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#IATEFL – Teaching and learning EAP: “What is EAP and how can I teach it?”

Middle aged African woman shrugging her shouldersEdward de Chazal, author of many EAP titles, including the forthcoming English for Academic Purposes, part of the Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers series, presents an imagined conversation about what EAP is and how we teach it. Edward will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2014 on Friday 4th April.

I keep hearing a lot about EAP these days, but – how can I put this? – I’m not really sure what it is. It means different things to different people, doesn’t it?

“I know how you feel. I’ve been teaching EAP for a few years now and I’m still trying to make sense of it. There’s so much going on. And it seems different when you start working somewhere new.”

You can say that about any English language teaching context. So much to learn.

“Sure – but think how much you know already. Start with that. Think of your own knowledge of English. All that teaching experience. And your own education – how many qualifications have you done since you left school? How many training sessions and presentations have you attended?”

I see what you’re getting at. Yes, I know I know a lot, and I’m always learning something new. But – going back to EAP – what do I need to know? What is my role as an EAP teacher?

“Roles – there are lots of them. OK. Let’s start by looking at where we are in EAP today. One way of looking at it is that the field of EAP is a research-informed practice.”

What does that mean?

“First and foremost it’s a practice – we’re all practising teachers – and the work we do is vital for the academic success of thousands of students worldwide.”

OK, great, and what about the ‘research-informed’ dimension?

“And what we do is informed by all the work that has been going on for, well, about 50 years. There are lot of influences on EAP.”

Like what?

“Well, there are major influences like genre analysis and corpus linguistics, but also other theories of teaching and learning, like approaches to teaching writing, study skills, and critical EAP.”

What’s that?

“OK. At the heart of EAP is critical thinking. In EAP we’re all critical thinkers – teachers and students.”

But what does this mean in practice?

“There are different approaches to critical thinking. With ‘critical EAP’, nothing is off-limits – we can critique pretty much anything and everything.”

Like what?

“OK, let’s start with a text. As language teachers we’re always bringing in texts into the classroom – maybe up-to-date texts like newspaper articles that we’ve just come across, or photocopied texts from various sources, or simply the texts in the coursebooks we’re using.”

OK, so students have to read lots of texts. What next?

“Well, in many English language teaching contexts the focus of the lesson would then be the text. So, you’d do some work on the text – tasks like working out meanings in the text, language work.”

Of course – isn’t that the point?

“It’s necessary, but it’s not the whole story. We can encourage critical thinking by doing tasks like identifying the author’s stance, any weaknesses in the text, bias, assumptions, those sorts of things.”

Sounds good.

“A critical EAP approach goes beyond the boundaries of the text.”

How do you mean?

“In a critical EAP approach, we can encourage our students to ask questions like ‘Why have you selected this particular text?’ ‘Isn’t this text written from a Western perspective – it’s published in Oxford?’ and ‘How are the issues in the text relevant to me?’ Questions like these can be really interesting. We can encourage our students to reflect on these ideas and challenge what’s in the text and its wider context.”

Hmm, certainly food for thought. Yes, as you said, there’s so much going on in EAP. I can see now that I’m going to get a lot out of learning all about it.

“I do. Arguably, one of the greatest influences on EAP is the wider context of English language teaching – we know a lot about that. There’s a lot to learn, but never forget how much you know already.”

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Oxford ELT shortlisted for two ESU Awards

ESU President's Award 2013 ShortlistedWe’re delighted to have been shortlisted for two English Speaking Union (ESU) Awards.

The Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf app for our enhanced e-books has been shortlisted for the prestigious ESU President’s Award, which celebrates the use of technology in the teaching and learning of English worldwide.

The app offers enhanced e-books of many of our most popular courses for use on iPad and tablets for Android™. Courses include English File, Solutions, Incredible English, Q: Skills for Success, and many others. The e-books turn the traditional Student’s Book and Workbook into a highly interactive and personal learning experience making the most of what tablet technology has to offer. Features that support language learning include integrated split-screen video, record and compare pronunciation practice, the ability to slow down audio for improved listening practice, automatic marking, written or spoken note-taking, and more.

The ESU judges were impressed with the range of accessible material and commented:

The design and quality of the software is strong and the interactive capabilities within the ebooks are beneficial to the learner.”

English for Football and Oxford EAP: A Course in English for Academic Purposes (B1+) have been shortlisted for the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh ESU English Language Book Awards, which recognise innovation and good practice in the field of English Language and English Language teaching. The judges assessed submissions based on their originality, practicality and presentation.

English for Football, written by Alan Redmond and Sean Warren, and described by the judges as “a handy, simple and effective guide”, is written for students who want to communicate better in English in the world of football. Part of the Express Series of short, specialist courses, English for Football features international players’ experiences of learning English, key topics such as narrowing the angles and cutting inside, and a forward by Sir Alex Ferguson. Each book comes with an interactive MultiROM, containing realistic listening extracts and interactive exercises for self-study.

Oxford EAP B1+, written by Edward de Chazal and Louis Rogers, is part of Oxford EAP, a three-level course which develops the essential skills and academic language for students preparing to study in English at university, whatever their chosen subject. Praised by the judges for being “clear and professional in design”, the course integrates the four main skills and academic language, and features authentic texts from Oxford textbooks, as well as videos of lecture extracts.

We look forward to the announcement of the winners, which will be on 2nd December 2013.

iPad is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
Android is a trademark of Google Inc.


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Teaching EAP: “We can’t do what we do at higher levels at lower levels”

Two men talking over coffeeAhead of his talk at IATEFL, Edward de Chazal presents a revealing look at how we can teach at lower levels.

“When it comes to teaching EAP we can’t we do what we do at higher levels at lower levels, right?”

