María Luisa Pérez Cañado and Ana Almagro
Authenticity in the
Teaching of ESP: An Evaluation Proposal
materials are a very
rich source for the selection of teaching materials in the field of ESP
(English for Specific Purposes)
in general and of Business English in particular, the ultimate purpose
should be authentic communication between the text (oral or written)
and its recipient as a result of the interpretation brought to the text
by the latter. To speak of authenticity implies therefore a dual focus:
that of “authentic material” and that of “authenticity”. The literature
in the field is vast and deserves an in-depth analysis, as in many
cases the previous terms are treated as synonyms. Thus, an original
proposal for the evaluation of authenticity is called for, an aspect
rarely considered in the evaluation of teaching materials. This
proposal will build upon a review of the literature on authenticity, as
well as on the most important proposals for the evaluation of teaching
materials. The proposal set forth in this paper is completed with a
checklist which integrates the consideration of the inherent
characteristics in the material being evaluated, together with the
teacher’s view on this score.
© 2005 Scripta Manent. Slovensko društvo učiteljev tujega
While there is a vast gamut of proposals for the evaluation
of teaching materials, these proposals are much less common in the
field of ESP (English for Specific
Purposes). Equally worthy of mention is that, if the evaluation
of teaching materials is an important part of a teacher’s work, then
the checklist is a useful tool which facilitates materials selection,
given the extensive array of ESP teaching materials available at
present, especially in the field of Business English. This usefulness
is in no way minimised by the implicit limitations of the material
being evaluated (Sheldon, 1987: 2-6), on top of those directly related
to materials evalution itself and which result from the lack of
consensus on the criteria which are fundamental in such an evaluation.
Even though it is common sense that most of these criteria are agreed
upon in the field of English for general and specific purposes, it is
also true that the teaching of ESP has some distinctive features which
merit special attention, as is the case with authenticity. This
variable is scarcely contemplated in such proposals, the focus of
interest rarely going beyond the question “is the material authentic?”.
Therefore, it would be very useful to have an authenticity evaluation
proposal which complements existing proposals. Almagro (2004) offers a
proposal for the evaluation of ESP textbooks at university level which
reviews the proposals from the 70s to the present time, but it is
nonetheless incomplete as far as authenticity is concerned.
Due to this foreseeable necessity, the main aim of this work is to
present a proposal for the evaluation of authenticity based both on a
thorough review of the literature on authenticity, and on the most
important proposals for the evaluation of teaching materials. Thus, we
start by analysing the main positions and controversies related to
authenticity, as well as to the evaluation of teaching materials. Next,
we go on to justify the methodology that underlies the elaboration of
the proposal under scrutiny in this paper, and then we present the
proposal itself and its corresponding checklist. From all this can be
inferred that authenticity is slighted in the proposals for the
evaluation of teaching materials. This proposal is conceived primarily
for the teaching of Business English, as this is the widest variety of
ESP nowadays, although it would also be useful in any other variety,
and it complements the proposals already in existence.
Major theories and controversies related to the role of
authenticity and the evaluation of teaching materials
The concept of authenticity engenders two fundamental meanings. The
first of these, “authentic material”, involves the material produced by
and for native speakers with communicative purposes. Widdowson’s (1983:
30) view will serve to define the second of these meanings: “[...] the
communicative activity of the language use, [...] the engagement of
interpretative procedures for making sense, even if these procedures
are operating on and with textual data which are not authentic in the
Before entering into the pros and cons of the use of this type of
material in the teaching of ESP, the change operated in the teaching of
languages with the evolution from the concept of sentence to that of
text should be emphasized, given that it is the text which provides an
imitation model for the student.2
Nevertheless, for this to be possible, following Morrow’s (1977: 13)
words, consideration is needed of whether the four factors by which the
language is determined –topic, function, channel, and audience (cf.
Hymes, 1972)– are appropriate for the context in which the text will be
used in the teaching of ESP.3
As far as the advantages of authentic materials are concerned,
Wajnryb’s (1988: 107) view should be highlighted. She lays emphasis on
three circumstances on this score: a form of language which is
not used by its native speakers is no longer taught, the distance
between the real world and the classroom is shorter than it used to be,
and, finally, authentic material has influenced the teacher’s vision of
language. Even though these are undeniable advantages, we should be
careful not to fall into the trap of considering authentic material as
a guarantee that the use of materials related to the student’s target
situation implies the acquisition of the competence that this context
demands (Widdowson, 1979: 164; Widdowson, 1983: 30; Hutchinson &
Waters, 1984: 109-111). In a similar vein, Widdowson (1979: 163) lays
emphasis on the fact that an excessive dependence on the use of
authentic material in the teaching of ESP as synonym for real
communication brings with it the risk of leaving aside methodological
principles and the natural interaction of discourse. In addition, the
limitations of the ESP teacher in the content area of his/her students
are other important drawback to be evaluated (Hutchinson & Waters,
1982: 56-57), as well as the decontextualization of materials as a
result of the use of isolated texts.
