Julie Moore, part of the writing team for the new Oxford EAP series, looks at what we mean by ‘grammar’ when we’re teaching on an academic English (EAP) course. Julie will be hosting a webinar entitled ‘Teaching academic grammar’ on 25th July.
In a recent discussion on Twitter, someone posted the following comment:
“EAP doesn’t use particularly complex grammar, it just uses specific language more frequently than general English.”
This was met by a flurry of responses from other EAP teachers giving examples of grammatical forms that their students regularly struggle with! It does raise an interesting question though about what we define as ‘grammar’ in an academic English context.
It is true that you wouldn’t expect to find an EAP syllabus focused around basic grammatical structures or working its way through the verb tenses in the same way that you might in a general ELT course. Teaching academic English tends to focus more around skills: reading academic texts, writing essays, participating in seminar discussions, etc. There is an assumption that by the time a student has reached the point of specializing in academic English, they should have already grasped the basics of English grammar. That’s not to say, though, that there aren’t grammatical forms and structures that are specific to academic English and that need to be learnt in order to put those skills, especially writing skills, into practice successfully.
If you look at an analysis of grammatical forms and structures used across genres in English, you will often find everyday conversation at one end of the scale and academic prose at the opposite end. Academic writing has the highest proportion of nouns, the highest frequency of passive verbs, the fewest imperatives, the lowest concentration of personal pronouns. So for a student moving from a general English course, heavily focused around everyday communication, to an academic English class, ‘grammar’ is less about learning completely new structures and more about focusing on the specific differences in usage in the new genre they are hoping to master.
In my webinar, I’ll talk about what some of those differences are, how we can highlight them to our students and how we can ‘do grammar’ within a skills-based EAP syllabus.