Inappropriate Use of Thesaurus

In a piece of work that a student handed in recently, I found the following sentences. The assignment was for a research methods course and the task was to analyse some questionnaire data using IBM SPSS Statistics.

The speculations are as per the following:

Null theory, H0: There is no contrast between the extent of guys and females who went to the company’s gathering a month ago.
Alternative speculation, H1: There is a contrast between the extent of guys and females who went to the association’s gathering a month ago.


The t-test equivalents to 2.933 with 67 degrees of opportunity, and related p-estimation of 0.05. Since the p-esteem is equivalent to the 0.05 level of essentialness, we infer that the test was inconsequential. In this way it is inferred that there is no connection between the pay and the quantity of years worked, additionally the invalid speculation can’t be rejected at 0.05 and presume that the compensation can’t be clarified from the quantity of years worked.

The language is very unusual. What I think the student should have written was:

The hypotheses are as per the following:

Null hypothesis, H0: There is no difference between the number of males and females who went to the company’s meeting month ago.
Alternative hypotheses, H1: There is a difference between the number of males and females who attended the company’s meeting a month ago.


The t-test equivalents to 2.933 with 67 degrees of freedom, and related p-value of 0.05. Since the p-value is equivalent to the 0.05 level of significance, we infer that the test was not significant. In this way it is inferred that there is no relationship between the pay and the number of years worked, additionally the null hypothesis can’t be rejected at 0.05 and presume that the salary can’t be predicted from the number of years worked.

I might be wrong, but I assume that the student was trying to avoid plagiarism by using a thesaurus to paraphrase. He had been told to use his own words and was trying. However, what the student does not seem to realise is that specific technical terms cannot be paraphrased and need to be used with their precise meanings.

How should the student be expected to know what must be paraphrased and what must not be? In the case of – for example “p-esteem”, how should the student know that, in some contexts “esteem” is a synonym for “value”, but not here?

Cognitive Overload

I have recently received a large amount of work from my students of international business that is very messy, very badly organised – pages in the wrong order, tables not fitting on the page, even pages upside down and at 90 degrees. I have been wondering why. Most of the students I am thinking of were second or third language speakers of English and there seemed to be an inverse correlation between English language competence and quality of presentation of work , but I do not think it is direct. It has reminded me of several other experiences I have had and I wonder if there is a connection. Continue reading

ESP and Common Sense

I remember a number of years ago, after a morning of evaluating student oral presentations with a colleague and wondering why they sometimes said strange things, I mentioned that it seemed to me that people lost their common sense when they were speaking a language they were not very confident in. My colleague – who was a good linguist and had never experiences such issues – disagreed. Continue reading

What is a blog?

I was recently asked to work with a group of students on blogging. The students had been asked to write a weekly assessed blog of between 500 and 700 words and were having difficulty.

As I thought about it, I realised that I did not have enough information about what the students were expected to do, and neither – I think – did the students. Continue reading

How to write – What to write.

I’ve often quoted Frank Smith when discussing writing.  In Writing and the writer, Smith distinguishes between “composition” and “transcription” in writing. “Composition” is deciding what you want to say, and “transcription” is what you have to do to say it. His advice is “The rule is simple: Composition and transcription must be separated, and transcription must come last. It is asking too much of anyone, and especially of students trying to improve all aspects of their writing ability, to expect that they can concern themselves with polished transcription at the same time that they are trying to compose. The effort to concentrate on spelling, handwriting, and punctuation at the same time that one is struggling with ideas and their expression not only interferes with composition but creates the least favorable situation in which to develop transcription skills as well” (Smith, 1982, p. 24).

After watching Juzo Itami’s 1995 film Shizukana seikatsu (A quiet life) recently I decided to read  Nobel prize winner Kenzaburu Oe – on whose novel the film is based. In his novel The Changeling, he deals with a similar situation: Continue reading

IATEFL ESP SIG PCE, 2016 – Overview

I’ve just returned from the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE) in Birmingham, UK.

The theme of the PCE was tensions and debates in ESP and EAP.

As usual it was a very interesting day with teachers from many parts of the world discussing how they go about trying to meet the academic and professional linguistic needs of their students, sometimes with limited resources. Continue reading

Development of EAP, through BALEAP PIMs

I’ve been asked to give a short talk at the next BALEAP PIM on the the history of BALEAP PIMs (Professional Issues Meetings). As I was preparing this, I thought it would be interesting to see how the topics, as shown by the titles of the presentations, have changed over the years. Continue reading


The issue of proofreading is often discussed on various discussion lists. As far as I am concerned, proofreading is the reading of early drafts of a piece of work to correct errors. The extent to which EAP teachers and learning developers should be involved in the proofreading of student work is controversial: see, for example, Turner (2010); Harwood, Austin, & Macauley  (2010).

I do not, though, think that as EAP or ESP teachers or lecturers or learning developers we should be involved in proofreading. Continue reading

“The Harvard System” of referencing.

I was recently working with a group of students who had been asked to write a list of references using “The Harvard System”. The students asked me how to reference a particular source type. I wasn’t sure exactly what the lecturer wanted so I asked him. He was a little annoyed and simply told me to tell the students to use “The Harvard System”, not realising that there is no such thing, and that such pieces of advice are not helpful. By that I mean that there is no definitive documented version, so he needs to be more specific. Continue reading

The role of published materials in an ES/AP course.

EAP is usually considered to be a branch of ESP, along with English for Professional Purposes (EPP) and English for Occupation Purposes (EOP). In that sense, as with all ESP, the EAP teaching content is explicitly matched to the language, practices and study needs of the learners. Most definitions of ESP (e.g. Robinson, 1991, pp. 2-5; Dudley Evans & St John, 1998, pp 4-5) include the following essential feature: ESP is goal directed and based on an analysis of needs.

For that reason, any ESP course needs to specify as closely as possible exactly what it is that the learners have to do through the medium of English, and therefore what their purpose is in learning English. A central role of the EAP lecturer or course designer, then, is to find out what the learners need, what they have to do in their academic work or courses, and help them to do this better in the time available.

Every EAP course is therefore different, as every student has different needs, and therefore needs to be designed from scratch. What, therefore, can the role of a published textbook be in this process?

Continue reading