The positions upheld in the literature are unanimous: authenticity and
interpretation are aspects which operate even if the material being
used is not authentic in itself and, therefore, authentic material does
not always generate an authentic response. Authenticity and relevance
is also a decisive correlative, in that, on the one hand, the
authenticity of the material itself does not guarantee its relevance
and, on the other, the use of non-authentic material does not mean that
this is not interesting and relevant (Robinson, 1980: 36). As for the
aforementioned limitations, we agree with Widdowson (1979) on the
relevance of the methodological principles and we believe that it is
for the teacher to decide whether to use authentic or non-authentic
material, with communicative or linguistic purposes, of general or
specific content, as the characteristics of each course are different
and condition the decisions the teacher adopts. As Hutchinson &
Waters (1984: 111) put it: “[...] although analysis of the target
situation may guide us when we decide what to teach, how we teach it
and what materials we use to do so must be decided by reference to the
constraints and potential of the teaching-learning situation”. With
reference to the limitations of the teacher of ESP, our contention is
that the collaboration with the content teacher is paramount (cf.
Almagro & Vallejo, 2002). Schleppegrell (1991: 20) offers useful
solutions in order to overcome the decontextualization of the material
–choosing content-based themes, using a thematic organization, as well
as contextual references based on activities done before–, a similar
position to that adopted by Hutchinson & Waters (1984) on the idea
of selection, and a view which is also shared by Widdowson (1979). The
culture and technology of the country of origin of the students also
play a decisive role as contextual support. Moreover, Clarke (1989:
136-140) insists that the student’s collaboration in the adaptation or
elaboration of the material is important in bringing about his/her
interaction with the material, even when the teaching material has
The reference to these limitations is, on the one hand, obligatory but,
on the other, the main objective in mentioning them is to discover how
to use authentic material correctly in class, as authenticity is the
link between the class and the outside reality, as Arnold (1991: 237)
corroborates: “[...] the more authentically the classroom mirrors the
real world, the more real the rehearsal will be and the better the
learning and transfer will be”. Nevertheless, Morrow (1977: 14)
highlights that the language that authentic texts offer is “particular”
and “individual” and that the text is authentic “only if it contains
elements which are general as opposed to idiosyncratic”. Language varies
according to the situation in which it is used and, as a result,
authenticity disappears in the teaching-learning situation because it
was not the context for which the language was conceived. Thus, Morrow
(1977: 251) stresses that three factors prevail in the communicative
use of texts: authenticity,
involvement, and choice,
and affirms that the most important is what he terms authenticity of response.
Compared to Morrow’s (1977) position, Arnold (1991: 237) takes the view
that the imbalance between the teaching-learning situation and the
exterior reality will not occur if the following types of authenticity
come together: “Authentic materials and learner’s purposes, authentic
materials and authentic interactions, authentic responses, authentic
participants, authentic status, settings and equipment and, authentic
inputs and outputs”.
Similarly, we discover in Breen (1985) a conception of the class not as
the non- authentic context making the authenticity of the materials
disappear, but as the context which gives validity to the authenticity,
this being uderstood as the sum of four types of authenticity that the
teacher should take into account: authenticity of the text,
authenticity of the interpretation of the text on the part of the
student, the authenticity of the objectives and, finally, the
authenticity of the class. As far as the first two types of
authenticity are concerned, this author points out that the text, on
this occasion, is directed at the student, who will adapt it according
to his/her point of reference, even if the text was initially conceived
for a different situation, and observes: “The guiding criterion here is
the provision of any means which will enable the learner to eventually
interpret texts in ways which are likely to be shared with fluent users
of the language”. As regards the third type of authenticity, the
authenticity of objectives, Breen draws a distinction between authentic communication task and authentic learning task, these
being the main objective of the activities offered to the students.
This idea links directly with the fourth type of authenticity, which is
based both on communication and learning. All in all, Breen (1985: 68)
concludes that the most authentic activity in the teaching-learning
situation is that of metacommunication. This conception of the class as
the unique social context is what leads us to affirm that authenticity
is validated within the teaching-learning situation and, as Breen
observes, to bring other real, authentic worlds to the class is not the
essence of authenticity.
As for the evaluation of teaching materials, it should be highlighted
that the lack of agreement in this field is obvious: the terminology
used to define the different criteria varies greatly, these criteria
are not constant, the elements making up each criterion do not always
coincide, and the thoroughness in defining the content of each of these
criteria varies from one proposal to another. All these factors make
the field of evaluation of teaching materials one which lacks a firmly
consolidated base, a situation which is aggravated in the field of
English for Specific Purposes, because in addition to the circumstances
described, there is also a lack of evaluation proposals.
