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Teaching EAP vocabulary – squeezing it in

Julie Moore, part of the writing team for the new Oxford EAP series, looks at the joys, challenges and practicalities of teaching vocabulary as part of an academic English (EAP) course.  Julie hosted a webinar entitled ‘Approaches to Teaching Academic Vocabulary’ on 31st May 2012. This webinar is no longer available to view, however you can click here to access our complete webinar library and view other resources on this topic. 

With my background in ELT dictionaries and corpus research, I love vocabulary! And I think it’s probably the thing I most enjoy teaching, too. Trying to teach vocabulary as part of an Academic English (EAP) course, though, can throw up a number of challenges.

What to teach?

As a student moves from general to academic English, the increase in vocabulary load can be a daunting one.  A whole new register of language opens up full of abstract nouns (relevance, participation), formal verbs (derive, implement)  and specialized terminology (jurisdiction, nanotechnology). As a teacher, where do you start? Then there’s the problem of discipline-specific vocabulary. If you’ve got budding lawyers, historians, medics and engineers together in the same EAP class, who do you cater for?

In my webinar, I’ll put forward a few ideas and principles to help in selecting what vocabulary might be most useful to focus on in class.

How to fit it in?

Most EAP courses are very skills-focused. This is unsurprising as EAP students generally have quite clear goals in terms of what they need to do with language; read lots of academic texts, write well-structured essays, cite references accurately, take part in seminar discussions… the list goes on and it’s often quite a challenge to fit it all into a short EAP course. So how on earth do you squeeze in work on vocabulary as well alongside teaching all those vital skills?

I think the answer comes in two parts; a) by slipping in vocabulary work in small, but regular slots and b) by teaching students the independent study skills they need to keep working on their own vocabulary. I’ll be looking at some practical ways of doing both.

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Teaching EAP – a culture shift

Julie Moore, part of the writing team for the new Oxford EAP series, looks at some of the challenges involved in making the move from teaching General English to English for Academic Purposes.

When I got a job teaching on Bristol University’s pre-sessional EAP course some six years ago, I already had plenty of General English teaching experience under my belt.  I was excited at the prospect of teaching a group of intelligent, motivated students with a clear goal at the end of the course. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the huge culture shift involved in moving from general EFL teaching to an EAP environment.

I’ve spoken before about some of the differences and issues that teachers from a general ELT background come up against when they make the move into teaching EAP. Many of those differences can actually be seen as advantages, the main one being that an EAP syllabus is much more focused and clearly defined than many General English courses.  Because you’re working with a very specific genre, academic English, there are clear sets of skills to be taught – reading academic texts, listening to lectures, participating in seminar discussions – and a well-defined, well-researched language register that students need to master.

For me, one of the big challenges though was getting used to the content-driven nature of EAP.  In a General English classroom, you don’t care too much what the students talk about as long as they’re communicating ideas as proficiently as possible for their level.  In EAP, what you say matters almost as much as how you say it.  You find yourself teaching not just language skills, but thinking skills, how to develop a thesis or structure an argument.  At first, you’re desperately trying to remember back to how you did things when you were at university, and getting to grips with a whole new set of terminology. Once you get into the swing of it though, it can be a really interesting, stimulating environment in which to teach.

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English for Academic Purposes – 7 Myths and Realities

Ahead of his talk at IATEFL 2012 about integrating skills, language, tasks, and critical thinking, Edward de Chazal talks about some of the myths and realities about English for Academic Purposes.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is one of the fastest-growing areas of English Language Teaching (ELT). You may have come across a few myths and misconceptions flying around. It’s dry and dull, right? Actually no. I’ve come up with seven myths like these, and I’ll argue against them all.

1. EAP is dry, serious, and dull

It’s certainly serious, but it needn’t be dry and dull – is studying your chosen subject dry and dull? And do you find listening to people talk about their fields dry and dull? EAP is serious because it is all about gaining and researching new knowledge, making new connections, and communicating these ideas. Communication is at the heart of EAP, and the EAP classroom needs to reflect this. Unlike many general English language teaching (ELT) contexts, a lot of this communication is done through writing – so writing and reading are very important. Speaking and listening are too, and a lot of spoken and written communication takes place in slightly formalized and conventional set-piece events such as lectures and seminars.

