Authentic tasks in the World Languages classroom are those that resemble a real-life situation, that is, a communicative experience that students could have outside of school. Because of this “real world” condition, authentic tasks in the WL classroom have a purpose that goes beyond language use; in other words, learners aren’t just practicing particular target language words or grammatical structures but they also need to achieve a specific goal by using the language. For example, when filling out a handout with verb conjugations in the past, the goal is simply to use the past tense in order to memorize the verb endings. In a more authentic task, students interview each other about their weekend to find out whether they did the same things. In this case, learners are using the past tense with the real-life goal of finding what they have in common with another person.
Why do we use authentic tasks in the WL classroom? Because the goal is to teach students how to use the target language in real-life situations. In order to better meet this goal, it’s important to use authentic tasks both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
It’s often the case that WL instructors focus on creating authentic speaking or listening tasks for classroom practice, but not so much for homework. Assigning authentic speaking tasks to complete outside of the classroom is challenging, because we tend to think of “authentic” as interactive and it may be hard for students to get together after class on a regular basis to perform a dialogue in the target language. However, real-life communication doesn’t always happ
en in face-to-face interaction. Voice mail, pre-recorded phone surveys, and video journals, for example, are common forms of communication beyond an academic setting and they are easy to assign for homework on a regular basis.
Suggestions for authentic speaking tasks for homework:
1. Voice mail tasks. To make them more authentic, you can tell students at the beginning of the course that they have been paired with a student in a country where the target language is spoken. Every week, each student needs to record one or two voicemails in response to a prompt that you create. For example, the first one may be to introduce themselves to this person and then ask questions about them. Later in the semester, you can tell your students that their partner in the target language country needs help with a project on the life of US college or high school students, for example, and has some questions for them. To ensure spontaneity you can use the timed-review feature in Extempore, so that you can set the time students have to review a question before the recording automatically starts.
2. Pre-recorded phone surveys. This is a good way to have students answer quickly to several short questions on their personal opinion. An example is a phone survey by the World Languages Department in your school. You can tell them that the WL Department wants to know what students think about their program and they will receive some questions on their phone that they should answer orally. Some of the questions can be: Why are you taking French, German, Spanish, or whichever the target language is? What are two types of activities in your language classroom that you like? What are two things that you like (or don’t like) about the textbook? How do you think you will use the target language after you graduate? The instructor can record either audio or video prompts to also practice listening comprehension.
3. Video journals. Like written journals, this type of self-reflective communication is non-interactive and easy to assign as homework. A setting in which this assignment fits particularly well is study abroad. Students can create a video log of their daily activities in which they narrate some anecdotes and also reflect on how those experiences are helping their progress in the target language and in their cultural awareness. In the regular classroom at home, students can also use video journals to comment on the day’s lesson and ask questions that they may still have about the content.
Whether you choose to use Extempore for regular homework speaking practice or for assessment of oral skills, the extent to which your students achieve the learning goals will greatly depend on the design and authenticity of the assessment. Here we have given you some suggestions on how to make your Extempore tasks authentic and, thus, align better with your learning goals.