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# Interview with David Nunan
National Convention of MEXTESOL
October 16, 2004
Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
interviewer: Nevin Siders



ELT Beat: Good Morning.

DN: Good Morning.

ELT Beat: Thank you very much.

DN: My pleasure.

ELT Beat: You ended your presentation [a few minutes ago] on the topic of authenticity in tasks, and that is what I would like to get to. The first question: You wrote several years ago some publications in ninety, ninety-one, which, looking on your websites for your various textbook series. Have you given any more thought over these many years to what is real, what makes something authentic? Maybe you would like to update your idea.

DN: Well, there are two different kinds of authenticity. There is authenticity of text, which is a piece of written or spoken language that comes into being ...

ELT Beat: [interrupts] “two kinds of authenticity”

DN: Yes, I mean there’s text authenticity and task authenticity. Task authenticity is when somebody actually carries out a communicative task. I guess this [gestures to the two of them] would be task authenticity: we’re sitting and having a semi-structured interview, and so this is authentic. It could be turned into a resource for language teaching later on, but as it’s actually happening it’s an authentic task. Which is also resulting in an authentic text, which is what’s being recorded on the tape. So that’s my rule-of-thumb definition of authenticity, all those years ago. The piece of language that’s been brought about in the course of two or more people carrying out, or engaging in, an authentic task of one kind or another.
But if, as part of the task, part of a text gets exploited for pedagogical purposes, then to an extent it gets de-authenticated. You know, when you took that into the classroom and used it to do a listening lesson, that would be, in a sense, de-authenticating the text.

ELT Beat: You see exactly where I’m going. The same question, with technical terms: What is realia for you?

DN: Well, I guess, any kind of [teaching] resources. That would be a superordinate term, one that would subsume authentic text. But it would also be other resources as well, anything from some tables and chairs you might take into the classroom to teacher’s visual’s, what have you.

ELT Beat: There’s another person speaking this weekend [at this conference], you may know him, Mario Herrera, he’s quite popular here in Mexico. He said a thousand times in his speech the day before yesterday, “that all we have is four walls” in the classroom.

DN: Well, with the internet even that definition doesn’t really suffice! [chuckles] I think we have to redefine what we mean by classrooms, with things like internet technology. I run a master’s degree through the internet, where I’ve got students in Chile, Thailand, Tokyo... they could be sitting on the beach [laughs]. Maybe a classroom is where two or more people are gathered together for the purposes of learning and teaching — one of whom may or may not include a teacher. If you’ve got a group of learners who are learning from each other, then you can say that constitutes a classroom. That’s a nice definition of class.

ELT Beat: hmm, “two or more learners”

DN: “which may or may not include a teacher.” Two or more people, one of whom may or may not be a teacher, who are gathered together for the purposes of learning.

ELT Beat: [smiles, closes his finger in a circle] “gathered together.” It’s very poetic: “gathered together.”

DN: They may be gathered together virtually, through the internet.

ELT Beat: Which takes me to the question about ... “de-authenticating” was the way you said it. If this or some other text, or the [convention] program, or any other, or the label on this cassette, is taken into the classroom, how much is it “de-authenticated?” What part of it is lost? What part of it can be retained?

DN: It depends on the purpose for taking it into the classroom in the first place. I’m quite unashamed about de-authenticating text in the classroom. I think, what I said in the presentation [a few minutes ago] was that our job is to make learning more effective and faster for our learners. So if there’s anything we do can achieve that end, then it’s justifiable.
So, if I were to use this conversation as the basis for our lesson, first of all there would have to be a reason: What would be the reason for me to do that? Would it be just to get the students used to the idea of dealing with native-speakers speed of speech? How would I do that? I’d play it several times. I may give them a skeleton version to work from. I may give them a series of key words, to get them to listen for those key words and check them off. All of these are non-authentic applications of the task. But by engaging in those particular exercises and tasks, it’s working toward the goal I have of them being able to deal with this kind of language when they encounter it outside of the classroom. And to do so more successfully than someone who hasn’t had those same class experiences.

ELT Beat: I find your explanations under the term authenticity on the websites, for example, it’s very close to the idea of “an artifact from the target culture,” a very anthropological idea of “artifacts.” Am I on the mark? Did I catch it?

DN: Yea. Yea.

ELT Beat: Here comes the zinger — and you’ve partially answered it already. A definition of language is, “each person must be involved, there must be communication, there must be a message for each of the participants.” Somebody who listens to a recording later is not a target of that presentation.
There is one school of teaching, the Whole Language, which says, “We learn language while using ... language: you learn language through language — and at no other time.” By definition, then, something that’s authentic in the other culture doesn’t include the student. This person is not part of the intentioned targets of that message. Where is the student-centeredness in using an artifact from a foreign culture, an alien culture?

DN: By achieving an objective from it, then why not? If my aim is to acquire Cantonese, which has been a long-term aim of mine, one of the things that I do is to take authentic recordings, [gestures holding a tape recorder] people in interaction. So I don’t have a set course or anything, I’m trying to pick the language up myself. And so I’ll record conversations in the environment like this [gestures to the surrounding coffee shop], and then I will listen to them. I’ll do things like listening for key words. I’ll practice the pronoun system, where all I’m listening for is the pronouns. I come out of that encounter having added to my repertoire of Cantonese in some small way.

ELT Beat: Yes, you were saying last night [answering questions from the audience] you challenged yourself to learn it without a classroom.

DN: Yea, it was [unintelligible: heavy, testy]. I recorded samples of language. But I needed help. There are times I need to seek the help of a teacher. For example, there are two forms of thanking in Cantonese, [do jair and gong kai,] and I couldn’t figure out when to use one form and when to use another, simply by inductively working [it] out and observing instances of native speakers using those two forms in natural interaction. So I ended up having to record and asking someone [laughs], asking a native speaker.
And I got them entirely screwed up when they started trying explaining. ‘Cause they weren’t a teacher, they got completely screwed up, the same way as if you asked a non-trained native speaker [of English] when we use the simple past and when we use the present perfect: they’d probably also get confused. The person would say, “What’s the present perfect?”

ELT Beat: Yea, the difference between being a native speaker and being a teacher.
That was the hard question that I want to work on. Am I going too far? Am I exaggerating in counterposing, contrasting, these ideas of what’s authentic for something in the other culture and what’s authentic in the classroom?

DN: I don’t know. I need to see it expanded on, you thesis expanded on a little. It sounds reasonable on the surface.

ELT Beat: The idea that I’m going toward is: if the students create things themselves — stage plays, posters, the things we do in the classroom, the project kind of work for solving problems in an hour or a semester or any time in between — they create a product. Then they are communicating among themselves, in the process of creation. It has an audience. The process of communicating in the moment.

DN: That is probably what I’m trying to do when I talk about creative language use, they would be using language creatively, they wouldn’t just be ventriloquizing or repeating patterns of things fed into them from the textbook or the teacher.
So what are you doing with the recording?

ELT Beat: As the editor I can say, I’m sure this will be very good for the Mexico City Chapter’s website. Our publication is electronic, monthly. It will be very well received.

DN: OK. All right.

ELT Beat: Thank you very much.
Referenced from: National Convention of MEXTESOL