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As a passionate advocate for learner-centred language teaching approaches, I firmly believe that connecting language learning to real-world topics and contexts is the key to learner engagement and fostering life-long learning. If we can show our students how the language they are learning connects to their own everyday lives, and not only that, but also give them opportunities to discuss important topics that they care about, we are setting them on the path towards making English a natural part of their daily life.

In this post, we will explore the concept of real-life learning and the numerous benefits it offers. 

1. What is real-life learning?

Real-life learning is an approach that encourages students to explore language in authentic and meaningful ways, connecting it to their everyday lives. It goes beyond the traditional course book exercises and contrived language learning activities, immersing students in real-world situations where language is used naturally. By incorporating real-life learning into our language lessons, we empower our students to use language as a tool for communication, building their confidence and proficiency at the same time.

But what does this mean? 

There are different levels to real-life learning. On a basic level it might just mean bringing in some authentic materials or realia and allowing students to explore them. It could also mean learning language that is useful in students’ everyday lives and then providing them with experiences where they can use it. It could be by taking an inquiry-based or project-based approach where learners explore a real-world or hypothetical problem and come up with solutions. At its most sophisticated, it could be setting up a real project or campaign with students that starts in the classroom and then moves beyond it into the local community.

2. What’s wrong with typical ELT activities?

Nothing is wrong with them but they are designed specifically for English language learning and are therefore artificial and contrived. They are often limited to language students already know with just the target language being newly introduced. This means that they lack depth and opportunities for extended learning. These language learning activities often fall short in providing students with an immersive and engaging learning experience. They’re disconnected from the real world and fail to spark students’ curiosity. Students may also struggle to see the relevance of the language they are learning when it is presented in this type of contrived context. 

3. What are the benefits of real-world learning?

By connecting language learning to real-world topics and contexts, we create a meaningful learning experience that resonates with our students. Here are some key benefits:

– Increased motivation and engagement: Students become active participants in the learning process when they can see the direct application of language skills in real-life situations.

– Authentic language use: Students gain exposure to authentic language use, improving their comprehension and fluency.

– Cultural awareness: Real-life learning allows students to explore different cultures and perspectives, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity.

– Transferable skills: Students develop valuable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration, which are essential for success in the real world.

4. How can we incorporate real-world learning in our language lessons?

Let’s explore some practical (and simple) examples.

Authentic materials

Use authentic materials like story books, songs, news articles, podcasts, and videos (depending on their age and level)  to expose students to real-life language use. Authentic materials are much more engaging that those designed for ELT, and I say that as an ELT materials writer (sorry, publishers!). You can adapt authentic materials in many different ways. If this is something that interests you, authentic materials is our latest inquiry topic in The Teaching Lab – come and join us to explore this topic together over the next six weeks: The Teaching Lab: Engage, Explore, Excel | Facebook


Encourage students to act out real-life scenarios, such as ordering food in a restaurant or buying tickets for a movie. I think that role plays are under-exploited in many classrooms, where they’re limited to a dialogue on a page and usually only last a few minutes. Have your students develop the background and setting for their role play as if they were planning a theatre performance. They can create props, costumes and a context. You could even take things further and have them invent a whole imaginary world as the basis for all their role plays. (The real-world doesn’t have to be the one we actually live in – it could be a utopian or dystopian version of it, or a parallel universe).

Inquiry-based learning

Develop projects that require students to research and present information on real-world topics that interest them. Inquiry-based learning is a learner-centred approach that gives students more autonomy and control over what they learn and do. Find out more about inquiry-based learning on my YouTube channel and by checking out my Inspiring Inquiries resource packs.

Watch my latest video: 5 ways to bring the real world into your EFL classroom (available on Friday 17th November).

5. Why bring real-world learning into your EFL lessons?

Relevance and personalisation are essential elements in engaging students in their language learning journey. When students can connect what they are learning to their own lives and interests, they are more likely to be motivated and enthusiastic. As educators, we must strive to create a classroom environment where students feel valued and empowered to express themselves authentically. The more we can connect with our students and their interests, the better.

It is time for us as EFL educators to prioritise teaching approaches that prepare our younger learners for the real world. Let’s embrace student-centred approaches that integrate real-world topics and contexts into our language lessons. By doing so, we will equip our students with the language skills they need to thrive in the world beyond the classroom, which, I believe, should be our end goal.

How do you connect your classroom with the real world? Share your experiences in the comments below.