Do we Teach just Language?

It is often said that, as EAP teachers, we teach more than just language. I’d like to know what other things we do teach, that are not taught by everyone in education.

EAP  refers to the language and associated practices that people need in order to undertake study or work in English medium higher education. The objective of an EAP course, then, is to help these people learn some of the linguistic and cultural – mainly institutional and disciplinary – practices involved in studying or working through the medium of English.

To that end, EAP lecturers are often interested in areas such as cross-cultural studies, academic and study skills development, learning styles, effective teaching methods, integration of students into the wider community, and international education. However, these fields are of interest to all lecturers in higher and secondary education, and are not part of the defining characteristics of EAP. The defining characteristics of EAP, that set it aside from other subjects in education, are its focus on the language and associated practices that learners need in order to undertake study or work in English medium higher education.

But what are these other things that we – as EAP teachers – do?

Here are a few quotations from the summary of the BALEAP TEAP Competencies framework (BALEAP, 2008) that do not, as far as I can see, deal only with language.

“An EAP teacher will have a reasonable knowledge of the organizational, educational and communicative policies, practices, values and conventions of universities.” OK, but every university lecturer would have this knowledge.  An EAP teacher might know more about the communicative policies.

“An EAP teacher will be able to recognize and explore disciplinary differences and how they influence the way knowledge is expanded and communicated.” Definitely true. But this is because we teach students from different disciplines. A chemistry teacher does not need to, for example, know ho a physiotherapist writes. Academic skills teachers know a bit about this.

“An EAP teacher will recognize the importance of applying to his or her own practice the standards expected of students and other academic staff.” Sure, but true for everyone.

“An EAP teacher will understand the requirements of the target context that students wish to enter as well as the needs of students in relation to their prior learning experiences and how these might influence their current educational expectations.” Sure, but again true for everyone teaching in HE.

“An EAP teacher will understand the role of critical thinking in academic contexts and will employ tasks, processes and interactions that require students to demonstrate critical thinking skills.” True, but every university lecturer is aware of this. An EAP teacher will have a special interest in the role language plays in critical thinking.

“An EAP teacher will understand the importance of student autonomy in academic contexts and will employ tasks, processes and interactions that require students to work effectively in groups or independently as appropriate.” True, but, again, it is the same for every university lecturer.

So it would seem to me that when we say that we are not just language teachers, we are saying that we are also university lecturers or school teachers. As well as teaching language, we are also teaching people with systems. And as such we need the knowledge and skills of a university lecturer or a school teacher as well as those of a language teacher. If that’s true, then, of course, I agree. Or is there more than I am missing?

But it is still the case that our defining characteristic – our USP – is language, academic language in its widest sense from genre to spelling and punctuation.


BALEAP (2008). Competency framework for teachers of English for academic purposes. London: BALEAP.

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