Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

Word of the Day: Authentic


Authenticity is defined as “the quality of being authentic.” This definition is one of those types of definitions that gets under my skin (irritates or annoys). It can become a wild goose chase (long and difficult search). Maybe not wild exactly, but it’s 12:34 a.m., and I’m in the mood for (feel like/want) idioms. Enough beating around the bush (wasting time by speaking indirectly). Though I am on a roll!

To be authentic is to be genuine or real.

For me, being authentic entails (involves) answering the question, “Who are you?” or “Who am I?” It’s a deep question but not one I have a ton of time to dive into (start doing) at the moment as this post was inspired by a WordPress daily prompt and in my time zone, it’s already tomorrow. Time’s a tickin’ (time is passing quickly).

So, who am I? Perhaps it’s due to the task at hand, but at the moment, if I’m being authentic, I’d say I am a writer. It’s true that I began this website for my students, but I also did it for myself. I decided it was time to stop scrolling Facebook and playing Words with Friends for hours and start producing something tangible. Something lasting. Another reason I created Apoven was to provide and share authentic English language resources for learners.

I am a writer. I have begun and not finished many…books? I’m not sure they can be called that. Though that is how I conceptualize them. They, like me, are works in progress. As someone who loves learning, I enjoy being a work in progress. The unfinished books, some barely started, brings me to another aspect of who I am. I’m a really good procrastinator. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s that there is SO MUCH to do that I haven’t quite gotten to it all yet. I might be procrastinating many things, but I’m always doing something.

Sometimes we define ourselves by what we are not.

I’m not the most organized human on the planet, and a website provides a way for me to get the never-ending stream of words and ideas out of my head and onto a page. It’s fantastic for this purpose. It’s not so fantastic for my sleep schedule.

Sometimes we define ourselves by what we are.

I’m an introvert.

I’m a nature lover.

I’m a night owl.

Aren’t we all many things?

Can we really put ourselves into a box and say, “I am this.” or “I am that.” Isn’t doing so limiting? Can’t it inhibit our growth? To be honest, I have been put into a box.

Apoven Doll
Me in a box

Being authentic is less about defining who we are and more about being true to a moment, being sincere and open. We all wear masks. Sometimes it is a mask of bravery or of humbleness or of protection. Or perhaps, as Mark Bowden points out well, one of politeness and chosen behaviors because we want people to like us or to listen to us.

Masks are not, in and of themselves, bad things. The question is, are you being true to yourself?  Are you operating in your own best interest? What about what’s in the best interest of those around you and those you care about? What happens when these come into conflict with each other? What then?

A note on culture

Culturally, the question, “Who are you?” can lead to some interesting differences. I am no expert in Korean culture, but I do think about it every single day that I am in Korea. I also discuss it with others a lot, both Korean and non-Korean. More than once, it’s been said that as a collectivist culture, the question in the minds of Koreans is not “Who are you?” but “Who are you to me?”

Being from an individualistic culture, I find the question “Who are you to me?” difficult to think of in a positive way. It sounds to me like, “What can you do for me?” I’d love to be able to see it differently, so if anyone has some insight, please share.

Examples of authentic in sentences

Students often ask for examples of how to use words. This is smart because only knowing the meaning of a word is not enough. It’s also important to learn collocations (words that usually go together). Here are some ways that authentic can be used.

  1. Have you ever eaten authentic Mexican food?
  2. Is that an authentic Van Gogh?!
  3. I feel like she’s not being authentic.
  4. Authentic Gucci bags are expensive.
  5. We need to verify that the document is authentic.

As you can see from the examples, authentic can be used to talk about food, art, people, products, and documents.

I’d like to end with a serious of questions to encourage comments and discussion. Comments are moderated, so if something looks spammy, it will be treated as spam (not the ubiquitous Hormel canned cooked meat type of spam that is so very popular in Korea, especially as a holiday gift). Let’s be authentic, shall we?

Feel free to answer any or all of these:

  1. What does authenticity mean to you?
  2. Who are you? (…in 10 words or less? Is it fair for me to limit who you are?)
  3. What do you think about the difference between the two questions “Who are you?” and “Who are you to me?” Which do you ask?

More food for thought is body language expert Mark Bowden’s TedX talk on the Importance of Being Inauthentic. I first discovered this Ted Talk when I was teaching a presentation class, and it’s one of my favorites.

Thanks for reading. See you on the flip side. 🙂

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