The proposal for the evaluation of authenticity set forth in this paper
is based, on the one hand, on an exhaustive literature review on
authenticity and, on the other, on Almagro’s (2004) proposal for the
evaluation of ESP textbooks at university level. The latter article
extensively reviews existing literature in the field, as it takes into
account eighteen proposals for textbook evaluation from the decade of
the 70s to our present day,4 with special
relevance being awarded to
the 80s and 90s. However, while contemplating the variable of
authenticity, it does not explore it in depth, something which the
present paper attempts to do by providing a practical proposal for its
evaluation in textbooks.
The formal features of this proposal are the following: to begin with,
it reflects the criteria which, according to renowned figures in this
field, define the adequate use of authentic material and which have
been summarized in the second section of this article. In addition, it
takes into account all the aspects pertaining to authenticity included
in the most outstanding proposals for materials evaluation made from
the 70s to our present day. Finally, it conjugates the foregoing with a
personal consideration of those variables and subaspects which we
consider should be present in the evaluation of authenticity in
textbooks. In this sense, the selection of the criteria comprised in
our evaluation proposal and the ascription of each one to a specific
heading are justified in the present section.
Five are the aspects which constitute the evaluation proposal, all of
them complementary and overlapping so as to cover the issue of
authenticity from all possible angles. They are arranged from more
general ones which can be easily identified to more specific variables
which require closer analysis. The way in which these aspects are
articulated in the subsequent checklist also allows for its application
in both a General English and English for Specific Purposes setting,
while, at the same time, incorporating criteria specific to ESP
teaching; hence the innovative nature of the proposal, now presented in
AUTHENTICITY IN ESP
1. CONTEXT AND TARGET
This heading is
a necessary point of departure for the evaluation of authenticity since
the very essence of the latter resides in authenticity of purpose. It
is essential to determine whether, as we have seen Morrow (1977) points
out, topic, function, channel,
and audience match the
situation for which a text is going to be used in the ESP classroom.
Matching is after all, what evaluation is all about, as Hutchinson
& Waters (1987: 97) stress: “Evaluation is basically a matching
process: matching needs to available solutions”. A text can be
considered as a model for production only if we are sure that the
students will want to produce texts with the same characteristics.
The extent to
which a textbook’s authenticity is useful or adequate for the two
participants in the teaching-learning process also needs to be taken
into account. To begin with, it is of the utmost importance that the
learner be considered when evaluating authenticity in textbooks.
As we have seen Robinson (1980) signals, authenticity is not synonymous
with relevance; authentic material is only useful if it matches the
students’ level of communicative competence and the needs of their
specialization. Materials should indeed be chosen in terms of how well
and how far they develop the competence of the learner, rather than on
the basis of the extent to which they mirror the performance data of
the target situation. They should furthermore be evaluated on how well
they prepare the learner for an authentic experience of language; on
how far they engage the language user in authentic interpretation,
interaction, and communication; and on how they trigger a
response from the learner, activating his/her prior knowledge,
interest, and curiosity about language and structure (cf. Morrow, 1977;
Breen, 1985; Arnold, 1991in the literature review).
Given the fact that
the ESP teacher is often not an expert in the specific field of his/her
students, it is paramount that the degree of authenticity of the
textbook match the teacher’s preparation. It must be borne in mind that
the textbook is a mere instrument or tool which the teacher should be
able to adapt to his/her specific context in order to match the needs
of the learners.
the level of specificity of our evaluation a step further, it becomes
necessary to carry out a fine-grained analysis of authenticity in
relation to all the variables which affect the content of the textbook.
Taking into account that one of the defining features of ESP is the
fact that language is learned with a communicative goal, it becomes
patent that, alongside linguistic
aspects (such as the range and selection of grammar and lexicon,
or the inclusion of real stretches of language), sociocultural or notional-functional elements, and
more specifically their relation to the students’ target situation and
academic or occupational purposes, should also be contemplated.
Needless to say, the
actual topics around which the
textbook is built must also be scrutinized, as authentic material can
only be considered of use if its thematic content is valid from an
academic or occupational viewpoint. It must also be determined if the
topics and units are adequate for the students’ level of
specialization, if they match their learning needs and interests, and
if they have both a linguistic and communicative purpose.
The organization of the topics
also needs to be reflected upon. In this sense, it is advisable to
build lessons around content-based themes in the specific purpose area.
As Schleppegrell (1991: 20) recommends:
Use a thematic organization
chooses particular topics and builds on them from one class to another,
rather than random texts or unrelated topics. Understand that in
“authentic” situations, understanding a new text comes from reference
to the context and surroundings. Build such contexts into your units by
referring to previous work and drawing on the frame of reference that
learners already have.
activities employed to put these topics into practice should also be
evaluated in terms of authenticity. In this respect, their usefulness
both in the educational context and in the target situation should be
The checklist for the evaluation of authenticity presents a structure
identical to that of the proposal put forward in the previous section,
with the exception that its contents are formulated in question format.
