EAP – English for Academic Purposes – 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.
EAP is often considered to be a branch of English Language Teaching (ELT), although not all EAP teachers have come though the ELT route. It is a type of ESP (English for Specific Purposes) – along with English for Professional Purposes (EPP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) – in that the teaching content is explicitly matched to the language, practices and study needs of the learners. It is also considered to be ESP if we take Robinson’s (1991, pp. 2-5) features which are usually thought of as being typical defining characteristics of ESP courses.
- First, ESP is goal directed – the learners are not learning the English language for the sake of it, but because they need, or will need, to use English in their professional or academic lives. EAP learners are usually current higher education students or members of staff or they are hoping to go on to higher education after their EAP course. They need to learn English in order to succeed in their academic careers.
- Second, ESP courses must be based on an analysis of needs, which aims to specify as closely as possible exactly what it is that the learners have to do through the medium of English. This means taking into account of the opinions of all the various stakeholders. For an undergraduate student, this could mean the learner, his or her parents, and sponsors, present and future lecturers, examiners, administrators, materials writers etc. EAP, therefore, involves an attitude to learning and teaching that believes that it is possible and useful to specify what language and linguistic practices are required in a particular academic context and that it is worthwhile to focus teaching on this. For that reason, one important feature of EAP courses is the close attention that is paid to the learners’ aims and what they are working on, studying or planning to study. It is aso important to take into account the learning or study needs of the students, what they need to do in order to learn the language. The first stage in any EAP, and EPP or EOP, course, therefore, is to find out exactly why the learners are learning English and what language and practices they will need to pay attention to.
- Often there is a very clearly specified period for the ESP course. Most EAP students are undertaking fixed term courses in preparation for a particular task – such as an essay, dissertation or conference presentation – or an academic course or they are studying English for a short time every week along with their academic courses or jobs.
- ESP learners tend to be adults rather than children. Most EAP students are over 18 and they will either have made a difficult decision to study in an English medium university or, for example, researching, publishing or teaching in English may be a requirement.
- Learners may need specialist language, but this is not necessarily so. It is the linguistic tasks – including language and practices – that the students will need to engage in that define the course. As with all ESP, an EAP lecturer would not take a text and ask, “What can I do with this text?” The starting point is always, “What do my learners have to do? What texts will they need to read? What will my students need to do with this text and how can we help them to do it?”
- In some cases, a very high level of proficiency is not necessarily required, as long as the learners can succeed in their aims. Students, for example, need to be able to understand their lectures, fellow students and textbooks and obtain good marks for assignments and examinations. The role of the EAP lecturer is to find ways to enable them to do this – getting their present tenses correct may not be as important as understanding the overall structure of the report they have to write.
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. An adaptation of Bell (1981, p. 50) provides a useful model to do this (Figure 1).
Figure 1: EAP Course Design Model
2. Target Needs Analysis
The starting point is to analyse the learners’ target needs. This includes the language and related practices that they will need in their work or their academic courses. These needs must be clearly researched as different subjects at different levels in different institutions or countries may have different needs (Hyland, 2000). However, some general statements can be made. The recent QAA benchmarking statement for languages (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2002) identifies four key elements that characterise language programme outcomes: use of the target language; explicit knowledge of the language; knowledge of aspects of the target cultures and intercultural awareness. This is a useful framework in which to examine typical target needs.
2.1. Use of the target language
Typically, for example, a student needs to use language in the following situations: lectures, seminars, tutorials, group projects, practical sessions, private study and examinations. In these situations, the language skills needed would include reading, writing, speaking and listening. Examples of the kinds of tasks that students would carry out are as follows. In lectures, they would, among other things, need to listen for general understanding, listen for specific points to remember, ask for clarification, read handouts and PowerPoint presentations, and take notes. In seminars, they would listen and take notes, ask for more information, agree and disagree, and discuss, for instance. In practical sessions, it is necessary to listen to instructions, ask for information and clarification, read handouts and follow instructions, and write notes and reports (see Gillett, 1989, for more details).
The most problematic use of English in higher education is probably writing. Writing tasks vary from writing short answers in examinations to writing essays, reports, dissertations, theses, journal articles and maybe monographs and textbooks. EAP courses usually pay attention to the process of writing – planning, organising, presenting, re-writing, and proof-reading. Typical writing skills include research and using sources, writing different text types as well as different genres, and using an appropriate style with a degree of accuracy. Nowadays, there is usually a focus on summarising, citation and referencing in order to avoid plagiarism. Students, for example, also need to do a large amount of reading, listening and note-taking. This must be done flexibly and involves surveying the text, skimming for gist or general impression, scanning to locate specifically required information as well as intensive study of specific sections of the text. Listening involves following a lecture or discussion, which means recognising lecture organisation and extracting relevant points to summarise. In both reading and listening, language skills such as understanding important points, distinguishing the main ideas from supporting detail, recognising unsupported claims and claims supported by evidence and following an argument are essential as are recognising known words and deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words and word groups from the context. Speaking is becoming increasingly important as teaching methods change to involve more group work. Making presentations involves producing and using notes, planning and presenting. Discussion includes interrupting politely, asking questions, agreeing and disagreeing. More recently, in addition, use of on-line discussion facilities of VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) is becoming important (Gillett & Weetman, 2005).