2. EAP is objective rather than subjective

This is one of those often-repeated statements, but it’s highly misleading. Objectivity is associated with facts. Of course facts vital and necessary, but they’re not sufficient. It’s not the aim of university degrees to merely teach and learn facts. In response to facts we need such thinking activities as interpretation, speculation, and evaluation. These are all subjective. Subjectivity is based around people, and people’s responses – such as their evaluation of the same idea or piece of evidence – vary from person to person. From economists evaluating the merits of a policy response to psychologists speculating on the causes of a unusual behaviour pattern, the results are subjective. And subjectivity is not inferior to objectivity – it’s potentially more interesting and associated with originality, which is highly-valued in academic contexts. The interface of objectivity and subjectivity lie at the heart of academic life.

3. EAP is basically IELTS

No. On a scale of general to academic, most EAP practitioners would place IELTS much nearer the general end. IELTS is not officially described as an academic examination, and it does not venture far into EAP territory of reading and synthesizing texts, writing referenced essays, and critical thinking. IELTS reading texts and tasks might offer a flavour of academic ones, but without the rigour.

4. To teach EAP is to teach subject knowledge and content

In reality, the purpose of EAP is to meet the needs of students planning to study (or already studying) at university through the medium of English. Their needs revolve around language, the four skills, and study skills including critical thinking. The focus of EAP is not on the knowledge, or even specific language of any particular subject – from Accountancy to Zoology – but on core skills and generic language that can cover any discipline. If you’re teaching subject knowledge alongside language, that’s Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

5. Vocabulary in EAP means a focus on subject-specific words, and scientific terms and concepts

Just like our fourth myth, most EAP contexts are not closely concerned with teaching and learning subject-specific terms and concepts. EAP teachers leave that to the subject-specific experts! EAP materials include core and academic language which is generic to any discipline – e.g. analysis, significant, is based on, seems to suggest that. The job of the EAP practitioner is to gradually gain an understanding of the types of discourse and texts that students have to read and write in their discipline – how these texts are constructed and what language is used. We need to be able deconstruct these pieces of discourse, and enable our students to do the same. We need to understand, analyse, and reprocess meaning, but when it comes to systematically presenting subject-specific terms we just don’t go there. We’re all discourse analysts now!

6. To study in an English-medium university you must have an extremely high level of English

Not always so high. Students very rarely reach C2, in general ELT or EAP. Students usually have to reach a high B2 level (upper intermediate), or perhaps C1 (advanced) before they start studying. English language level requirements vary quite a lot, but they are not as high as many people expect.

7. It’s not the job of English-language teachers to teach critical thinking

Well, if you’re an EAP teacher, you’ll find it hard to avoid this. Critical thinking involves activities like identifying the stance of a writer, connecting items across different texts, and evaluating an idea – how plausible is it? Is it based on sound evidence? A student who struggles to critically engage with activities like these will struggle when they start their degree, and as EAP teachers we need to develop our students’ critical thinking skills – as well as our own!

What are your thoughts on English for Academic Purposes? What do you think are some myths and realities about it?

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Starting study skills early – an integrated approach

Asian student in libraryAhead of her talk at IATEFL 2011 in Brighton, Sarah Philpot, co-author of the New Headway Academic Skills series, introduces the concept of an integrated approach to teaching linguistic competence and academic skills.

Study skills (aka academic skills) is not a subject that generally sets the heart aflutter. However, it is something that is dear to the hearts of many of our students. As more and more young people take their university degrees in English, so their need for good study skills increases. I’m sure that all of us who have taught students for IELTS or on pre-sessional courses are aware of the discrepancy between many students’ linguistic competence and their ability to successfully complete the academic task set for them – to write a coherent essay or read certain texts in a given time, for example.

As teachers, I think we need to address this discrepancy and the way I’m suggesting this could be done is by integrating or incorporating study skills into students’ English language course from the very beginning – yes, that really means A1.

The Headway Academic Skills series attempts to do just this by providing a short course that provides study skills which are explicit, have a clear development and are relevant and transferable.

Sarah will be talking on this topic in her session entitled ‘Starting study skills early – an integrated appproach’ at the 2011 IATEFL Conference in Brighton.

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