Under the current circumstances, many of us have been searching the Internet for materials useful for online teaching. Whether your classes are synchronous, hybrid, or partially asynchronous, you might be on the lookout for something new, different, or fresh that will invigorate your classes and engage your students. Research shows that authentic materials might do just that.
When preparing to write this post, I did some preliminary research to check whether my understanding of “authentic” matches that of others. What I found, not surprisingly, was that not everything I consider authentic meets everyone’s conception. There are numerous approaches to authenticity in second language acquisition that offer many different definitions. They range from statements like:
“Authenticity relates to the language produced by native speakers for native speakers in a particular language community” (Porter & Roberts 1981)
to more complex approaches that consider the whole culture in which the language is used:
“Authenticity relates to culture, and the ability to behave or think like a target language group in order to be recognized and validated by them” (Kramsch 1998).
In this context, choosing what is authentic might prove a daunting task. Therefore, I follow the advice of Alex Gilmore (2007), who has suggested that rather than debating the authenticity of our material, we should focus on our teaching goals and decide if a given text is going to serve our purposes, assuming, of course, that we use communicative approach.
In my journey as a Polish language teacher, one thing that influenced me most recently was a workshop on reverse design organized by the University of Chicago Language Center. I had been familiar with the ACTFL proficiency levels prior to this workshop, but the idea of adjusting your teaching to desired outcomes was quite eye-opening to me. Thinking in terms of what I would like my students to learn in different proficiency level classes, and how I am going to get them there, has changed my approach to teaching. I realized that even should my students be unable to use the genitive of negation or the instrumental at the end of first-year Polish, they will still have made progress. In fact, their progress might be even more valuable than the strict following of a particular rule, if I can help them function in the target culture. Of course, the range of topics they can engage, and the length of speech they can produce, will depend on their proficiency level.
So, to return to authentic materials that can serve our goals, that is, can provide input and serve as models for our students to use at the very basic level: these are materials that I often use to supplement the textbook. Using a textbook as a thematic source helps me organize my work, but materials can also be chosen according to communicative needs. However thematically related they may be to our sometimes not-so-authentic or outdated textbooks, authentic materials provide students with access to quite a new world; you can see on their faces the fascination of encountering pieces of Polish culture so different from their own.
Typically, the simpler the language level we are trying to teach, the harder it is to discover suitable materials. Language instructors often lament that finding authentic materials for the first or second year of instruction can be quite challenging and time-consuming. While this is generally the case, there are nevertheless many materials out there that can be used as they are. Additionally, we can teach our students how to use more complex texts for their own beginning-level purposes; for example, by asking them, in the case of newspapers, to focus only on headlines.
What are some authentic materials available for us that we could use in our teaching? The Internet offers a plethora of resources, starting with various websites, YouTube channels, and streaming options. Knowing what we need may land us some valuable materials.
In my first-year classes, I use Polish online shops, official websites, and a YouTube channel with Polish songs. I know that songs are quite old-school, and not everyone likes to sing, but doesn’t everyone like to listen to music? And songs are most assuredly authentic. To be sure, some lyrics can be very hard to understand. But when working with elementary-level students, we can provide them with a summary of lyrics and focus on the parts that they can understand, such as a refrain. The famous Kocham cie kochanie moje by Mannam can be one example of a very simple refrain that we can teach our students. Video clips are also an effective way to show the target culture, so for that very reason, it is worth including a song or two in your teaching. Additionally, comments posted under Polish songs can be used as models for Internet interactions as well.
Another type of online resource that can be used this way are the many official websites containing various information that students might find useful; a Polish government website, if they need to apply for a visa, for instance; or the sites of Polish universities, if they plan to study in Poland. Again, if your students are beginners, you might want to choose only headings or specific vocabulary you want them to learn, such as the names of majors in Polish. The same method can be used to incorporate news at this level: rather than reading the whole piece, focus on headlines.
When it comes to more practical skills, Polish online stores and websites with local information are excellent resources as well. There are many Polish online shops that one can use. I like to practice with dodomku.pl after introducing food vocabulary and the Polish currency. Students can see the difference in packaging and better understand prices in Poland as well. Similarly, I show Polish online stores to practice clothing and color vocabulary. Personally, I like pantuniestal.com for its communist inspirations (not to mention the company’s sense of humor), which also make it suitable for use in discussing the Polish People’s Republic.
Travel is another topic that invites authentic materials. First, there exists a whole host of well-designed websites with descriptions of places one might want to visit. Second, Polish websites can be very helpful in deciding how to get around or where in particular to stay. I enjoy traveling by train, and I often encourage my students to choose this form of transportation when in Poland. The Polish railroads are quite complicated in terms of ownership, but have a comprehensive website pkp.pl, where one can easily check how to get from one place to another by train. Students practice by looking up different connections and prices. As a bonus, this involves a lot of basic vocabulary to review (rowery, emeryt, bilet, pociag, etc.).
The above are just a few ideas about which online resources can be incorporated into your teaching. I have not focused on such online tools as Quizlet or Kahoot – often a topic of discussion of teachers of other languages – because I wanted to show more language-specific solutions. In a future post, I will go into more detail as to specific tasks and activities that I use with these websites and online channels. Meanwhile, I invite you to share information on the kinds of resources you have been using. Thank you for your time.