On the one hand, the fact that it includes five sections, subdivided
into a total of 28 items, endows it with a manageable character and
enhances the feasibility of its use. And, on the other, the fact that
it comprises two answer sections renders it more complete: a) one
affects the evaluation of the textbook in terms of the diverse aspects
which constitute the checklist and b) the other involves the teacher’s
personal view of the relevance of each aspect. To this end, two columns
are provided: the first of them has four response options – E
(Excellent), A (Adequate), L (Limited), and NI (Not Included) – for the
textbook to be evaluated in terms of authenticity, while the second
includes three options – E (Essential), R (Recommendable), and U
(Unnecessary) – for the teacher to express his/her opinion. The final
decision to select or discard a given textbook in terms of its
treatment of authenticity will depend on the correspondence between
those aspects to which the teacher attaches the greatest importance and
their inclusion in the textbook. The checklist is presented below:
|1. CONTEXT AND
- Can the textbook’s
usefully employed in the target situation?
- Does the target
situation presented in the textbook coincide with the students’
- Are the purposes of
the material authentic?
- Can the student clearly
the utility of the textbook’s objectives in real-life target situations?
- Do its exercises and
tasks have a clear goal related to the students’ target situation?
- Is the textbook
adequate for the students’ level of communicative competence?
- Does it allow the
students to make use of their linguistic abilities and to put into
practice their communicative competence?
- Does it prepare the
learner for an authentic experience of language?
- Does the textbook
match the needs of the students’ specialization?
- Does it generate
authentic interaction, communication, and responses from the learner?
3. THE TEACHER
- Does the degree of
the textbook match the teacher’s preparation?
- Can the textbook be
adapted by the teacher to meet the needs of his/her specific context?
- Is the selection and
linguistic aspects presented adequate for the students’ level of
- Does it include
up-to-date and relevant grammatical structures and lexicon?
- Do they include
stretches of real language produced by real speakers or writers for a
real audience and conveying a real message of some sort?
4.2. Sociocultural aspects
- Can the sociocultural
presented in the textbook be used for academic or occupational purposes
rather than only for linguistic ones?
- Does the textbook
provide a cultural contextual support?
- Are the functions
presented in the
textbook related to the students’ target situation?
- Is the presentation
of functions complemented with linguistic and communicative exercises?
- Is the area of
specialization of the
textbook and its selection of topics of interest to the learner?
- Are the topics
included in the textbook valid from an occupational and/or academic
point of view?
- Are the topics
adequate for the students’ level of specialization?
- Do the units have a
linguistic and communicative purpose?
- Do they include
authentic material which matches students’ learning needs?
- Is the variety of
English presented in the textbook in line with the teacher’s
preparation and the same as that which the student will need in a
- Does the textbook have a
- Are the lessons
built around content-based themes in the specific purpose area?
- Are the activities
in the educational context and in the target situation?
E R U
Authenticity has traditionally been slighted in didactic materials
evaluation proposals, something which the present paper aims to
overcome by putting forward a proposal and checklist for the evaluation
of authenticity to ease the task of selecting and using authentic
materials in the field of ESP, in general, and of Business English, in
particular. Indeed, since the recent explosion of published books in
the area of ESP has particularly affected Business English, teachers of
this variety need to be well-equipped with systematic criteria to help
them evaluate various aspects of the materials at their disposal and
thus make informed decisions. Although authentic materials are a very
rich source for the selection of teaching materials, the selection and
use of this type of material asks the teacher for a thorough appraisal.
Authenticity in the teaching-learning situation should be based on the
correspondence between our students’ learning and target needs.
1 The terminological profusion associated
with authenticity leads Robinson (1980: 35) to propose the use of
“realia” instead of “authentic material”. However, Widdowson’s (1983:
30) terminological proposal is decisive: he identifies the first
meaning with the product, ascribing the term “genuine” to it, in
opposition to the process, to which he associates the term
“authenticity”. Our terminological proposal is similar to that of
Widdowson from a semantic point of view, the terms employed being
“authentic material” and “authenticity”.
2 Cf. Johns & Davies (1983: 3) as
regards the two purposes involved in the use of texts, the linguistic
one –TALO method (Text a Linguistic
Object)– and the communicative one –TAVI method (Text as a Vehicle of Information).
3 This is one among many of the aspects that
Widdowson (1979: 165) analyses in an exhaustive, conclusive, and
magisterial way through the binary oposition usage (artificial material or
material with linguistic purposes)/use
(real language or authentic material).
4 Cf. Almagro (2004: 225).
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Author 2005. Published by SDUTSJ. All rights reserved.
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