in the context of teaching has been defined variously. The various definitions depend on the philosophical orientations of the different scholars in this field. However, a common thread appears between these definitions, a thread depicted by the central theme of the definitions. A definition by Martinez (2002) is widely accepted in this field, and it is the one that is going to be adopted in this paper.
Martinez (2002) conceptualizes authenticity in linguistics as a form of real language emanating from a real speaker or writer, language that targets a real audience. The language is also designed or structured in such a way that it conveys a real message of some nature (Tamo 2009).
From this definition, it is easier for one to define authentic materials in the teaching of listening skills. Authentic texts, according to Yingmai (2005), are those written or spoken texts that are targeted at native speakers of a given language. This is for example a conversation in English. This conversation can only be comprehended by English speakers, and the source of the conversation was targeting these speakers.
As such, authentic texts are not specifically designed for the learners of the language in question, and this is one of the factors that set them apart from scripted texts. Whereas scripted texts are designed for the specific consumption of the learners of the language, authentic texts are designed for the native speakers of that language (Thanajaro 2000).
Deriving from the discourse above, it is obvious that for a text to be considered as been authentic it must meet one major criteria; it should not have produced specifically for the aims of teaching a language (Thanajaro 2000).
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For example, a radio interview between a celebrity and a presenter is not aimed at teaching the English language, but targeted at English speakers. However, this interview can be used to teach listening skills to a class of English learners.
Riding on the definitions of authenticity that have been provided above, it is now possible to conceptualize the meaning of authentic materials in teaching listening. According to Ur (2005), these are elements of real language that are produced for the native speaker of the language and which are designed devoid of the intention of teaching the language to learners.
When viewed from this pedestal, it becomes obvious that we are surrounded by a large amount of authentic materials, materials that we interact with in our daily life. This is for example the articles in newspapers and other print media, electronic broadcasts such as TV and internet productions and conversations between individuals in the society, conversations that occur on a daily basis.
These authentic materials can be used to teach listening skills within a classroom setting. For example, the instructor may make the learners listen to radio broadcasts and then act on the conversations between different individuals. As earlier indicated in this paper, this form of teaching listening skills has its advantages and disadvantages. These will be looked into in detail below:
Advantages of Using Authentic Materials in Teaching Listening
Scholars in this field agree that using these materials in teaching listening skills is beneficial to the learners, to the teachers and to the language in general as far as some aspects are concerned.
This is regardless of whether the learners are foreign language speakers learning the language as their second or foreign language, or native speakers who are advancing their skills in the language. The benefits of these materials also extends to the advanced and beginners in the language.
The following are some of the advantages:
Learners are Exposed to Real Language
Lingzhu and Yuanyuan (2010) concur that unlike scripted materials, authentic listening materials expose the learners to the real language. This is the language that is used in daily and real life of people who speak the language, or the natives.
Lingzhu and Yuanyuan (2010) expound on this point by taking a look at the different features of the authentic and scripted listening materials that are used in the classroom setting. The different features can be condensed into four aspects of the two materials. These are as follows:
Varying Redundant Features
In authentic listening materials, the speakers more often than not use more words than necessary to convey their message (Luoma 2004). This is something that does not happen in scripted listening materials. According to Ur (2005), this is the redundant nature of authentic materials.
Redundancy in authentic materials such as conversation can take various forms. This is for example repetition of phrases and words, re-phrasing, tautologies among others (Lingzhu and Yuanyuan 2010). This is for example use of phrases that can be taken as meaningless, phrases such as umh, err, I mean and such others (Lingzhu and Yuanyuan 2010).
Many scripted materials lack these features, despite the fact that they are common occurrences in daily conversations and interactions. As such, when the instructor uses authentic materials, the learners are exposed to this feature which is a reality of the language.
Varying Grammatical Features
It is a fact beyond doubt that differences exist between the authentic and scripted materials as far as their grammar is concerned. This is basically the variation between spoken and written language (Salehzaden 2006). For example, spoken language contains few subordinate clauses.
