Using Authentic Documents in the Foreign Language Classroom

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The use of authentic documents in the World Language classroom has become more and more important in recent years as teachers are becoming more aware of the importance of exposing students to culture in the classroom.  Here are some ideas concerning the use of authentic documents in the classroom, as opposed to documents created to mimic the culture.

Traditional attempts at understanding difference, particularly cultural difference, have typically focused on institutions, achievements, publications, and well-known public people.This can be most obviously displayed in various “Cultural Notes” or “Culture Capsules” in various foreign language and history textbooks. (Kramsch, Galloway, Moran)

A true understanding of another culture must move beyond what Moran refers to as a Functionalist View, which presents only institutional and assumed collective perspectives of a country or culture.This might include the presentation of cultural “facts” such as “All Quebecers speak French and want to separate from Canada.”By approaching the study of culture from what Moran refers to as a Conflict View, students can come to understand that there are various opinions and perspectives within any culture and these must be understood in order to arrive at a more appropriate, and perhaps empathetic perception of the culture.

The most effective way to provide students with opportunities to understand cultural perspectives from an insider’s point of view is through the use of authentic documents that are created by members of the foreign culture for members of the foreign culture (Galloway,).

The teacher’s guidance through the process of interpreting film clips, commercials, literature, photographs, web sites, and products of the foreign culture will help students to conceptualize it in a way that is not influenced by their native culture. (Kramsch)

References:

Galloway, V. (1992). Toward a cultural reading of authentic texts. In Heusinkveld, P. R. (Ed.), Pathways to Culture. (pp. 255-302). Yartmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Kramsch, C. (1988). The cultural discourse of foreign language textbooks. In Singerman, A. J. (Ed.), Toward a New Integration of Language and Culture, pp. 63-88. Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

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