By Ian McMaster

The concept of authenticity is everywhere in the worlds of language teaching and business. And it is almost always seen as something clear and positive. I’m not so sure.

If we are talking about teaching materials, I’m all for using ones that are relevant to learners, including (if possible) ones from their own organizations.

But if by “authentic language” we mean that which naturally occurs — for example, in business meetings — well, it’s often a dreadful model for learners. Most meetings are characterized by misunderstandings and poor behaviour. Our job as teachers/trainers is to help people to communicate better than the way people do in natural-occurring  (“authentic”) communication.

In the world of leadership, the term “authenticity” is more or less meaningless. In most cases, it can be replaced more clearly by “honesty”, “transparency”, “openness”, “empathy”, “trusting” etc. For more on this, see the article by Steve Flinders and myself in Business Spotlight 7/2020.

The next time you hear someone use the terms “authentic” or “authenticity”, ask them these simple questions: “What exactly do you mean by that and why is that positive?”

Ian McMaster is a business communication consultant, author and journalist. He was editor-in-chief of Business Spotlight magazine from March 2001 until November 2021 and is a former coordinator of IATEFL BESIG. His publications include Effective International Business Communication and Communication for International Business (both with Bob Dignen, Harper Collins).


  1. Authenticity (noun): Echtheit
  2. to be all for something (phrase): To support or be in favor of a person, group, or effort.
  3. dreadful (adj.): grauenvoll
  4. honesty (noun): Ehrlichkeit
  5. trusting (adj.): vertrauend

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think using common business phrases is an effective way of communication? Does it help with understanding or make it harder?
  2. How can we become better communicators in business settings?

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