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Language Learning

How to Choose and Use Authentic Language Texts

Using authentic language resources is essential to help students build proficiency in a dual language immersion environment. These resources provide students with real-world insights into other cultures and how language functions in various contexts. One of Participate Learning’s resident experts, Dr. Laura Macartney, offered her advice and tips on how to choose and use authentic materials in dual language classrooms.

Laura has been an educator for 22 years, serving as a dual language immersion teacher for 13 years, a literacy specialist, and a school principal. Laura and her family recently lived in Costa Rica for three years, where she also taught dual language immersion. She is currently a manager of education programs at Participate Learning.

We asked Laura for her advice, expertise, and favorite dual language resources, which she shared with us below.

What is an authentic language resource? What characteristics do you look for?

Authentic texts are written by members of a cultural community in their language and about their culture. I am looking for a resource or text that’s originally written in the target language by someone from that culture and who has lived in that culture. These aren’t texts that were originally written in English and translated into Spanish, for example.

Why are authentic resources important in a dual language immersion classroom?

Two reasons: We are immersing children in language, and we’re immersing them in culture. 

Authentic texts are more linguistically and culturally accurate than translated texts. Certain phrases, manners of speaking, idioms, colloquialisms, and slang words don’t directly translate between languages. They lose something in translation. The language is richer when it is authentic and not translated.

Authentic resources provide immersion into the culture. We can learn so much about a culture via a text that was written by someone from that background. They supply insight, information, and perspectives from that culture. Illustrated books also provide windows into another culture with photos and pictures.

For example, when I was a teacher, I read a book, El regalo mágico, to my students about a boy moving from the Dominican Republic to New York City. This gave students insights and empathy into what it was like to move from an island to a huge city, and the point of view of a child who had a different background. 

What tips do you have for teachers as they search for authentic resources online or elsewhere?

As a teacher, I spent a lot of time and money building my classroom library. In terms of choosing the right book, it’s really important to read it yourself first. Look at recommendations from other teachers online and read reviews. Look at publishers that publish authentic texts. When selecting a text for your students, consider:

  • Is the context appropriate for my students? 
  • Is the book age-appropriate?
  • Does the language complexity of the text match the linguistic levels of my students (with appropriate scaffolding)? 
  • How can I build the background knowledge necessary for my students to understand and connect with this text? 

How do you use authentic materials effectively in the classroom? What tips do you have for dual language teachers?

When we as teachers give students support and scaffolding with a new text, they respond really well to it. Otherwise, they might be drawn to translated English books because they feel more familiar. Kids are inquisitive and ask great questions. They want to understand the world beyond themselves.

Give students context about a new text. Introduce them to the author first, picking a book to read aloud by that author before they interact with a resource on their own.

Teachers can use authentic texts with any reading format: small groups, independent reading, read-alouds, or partner reading. With independent reading, I always tried to let students choose what they wanted to read. I’d ask students to write their own book reviews and post them around the classroom to encourage other kids to read that book. 

Kids can learn so much through fairy tales, rhymes, songs, and word play in the target language. If they learn a game or rhyme, they can use that outside the classroom, while they’re playing, for example. But those don’t translate well, so it’s important to use authentic texts.

What authors and resources do you recommend for high-quality authentic materials?

Some of my favorite authors for elementary children’s books in Spanish are:

Scholastic and Reading A-Z have both recently launched authentic texts in Spanish. I would also recommend Santillana USA (sold via various different vendors and stores) and Lectorum.

Thank you for your advice and insights, Laura! To learn more about creating diverse book collections in your classroom, see this blog post. For more dual language immersion tools, see Participate Learning’s resources in Spanish and Mandarin.

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