Speakers also use incomplete sentences, an attribute that is uncommon in scripted materials (Lingzhu and Yuanyuan 2010). The vocabulary that is produced by speakers is less specific as compared to that of writers, and speakers tend to use interactive expressions such as mmh more than in written language (Lynch 2004).
When the learners make use of authentic listening materials in their learning of listening skills, they are exposed to these features, and are thus able to adapt to the real language where they are used more easily.
Varying Stylistic Features
Authentic listening materials such as interviews and conversations are different from the scripted materials as far as their stylistic features are concerned. For example, they are more characterised by natural and spontaneous language that varies from one speaker to the other and from one dialect to the other (Lingzhu and Yuanyuan 2010).
Authentic listening materials contain a lot of informal words, idioms and slangs that are not to be found in the scripted materials. It is important to expose the learners to these aspects of the real language to prepare them for the real world out there.
Varying Environmental Features
The environmental features of the authentic and the scripted listening materials also do vary. For example, authentic materials are characterised by a lot of background noise, which is filtered and more often than not eliminated in scripted materials (Flowerdew and Miller 2005).
Ur (2005) and Anderson (2004) are of the view that noise is usually caused by interference which may be internal or external to the listener, interference that affects the listening and comprehension of the spoken language. Internal noise may be for example lack of attention on the part of the listener or the inability to comprehend the words spoken.
External noise may be for example when a phrase is misused or misplaced by the speaker making it hard for the listener to comprehend (Boxer and Cohen 2004). Incorrect intonations and mispronunciations by the speaker may also be sources of external disturbance for the listener. As such, authentic materials expose the learner to this feature of the real world.
Learners’ Motivation is Stimulated by the use of Authentic Listening Materials
Research by scholars in this field have revealed that the use of authentic materials in teaching listening is more appealing to the learners as compared to the use of scripted materials (Wilson 2004). As earlier indicated, sources of authentic listening materials include newspapers, the internet and such other electronic media. These forms of media are mainly part and parcel of the popular culture in the society.
This is given the fact that they carry materials that embodies popular culture in the society. This is for example interviews with celebrities, interviews that are contained in websites and on fashion magazines. These materials tend to be more appealing to the contemporary learner, especially for the youthful learners. As such, the materials are more effective in teaching these students.
The authentic materials also tend to have content that is more current and as such relevant to the students (Berardo 2006). For example, newspapers and television broadcasts contain more recent information than books that were written years ago. Internet articles are also updated regularly.
As such, the gap between the students and the social reality in the world is bridged by authentic listening materials (Hwang 2005). The students therefore find these materials to be more interesting to interact with, and their experiences in this interaction are enriched. This enables them to acquire the listening skills easily and faster.
Wang (2000) is of the view that learners who constantly receive the authentic listening input are better placed than their counterparts who receive scripted inputs.
This is given the fact that the former will find it easier to communicate and interact with the native speakers of the language that they are learning in real life situations (Hwang 2005). This is as opposed to those students who make use of scripted listening materials, which are more often than not out of touch with the reality.
The true listening ability of the learners using the authentic listening materials is fully developed than that of those using scripted materials. This is given that the latter have to make adjustments between what they learn in class and what they encounter out there in the real world.
Accumulation of the Learner’s Knowledge
Rost (2002a) and Rost (2002b) contend that authentic listening materials have a wide range of information than the edited and scripted materials used for teaching listening such as books. The information contained therein covers many fields of the real world and of the human life.
These topics range from popular culture such as music and films to more mundane topics such as geography and politics. As such, when the instructor makes use of these materials in teaching their students learning skills, they end up equipping their charges with more than just the ability to listen.
This is an opportunity for the learners to accumulate their knowledge on the world that they live in, the world outside the four walls of their classroom (Lingzhu and Yuanyuan 2010). Contrast this with the scripted materials like textbooks. These materials contain information that is limited to the listening needs of the students.
Reflection of the Changes in the World
As indicated earlier in this paper, authentic listening materials have contents that are regularly updated and as such reflect the reality of the social world. This content in extension reflects the changes that are taking place in the social world, the world within which the learners live (Yingmai 2005).
