Authentic Media in the ESL Classroom

It is difficult to venture into a classroom in the 21st century without encountering some sort of multimedia. From pictures to videos and every Instagram post in-between, media has a way of grabbing students’ attention and conveying themes and information in a way they can relate to.

Media has a special place in the English as a second language/English as a foreign language (ESL/EFL) classroom. Often, visual representation of content is the catalyst for student understanding of language concepts and vocabulary. However, it can be tricky when media runs into cultural representation. Just as it is an easy way to engage our students and help them visualize concepts and content, it is just as easy to misrepresent cultures and people groups with inaccurate media.

This is why it is important to seek out authentic media when possible. Authentic media is multimedia that comes from authentic voices. Simply put, it is pictures, videos, music and more that comes directly from the culture which it is representing.

Think of it this way. Which seems like a more accurate representation of a culture; a travel video made by a Korean who is traveling for 3 days in this country, or a daily life video made by a native resident of the country? Of course, the native resident would have a more accurate understanding of the cultural practices and traditions of their home country. When we are showing videos, pictures, or other forms of media to students, it is the duty of the teacher to be sure that they are representing that culture as accurately as possible. In this way, we help our students to have a more informed worldview and a deeper understanding of cultures around the world, rather than looking at the world through the lens of their native country or through a west-centric point of view.

But how can we access authentic materials? Below I will outline a few tips for choosing materials, along with some great places to start looking.

Look at the author

A simple way to check for authenticity is to look at the author. Are they a native to this culture? Or are they merely an observer? Even reputable sources like National Geographic can hold bias in the images they present, so it is always prudent to check for media created by those living within the culture or people group that you’d like to showcase to your students. When looking at content where the creator is an outsider observing a particular culture or community, seek media that allow their subjects to speak. Meaning seek content such as videos that include interviews or tell the stories of specific people from that culture or community, rather than videos that tend to generalize like travel vlogs.

Look at the location

In many places, rural areas may look drastically different from metropolitan areas. It is important to consider this when presenting images of a particular country that your students may not have much information about outside of your class.

Look at the bias

Even those native to a culture or community can be biased in the presentation of their surroundings. It’s important to always remind students to seek multiple points of view and try to access more than one portrayal of a culture before making assumptions.

Places to Start Looking

Great Big Story- YouTube short video channel

Though they are no longer making new videos, the Great Big Story YouTube channel still has hundreds of videos to search through to find great stories from nearly every corner of the world. Though the channel itself is made by an American company (CNN), the videos center on real people and real stories, without any bias or commentary from the videographer or journalist. The videos range from one minute to fifteen minutes and often include English subtitles. Some may even have subtitles available in other languages.

The stories are compelling, and can showcase parts of a culture that are not often found within a textbook. The simplest way to find the perfect video is to use the “search” function on the YouTube channel page and type in the country, culture, or community you would like to represent in your classroom.

Use the search function to find the videos that cover the topic you are interested in

Here is a video about the Turkish whistling language

Great Big Story Homepage link

https://www.youtube.com/c/GreatBigStory/featured

NasDaily YouTube Channel- Nuseir Yassin

Similar to Great Big Story, NasDaily, a channel run by Israeli Nuseir Yassin, is full of videos about many places around the world, not only the native country of the content creator. However, the videos he makes are authentic in a special way. What the author of these videos, Nuseir, does is allow the people from the culture he is visiting to tell their own story. In essence, the videos he makes, which range from 1 to 5 minutes, are about people. By keeping the stories human-based, the videos themselves become more authentic.

Here is a video about the Water King of Kenya

Also similar to Great Big Story, you can use the search function on the homepage to find videos that fit what you are looking for

A link to the homepage for NasDaily

https://www.youtube.com/c/NasDaily/featured

Vlog- Personal-life Videos often found on hosting sites such as YouTube

Outside of these larger channels, smaller videos made by those within the culture or community you’d like to share with your students can be a powerful way to model authenticity to students.

Some of the easiest ways to search for these types of vides is to put “[country/community name] vlog” or “[country/community name] daily life” in the YouTube search bar. Vlog stands for “video log” and is usually a first-person account of the video author’s own experiences. However, avoid travel vlogs like the ones in the following image.

These videos are made by tourists to that country or community and will not produce the same authentic view as a video made by someone from within that culture. Instead look for videos of people speaking about their own lives. A good way to do this is to check the “About” section on their YouTube homepage like can be seen in the following image and see if the channel creator is a resident of the country covered in their vlogs.

This channel hosts videos made by Salta, a local Kazakh who makes videos about life in Kazakhstan, like this one

Here are a few more vlog examples

Russia with Yeah Russia, a channel from a Russian girl named Natasha

Nigeria with Eboh Media, a channel from Eboh Gee Chigozie, who takes an authentic look at Nigerian daily life.

Or Egypt with Mahmoud Yehia, a film maker from Egypt who looks at a day in the life in an Egyptian village

Though this film mostly represents rural areas of Egypt, clips can be combined with the following video on a day in the life in Cairo, Egypt by Azat Akhunov

And many more…

All of the above resources are a great place to start, but there is plenty more authentic media outside of YouTube. Just search for authors making content about their own culture or community and you can access a plethora of authentic multimedia to enrich your lessons and provide context for the cultures and communities your students may come across in their textbooks.

2 thoughts on “Authentic Media in the ESL Classroom

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  2. Pingback: Tips for Selecting Appropriate Videos for the Classroom | GIFLE

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