By Gretchen Rojas Alvarado - Student of the Master’s Degree in Teaching English with a Mention in Direction and Evaluation of English Programs
Alexandra Stoddard (2019), speaking about the beauty of natural homes, once said “If we have authentic, honest, earthy materials in our houses, we'll be more authentic, honest and natural.” Even though she was speaking about how to make your house more comfortable, this can also be applied to the field of education. In fact, authentic input offers real life situations that can motivate learners to acquire and practice real language, they can also provide a good source of information about the TL culture, but on the other side, they may not adapt to the program or teaching conditions. What is learning if not a series of changes that have to place the learner as the center of the process? Through this unusual pandemic times, how much authentic material are students being exposed to? Since distance learning is definitely something the world was not ready to jump into, it is very important to take a look at those teaching listening implications before deciding which materials are more suitable to use in virtual or distance learning from now on.
Authentic input provides real life situations that can motivate the learners to acquire and practice real language. In fact, listening plays an important role in our mental processes, therefore, language is shaped through it. If people are never provided with authentic situations, there will be some sort of artificial mental processing. The advantages that authentic listening offers include motivation within the classroom; the students can be exposed to real life situations that they will face as well as they can relate the input to their own background knowledge. For these purposes, in order to provide our students with real life situations, professors can and must take advantage of technology. For instance, there are websites, online applications that offer practice, games, videos, podcasts, among others, as well as learning platforms to interact with to others (Rost, 2016, p. 265). The level at which learners find themselves engaged on learning will allow them to be more active during interaction. Definitely taking the time to find authentic input to share with them will open more opportunities to be involved in the learning.
Culture is part of every language and they should not be taught in isolation. Therefore, when teaching a second language, it is really important to consider that culture and language go hand in hand. If students are exposed to authentic material in their listening classes, there is more exposure to real situations that have more cultural content which will help the students infer meaning, not only from spoken language but also from nonverbal language and reading. At the same time, they will be exposed to vocabulary, speech time, pauses, and additional features of the language. Since teachers are struggling with a methodology which they are not used to, there has to be a lot of investment in planning, considering that virtuality requires intensive support and feedback through top down and bottom-up strategies. Teaching culture requires good selection and adaptation of material, introducing the topics and activating background knowledge, creating relationships among source culture and target culture and at the same time generating situations for cultural awareness.
Listening is a necessary process to understand a speaker (Rost, 2016, p. 67), it is essential to infer meaning. Authentic materials, of any kind, expose students to real world, they can also be chosen to appeal to the students’ needs and interests, motivates students, and introduce culture in a real context. Sometimes, having created tasks, that come from authentic materials can also provide professors with more accurate and meaningful information. On the other side, authentic material may not be appropriate to the level of the students or the course program and need adjustment (Richards, 2017, p. 248).
In the specific situation that public institutions are facing, where students from rural areas or from difficult socioeconomical contexts do not have access to technology at all, online learning or listening resources are not an option. In fact, it is more difficult to match authentic listening materials with the syllabus if the instruction is just through a scenario where students do have real access. According to information from the MICITT (Rodríguez, 2021), 50% of the students have limited or no access to internet. In addition, the pandemic just came to put more obstacles to the solution of equal chance of education for all and evidenced that there has been little or no effort to close that gap.
Even though all the four skills are necessary for second language acquisition, listening is one of the most difficult and challenging skills that teachers have to deal with when planning and teaching. To sum up, authentic listening input gives our students great opportunities to develop mental processing and to get acquainted with real scenarios where English is the first language and gain confidence at the same time. Also, this an important way to add value to the classes by exposing them to meaningful motivating activities that will engage them in the learning. Another important aspect is that every language is shaped through culture, for this reason, culture and language cannot be separated. Therefore, a student might know a lot of vocabulary, structures, components of the language and still not being able to infer meaning from a speaker, due to cultural barriers. Lastly, in a world that already demands for technology, surrounded with devices and where more and more teachers supporting their teaching, the biggest challenge is in hands of the authorities to provide all students with equal access to technology. It is true that slowly, students will eventually return to classrooms, but an issue related to connectivity should have been prevented even before the emergency arrival.
MOXIE es el Canal de ULACIT (www.ulacit.ac.cr), producido por y para los estudiantes universitarios, en alianza con el medio periodístico independiente Delfino.cr, con el propósito de brindarles un espacio para generar y difundir sus ideas. Se llama Moxie - que en inglés urbano significa tener la capacidad de enfrentar las dificultades con inteligencia, audacia y valentía - en honor a nuestros alumnos, cuyo “moxie” los caracteriza.
Richards, J. (2017). Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press.
Rost, M. (2016). Applied Linguistics in Action. Routledge, New York.
Rodríguez, L. (2021). MEP tiene identificados a estudiantes con problemas de conectividad en sus hogares. https://www.mep.go.cr/noticias/mep-tiene-identificados-estudiantes-problemas-conectividad-sus-hogares
Stoddard, A. (1974). Style for Living; How to Make Where You Live You. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974. https://www.alexandrastoddard.com