It is erroneous to assume that the world within which we live is a static phenomenon. To the contrary, the social world is fluid in nature, with changes taking place in time and space.
For example, the language that was used by the older generation in their teens has drastically changed, and the contemporary teenager speaks in a language full of slangs and idioms that are so unlike those used by their elders.
Authentic listening materials reflect these changes in language and other attribute of the social world. As such, use of these materials has the advantage of keeping the students abreast of what is happening in the real world (Martinez 2002).
Disadvantages of Using Authentic Materials to Teach Listening
The advantages of using authentic materials in teaching listening are not without riding limitations and disadvantages that sometimes make it inappropriate to use them in the classroom. Some of these disadvantages are elaborated on below:
The materials, as much as they reflect the social reality of the world within which the learners exist, may be too culturally biased as to make no sense at all to the learners (Martinez 2002).
This is especially so if the materials are used in their raw form with no editing or support to adapt them to the classroom environment. As such, the content of the materials may not make sense outside the culture within which the native speakers of the language exist.
This attribute of the materials makes it very hard for learners of the language, especially those that are learning a foreign language, to benefit from the content of the authentic materials. For example, an interview with a pop idol in the United States of America may not make sense to a Russian learning the English language.
This is given the fact that the content of the interview may be biased to the American culture, with the Russian been unable to connect with it. Similarly, the same interview with a teen idol may not make sense to an octogenarian in the United States of America who is working on advancing her English language.
Difficulty of the Language
It has been noted that authentic materials are rarely edited to accommodate the different needs and competence of different learners. This is given the fact that such editing may interfere with the authenticity of the material (Tamo 2009). As such, sometimes the language used in the materials may too hard to be comprehended by learners, especially those at elementary levels.
The language of the materials may too complex for these learners. Take for example an interview with a market analyst, who keeps using jargon to refer to practices in their field. As much as this interview exposes the learners to the reality of the marketing field, the complex language may hamper the development of their listening skills (Beare 2011).
Increased Learning Burden
It is noted that some content of the authentic listening materials may be irrelevant to the learners (Berardo 2006). This increases the learning burden of the learners unnecessarily.
Some words and phrases that are to be found in these materials are rarely used outside the context of the materials.
For example, phrases and words that are used in a conversation between two music producers may not be used outside the context of the entertainment industry. This is especially so if the conversation is full of jargon and technical terms that apply only to the field.
Lingzhu and Yuanyuan (2010) contend that some of the items in authentic materials such as vocabulary and phrases occur in low frequency in the real world.
They may also be peripherally used in the real world, and the student may not come into contact with them again in the future (Ur 2005). As such, the significance of learning such items is lost to the student and to the instructor. This is especially so if the materials used contain a significantly large number of such items.
Unavailability of the Materials
There are instances where it is hard for the instructors and the learners to access authentic materials to use in the classroom. This is for example when the learners are engaged in learning a foreign language.
Given that the language is foreign to the land and to the learning environment, coming into contact with such materials may be hard (Martinez 2002). For example, the instructor may find it hard to access newspaper articles that are reported with the language that they are engaged in.
The process of acquiring the authentic listening materials in such situations may be costly and time consuming both to the learners and to the instructors (Ur 2005). This makes the use of authentic listening materials in teaching an unattractive alternative to the learners and the teachers, as it is more costly than the use of script materials such as books.
The use of authentic listening materials in teaching listening has been embraced by many instructors and learners in contemporary society.
This is given the many advantages that this form of learning has over the use of scripted materials. For example, the materials expose the learner to the real world, they reflect the changes in the world and they are more relevant to the learners. However, there are several disadvantages that make the use of this technique unattractive.
This includes the irrelevancy of some of the items in the materials and the exorbitant costs that are incurred in accessing these materials by the learners and the instructors in some cases. However, when all the factors are considered, it appears that the use of authentic materials in teaching listening is more beneficial than it is costly.
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