It is often believed that EAP can only be taught at advanced levels and that lower level students need a course in general English before they start their EAP course.
Before we can discuss this, however, it is important to understand what we mean by general English. General English means different things to different people. To some people it is survival English; to others it is conversational English. However, in the context of EAP, it is often used to mean the core of grammar and vocabulary that is common to all registers. It is often believed that this common core must be mastered before more specific aspects of the language can be learned.
Of course it is true that grammar and vocabulary, for example, are important parts of EAP. As, ultimately, all that exists is words on the page or sounds in the air. These words are constructed from parts and inflect (morphology) and occur in sequences (syntax). In addition, like all registers of English, EAP uses prepositions, articles, adverbs etc. They are not separate from EAP; they are part of EAP
Therefore, as EAP contains grammar, the grammar that is necessary in any academic context will be included in any well-planned EAP course. It is certainly not necessary to teach grammar before the ESP/EAP course starts and there are many reasons against doing this.
It might be argued, though, that it does not do any harm to teach this language in a more general context. It must be remembered, though, that the grammatical forms that are used in academic English differ in their distributions from other registers, and need to be studied carefully. See, for example, the relevant sections of Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999).
- it may not be motivating for the learners to learn grammar that is unrelated to their specialisms;
- some of the language taught in general English may be used differently in EAP and the learners’ specific fields of interest;
- the learners might waste time studying aspects of the language that are not necessary for their use in EAP contexts.
The grammatical forms required for use of language in a particular academic context will be clear from the texts and contexts encountered in planning and teaching the course. This is one of the important areas of EAP research.
In actual fact, there is no such thing as “General English” as every use of English has a purpose. As Halliday points out (1969, p. 25) “the distinction between a general register and a special register is without foundation; there is no such thing as a general register, in fact.”
It is not necessary to teach general English before EAP and may be damaging.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Longman.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1969). Discussion on “Linguistic considerations in planning courses and in the preparation of teaching materials” by J. L. Trim. In Centre for Information on Language Teaching, Languages for special purposes (CILT Reports and Papers 1: pp. 18-27). London: CILT.