An ELT Glossary : Text Types (1)



This entry deal with text types commonly used in ELT - graded, authentic and lexically enhanced texts. For a description of text types dependent on purpose (narrative, descriptive, expository, procedural, persuasive) see here.




NB: Texts should here be understood as referring to both listening and reading texts.


1. Simplified (or Graded) Texts


Simplified/Graded texts are texts which have been written, or adapted, to be within the language competence of the learner reading or listening to them. They were used widely in Audiolingual Methodology, which believed that learners should not be exposed to language which which was not controlled to the level of structure and lexis which they were capable of using productively, as this would result in confusion and therefore error - which  Audiolingualism saw as detrimental to learning.  On the other hand, simplified texts - texts included in the coursebook, graded readers etc - would reuse the language which the learners had already encountered, thus consolidating their previous knowledge of the language.


Although simplified/graded texts are no longer used as the sole basis of reading and listening work in the classroom, it can be argued that at lower levels they still have a role to play - eg for purposes of extensive reading. Graded readers, for example,  can allow the learners easy and pleasurable reading experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. These are books written at a specific level using only language items from a stated syllabus - so that the teacher can be sure the learners have already met the items they contain. An example of such a syllabus can be found on the Pearson website, here. The books in a graded reader series may be of two types :

  • books specifically written for the series
  • adaptations (simplified versions) of authentic texts 
Examples of both these types can be seen on this page from the Macmillan catalogue



2. Authentic Texts


The term authentic  texts (also authentic materials) refers to texts not specifically written for language learning but originally intended for a native speaker audience. For example an article from a UK or US newspaper; a travel brochure; a film on DVD .

The use of authentic texts in the classroom was a cornerstone of the Communicative Approach, which argued that learners should not be "protected" from authentic use of language but exposed to it believing that:
a) the language they encountered should always reflect natural language use, without the distortions imposed by simplification
b) receptive competence could be developed to a higher level than productive competence
c) learners should be taught in the classroom to cope with problems posed by authentic materials,  for example unknown words, thus preparing them better for their experiences with the language outside the classroom

NB : Many writers, eg Widdowson 1979,  distinguish between the authenticity of the text itself and the authenticity of the purpose for which it is used.  "Authentic" uses of texts may be eg reading/listening for pleasure (a film) or to get information (a travel brochure), but studying any of these texts  to focus on the language they contain would be a  non-authentic purpose.


3. Lexically Enhanced Texts


Lexically enhanced texts are associated with the Lexical Approach, developed by Lewis in the early 1990s, which argued that lexis in general and lexical chunks in particular needed to be placed at the centre of language learning rather than grammar. The Lexical Approach pointed to the enormous number of fixed and semi-fixed phrases which native speakers can retrieve from memory as single units, thus aiding fluency - once the phrase is started the rest just follows automatically, without needing planning time, thus "freeing up" the brain.

This led to the problem however, of exposure. How could learners be exposed to the enormous number of chunks that exist in the language? and how could these be recycled often enough that they would be assimilated and retained. One answer was to use lexically enhanced texts - texts specifically written, not this time, to simplify them, but to include a higher proportion of lexical chunks than would normally be found in the same length of text. Powell (1996), describing the Business English  textbook Business Matters explained :

 “The articles and many of the exercises in Business Matters have been specially written to contain a large part of the target language of the course. They are not simplified but lexically enhanced with a disproportionately high number of word partnerships and/or fixed expressions (and little of the redundant or colloquial language found in many authentic texts). And this makes them eminently exploitable in the classroom as the main source of input as well as fuel for discussion. Your learners would have to read an enormous number of newspaper and magazine articles to be sure of covering anything like the same range of content language.” 


References 

Powell M., (1996) Business Matters Teachers’ Resource Book, LTP 
Widdowson, H.G. (1979) Explorations in Applied Linguistics, Oxford : OUP