Well, I think we can – what exactly “can’t we do”?

“Where do I start? First of all texts – how can B1 students read authentic academic texts? They’re too hard.”

They certainly can be, but it depends on your choice of text. Some texts are just fine for B1 students to work with, like IB – International Baccalaureate – textbooks, which are aimed at 16 – 18 year old students. They don’t assume too much knowledge. And you can use undergraduate textbook extracts, too.

“Aren’t they a bit difficult?”

OK, they can be challenging, but students can do a lot with them if you provide the right tasks.

“What sort of tasks?”

Achievable ones. If we provide the right staging, scaffolding, and support we can use authentic tasks based round authentic texts at B1.

“Authentic texts and tasks?”

We can keep the texts authentic. There’s no need to change the language in the texts. Just work out a staged sequence of tasks which lead to a specific learning outcome.

“Can you give an example?”

Let’s look at what EAP students need to do. They need to be able to read authentic texts in order to learn more about the topic of the text, understand the purpose of the text, work out the main points – and differentiate the main points from the examples in the text, identify the writer’s stance…

“Hold on. Are you telling me your B1 students can do all that with authentic academic texts?”

Absolutely. And more. You can do all this if you grade the tasks, but not the texts, just as Grellet said back in 1981.

“Yes, but what sort of tasks?”

Let’s go back to basics. Break down the learning outcome into stages. Let’s say it’s day one and you have a new class of B1 students who are studying EAP for the first time. You want your students to gain an overview of an academic text and identify the topic and main ideas.

“OK. How?”

I’ll talk you through the stages. Task 1 – get your students thinking and talking about their reading. What sort of texts do they read in English? Do they enjoy reading? Task 2 – prepare to read by looking at definitions of one or two technical terms in the text. These are authentic tasks because we normally approach a new text with some understanding of the technical concepts in the text, like ‘cognitive psychology’ for example. I would probably look them up in the dictionary.

“I see. What next?”

Task 3 – get to grips with what the topic, purpose, and main idea are. In any text.

“How?”

Start with plenty of support. Ask students to match these items with their descriptions. Then go through each one in turn, based on a short text extract. As I said, an IB text works well at this level. Again you can give simple choices, like differentiating the main idea from an example.

“Sounds good. But students need to get a bit deeper into the text.”

Sure. Which leads to Task 4 – reading in detail to understand the key information in the text. Students can complete notes on the text. This is a nicely supported task, as students can see what they are aiming for. They can then use their notes to explain the key terms in the text – that’s Task 5. Having to explain something to someone else is a brilliant way of learning, and the teacher can check their learning while they are doing this task.

“Right. You mentioned that it was a short text. How can they apply these tasks to longer texts?”

Good question. By repeating core tasks, students gradually learn to access and process information in new, more challenging texts. Actually, Task 6 in my example is to predict the content of a new text, which supports students in identifying the topic and main idea in each paragraph.

“But does this work?”

Absolutely. Students have plenty of support. There’s even a glossary with each text to help them with difficult words and concepts – just like academic textbooks.

“So, you’re saying when we’re teaching EAP, we really can do what we do at higher levels at lower levels.”

Yes, we can!

Edward de Chazal will be talking about EAP at Lower Levels at IATEFL Liverpool on Thursday 11th April in Hall 4b at 10:35am.


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Critical Thinking in the ELT Classroom

Young man thinking while using laptopEdward de Chazal, co-author of Oxford EAP, explores the topic of critical thinking and how it should be taught in the ELT classroom.

The enquiring mind

Critical thinking is innate – it comes from inside us – and as humans we have survived and developed by approaching things critically. Children naturally try to check what they have been told, and are ‘programmed’ to piece together the information they encounter. For example, a six year-old child I know was told that diamonds are the strongest and hardest thing on earth and could cut through other stones and even metal. He then visited a rock on the English Jurassic Coast that had been ‘carved’ into an arch, and after listening to an explanation of how it had happened asked, ‘Which is more powerful, diamonds or the sea?’ This child could not yet read and write, but like other children, he was developing his critical mind.

Critical thinking essentially means having a questioning, challenging, analytical state of mind. A critical mind is comfortable with a degree of scepticism and doubt; it is a mind that is open to reinterpreting and refining its knowledge, and accepting that what we know may change in the light of new knowledge. A critical thinker questions whether something is believable, evaluates how strong is the basis of an assumption, and makes new connections between what they know and learn.

Multiple intelligences are involved in critical thinking. The conductor of an orchestra critically interprets the written score, even if it is as familiar as Beethoven’s Ninth. They aim to add something new, and communicate their interpretation to the musicians through movement. A surgeon has to work out the wider picture from the detail they can see, and act quickly. Someone working in business accesses the information relevant to their sector, assesses its significance, and looks for a new opportunity. These people are all thinking critically. Our students will do jobs like these when they have completed their education.

Critical thinking in the classroom

Part of our job as language teachers – and more broadly as educators – is to develop our students’ critical thinking competence. In reality, different students may have experienced varying degrees of nurture and discouragement at the hands of their parents, previous education, and wider culture. Our students’ level of critical thinking may not be related to their language level.

We can start by introducing tasks which ask students to question what they read and listen to, investigating the deeper – more implicit, meanings in texts – and identify assumptions and weaknesses. We can ask students to respond to statements that emerge from the materials we are already using. For example, my class were shown a slide in a lecture which stated ‘China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world’. I elicited critical questions which included: ‘When? – How soon is ‘soon’?’; ‘Why not India?’; ‘How do you know? – What are your sources?’; and ‘How well will they speak English?’ We can start by asking the simple question ‘So what?’ Our classes, and all our lives, will be richer for our students’ responses.

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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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