Laura Stamps, a teacher at The London School of English talks about what she has learnt about teaching EAP when she attended Julie Moore’s successful webinar last month: Approaches to Teaching Academic Grammar.
I’m going to write about Julie Moore’s excellent webinar for Oxford University Press on Approaches to Teaching Academic Grammar. This was the first time I’d attended a webinar and I found the experience very interesting. Over a hundred attendees from all over the world could comment on and discuss Julie’s informative talk as she gave it.
Julie began by outlining the main differences between grammar in general English and in EAP – that’s English for Academic Purposes. In fact, general English is quite grammar driven, with a big focus on verbs and tenses, whereas studying EAP is more about skills. However, because accuracy and clarity are important for academic writing to have credibility, it is still important to ensure that your grammar is correct.
One major difference between general and academic language is that an academic register relies much more heavily on nouns. Julie used some examples, which we analysed together, to show that nouns occur much more frequently than verbs in academic English. In a typical conversation, the verb: noun ratio is about 1:1, whereas in a typical academic text it is 1:4. So although you still need to know your verbs, you should focus on learning nouns and on nominalisation.
As for the verbs themselves, there is less of a focus on tenses in academic English. 95% of the verbs in academic texts are in the simple aspect and 75% are in the present tense. This is because the present simple is used to describe general truths and situations. In fact, academic English often prefers the present simple even where general English might use a past tense – for example, when I was studying English Literature, we would usually write ‘Shakespeare writes about’ rather than ‘Shakespeare wrote about’ – this is because we were interested in the work itself as it still exists today, rather than the idea of Shakespeare writing at a specific time in the past. So if you’d like to brush up your students’ grammar for EAP I’d suggest forgetting about the future perfect continuous for the time being and instead getting them as comfortable as possible with the passive voice – as it is used much more often in academic English than in general.
Finally, Julie talked about two important skills in academic writing; paraphrasing and hedging. Paraphrasing is an important part of writing skills in academic English to avoid repetition or plagiarism. Hedging is where you avoid making a very strong statement by using verbs such as ‘seems’, ‘appears’ or ‘tends’, or phrases such as ‘to some extent’, or ‘in general’. This is important because making a claim which is too strong can make your writing seem too simplistic, or even dishonest.
I know that many of you are preparing students for university right now, so I’d be really happy to answer any further questions you may have on academic English.