2.2. Knowledge of language
More importantly, as well as teaching these language skills, knowledge of the language that is used in these skills in the students’ specific subject areas is necessary and forms an essential component of EAP courses. EAP teachers normally believe that explicit knowledge of this language can be helpful. Recent research has provided us with useful data on academic language, both grammatical (Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999) and lexical (Coxhead, 1998). This includes knowledge of different text types (oral and written) and features of different genres, linking words, signposting expressions, and appropriate style. Students also need knowledge of various strategies that they can use in comprehending written and oral texts and producing essays and oral presentations. As examinations and other forms of assessment are so important, knowledge of the format and language of exam questions is also necessary.
2.3. Culture and intercultural awareness
The culture where the language is used in EAP is higher education, usually, but not necessarily, in an English speaking country. Therefore, knowledge of the academic culture is necessarily part of an EAP course and students and other learners need to be aware of differences between their own academic cultures and the culture where they are studying. Writing conventions, such as organisation and use of sources, for example, can vary from country to country. Students in the UK, for example, need to develop a willingness to accept responsibility for their own learning and to be reflective and critical. Other areas of difficulty include use of names between lecturers and students, how and when to ask questions and how to deal with lateness and privacy. As well as knowledge of the higher education culture in the UK, there are subject specific cultures (Hyland, 2000) that students and lecturers need to be aware of. This applies to all students, not just students from other countries. Bourdieu’s point that no-one speaks (or writes) academic English as a first language, therefore everyone needs to learn it (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1994, p. 8) is often quoted in this respect.
This information can be obtained in many ways: for example, by looking at course documentation, looking at typical academic texts in the students’ fields, looking at assessments, talking to course leaders, talking to subject lecturers, talking to students, looking at students’ work and looking at test and examination results. This is all part of the necessary preparation for any English for Academic Purposes course and the EAP teacher needs to be able to carry out this kind of work.
2.4. EAP/Study skills
There is often discussion whether these two terms – EAP and study skills – mean the same. It is useful to make a distinction between general study skills that are not concerned with language and language study skills that will probably form part of an EAP course. There are many study skills books available and they usually concentrate on matters such as where to study, when to study, time management, remembering, developing study habits, filing and organising books, how to spend leisure time and so on, although they do often deal with aspects of study skills that involve language such as planning essays and taking notes. These general study skills are obviously important to our students in higher education, but they are not usually the main objective of EAP courses. The main objective of EAP courses is to teach the language, both general academic language and subject specific language as well as language related practices such as summarising and writing introductions. The language of the learners’ academic subject and language related study skills will form the main component of the EAP skills classes.
A distinction is often made between EGAP and ESAP (Blue, 1988). EGAP – English for General Academic Purposes – deals with the language and practices common to all EAP students, whereas ESAP – English for Specific Academic Purposes – is concerned with the specific needs of students in particular disciplines. In reality, though, most EGP courses are made up of common ESAP language and practices as there is no such thing as an EGAP text.
After EAP lecturers and course designers have obtained some knowledge of what the learner will eventually need, they need to look at where the learner is now, and so they have to analyse the learners’ present performance and knowledge. There are various ways in which this can be done. Most well-known are the commercial tests such as IELTS and TOEFL. Although, not EAP tests in the narrow sense, they are very widely used and provide some useful information.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is jointly managed by the British Council, the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate and the International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges. It provides a systematic and continuously available system of assessing the English-language proficiency of non-native speakers who intend to study in the medium of English. The IELTS test is divided into four sub-tests: reading, writing, listening and speaking. A test report form gives details of the results of the test. Each sub-test is reported separately in the form of a band score. The individual sub-test band scores are added together and averaged to obtain an overall band score. Each band corresponds to a descriptive statement, which gives a summary of the English of a candidate classified at this level. The scale of bands increases from 1 to 9. This qualification is accepted by most British universities, who ask for levels of between 5.5 and 7 depending on subject and level of study. An intensive EAP course of around three months would normally be necessary to improve the students’ IELTS scores by one band.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a single subject examination recognised in most countries of the world as an indication of English proficiency for placement of students in colleges and universities. At the moment, there are three versions of the test, depending on which part of the world the test is taken in:
- The traditional Paper-Based TOEFL test (PBT)
- The Computer-Based TOEFL test. (CBT)
- The Internet-Based TOEFL test (iBT)
Students are usually asked for at least 580 on the PBT, 233 on the CBT, or 90 on the iBT. These requirements are often increased to 600/250/100 or above for linguistically more demanding courses such as linguistics, literature or law.
