Legitimizing Semi-Authenticity

Richard Robin, George Washington University

The late 1980s brought to language pedagogy in academia the notion that the best input was authentic, especially for developing the receptive skills. However, almost immediately after the appearance of initial teaching materials based on truly authentic I+1 texts and scripts ( McKenna, Nakhimovsky, and Rugaleva, 1985, Thompson, 1991, Robin, 1991, Lekic, 1991), reliable sources of authentic material (straightforward, predictable, and clear, especially for listening comprehension at early levels) began to dry up. After the fall of the Soviet Union, diction on radio/TV became fast and slurry; more items in the press came to assume previous background knowledge.

Practice in reading and listening to paragraphed language based entirely on authentic production became impossible. Instructors who had jumped on the authentic bandwagon for everything from Novice to Advanced level input would have to rethink the possibilities presented by semi-authentic material. Semi-authentic refers to texts/scripts that pass resemble production by natives for natives, but are in fact intended for foreign-language learners. They include "faked" advertisements, news briefs, short informational blurbs, and invented e-mail and voicemail messages.

In this paper, I will lay down some guidelines for the use of semi-authentic material to serve as a bridge from the most elementary level on up, both in terms of providing instructional input and proficiency assessment. Discussion will focus on the lower levels: Novice and Intermediate in the receptive skills and the potential for input-to-output crossover in speaking. I will address the trade-off of sacrificing syntactic complexity and embedded background knowledge requirements of authentic texts (and tempo for scripts) to work on helping students to cope with noise: imprecision and lack of clarity due to problems in the medium at hand: native handwriting in the case of written texts, bad acoustics and background interference in the case of spoken scripts.


Lekic, Maria. 1991. Russian Listening Comprehension, Part I. Center for Slavic & East European Studies, Ohio State University.

McKenna, Kevin J., Alexander Nakhimovsky and Anelya Rugaleva. 1985. Reading Russian Newspapers. The Center for Slavic & East European Studies, Ohio State University.

Robin, Richard. 1991. Russian Listening Comprehension, Part II. Center for Slavic & East European Studies, Ohio State University.

Thompson, Irene. 1991. Reading Real Russian, 1st edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.