As well as the commercial tests, there are many other kinds of tests available, many produced by university departments for their own use. Information about student performance can also be obtained, though, by talking to subject lecturers, examining student work, reading examiners reports or looking at exam marks, for example.
Furthermore, it is often felt that it is necessary to re-test the students once they arrive in the UK to obtain more detailed information about the students that broad-based test such as IELTS and TOEFL cannot provide.
4. Select teaching approach
Because of the important focus on needs and analysis of needs, it might seem that EAP is very teacher centred, but this is certainly not the case. It is important to remember that as well as teaching language, we are also teaching human beings. Therefore an EAP lecturer or course designer needs to be aware of different learning preferences and approaches. Selecting the teaching approach requires knowledge of educational policies and practices and how people learn. There is a large amount of research available in this area, the largest amount being in the area of writing, especially the distinction between the product and process approaches to teaching writing (see Badger & White, 2000, Robinson, 1988).
Most EAP teachers accept the need for some kind of input (Krashen, 1982). This would usually be taken from the learners’ subject areas. As EAP students are usually educated adults, it is normally assumed that some kind of conscious attentional processing – or noticing – is valuable (Schmidt, 1990). That would almost certainly be followed by some kind of authentic EAP activity – pushed output (Swain, 1985), supported by teaching and guided practice where and when necessary. This meshes well with Paul Nation’s (2007) suggestion that in general: “the opportunities for learning language can be usefully divided into four strands: meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning and fluency development” (p. 2). EAP textbooks are available which can be used to supplement and support the authentic materials from the students’ subjects, but do not usually constitute the main part of the course.
For that reason EAP teaching is task based, using the types of academic task commonly found in higher education and writing classes are usually based on some kind of authentic extended writing task that the students do in their own time, with the help of in-class teaching, guided practice and individual tutorial support. Any explicit teaching is strongly focussed on what is needed for these tasks. Listening to lectures, and other students in seminar situations, is difficult for students. It is especially difficult for students to listen and take relevant notes. A typical approach to teaching listening for academic purposes would involve doing large amounts of in-class listening, probably pre-recorded, helping the students to be more aware of typical language used in lectures, giving them guided practice as well as strategies for dealing with difficulties (see, for example, Flowerdew, 1994). Reading is similar with students doing large amounts of in-class and out of class reading – usually of authentic texts, as well as the lecturer helping the students to be more aware of typical language used in academic texts, text structure and strategies for reading critically and dealing with difficulties (Clark, 1993; Cobb & Horst, 2001). Teaching speaking has received the least amount of published research (but see Weissberg, 1993), but a typical approach to teaching spoken English for academic purposes would again be tasked based with students doing short guided exercises leading to taking part in realistic seminar discussions and giving oral presentations, both supported by class teaching and individual tutorials.
A recent article by Watson Todd (2003) has identified six main approaches to EAP: inductive learning, process syllabuses, learner autonomy, authenticity, technology and team teaching.
EAP courses are very often Pre-Sessional courses. That is, they are taken before the learners’ main academic courses start. Most universities in the UK offer these Pre-Sessional courses, which vary in length from one year to two weeks. The EAP courses frequently take place at the institution where the students intend to take their main academic course but this need not be the case. These courses are intended to prepare students coming to study in higher education in the UK to study in English. They also allow students to familiarise themselves with the new environment and facilities of the institution before their main courses start. The students need to learn to adopt particular approaches to their study and learn strategies and skills that will enable them to succeed in the British higher education system. The purpose of the Pre-Sessional EAP course is to bring the students up to the level that is necessary to start a course. In this case, EAP lecturers and course organisers need to liaise with admissions tutors to find out what is necessary. Some longer Pre-Sessional courses of up to, perhaps, one academic year – usually called Foundation courses for undergraduate preparation and Pre-Masters course for post-graduate – attempt to prepare lower level students for entry to higher education. Many of these courses also include a quantity of academic subject content as well as EAP.
EAP courses can also be In-Sessional courses. That is they are taken at the same time as the students’ main academic course. In-Sessional courses can take one of two forms. They can be either integrated into the students’ academic study or be more general. The general classes can be seen as language support classes – these are usually free drop-in classes held at lunch-times or Wednesday afternoons and students attend when they are able. More recently, though, EAP courses are becoming embedded in the students’ academic programmes with EAP lecturers actually attending the students’ lectures and seminars, and looking at current assignments, in order to offer relevant language input. Increasingly it is also becoming possible for students to take credit-bearing EAP courses as part of their degree.
There is already much information and research published on target needs analysis. There is also a large amount of research available on testing and evaluation of students and of particular teaching methods. Much of this research is in EAP. In a survey of EAP, Hamp-Lyons (2001) mentions needs analysis, analysis of linguistic and discoursal structures of academic texts for creating materials, effectiveness of teaching approaches, and assessment in EAP. But there is no mention of success; to what extent do our EAP programmes help our students and other learners succeed in their chosen academic fields.
The BALEAP (The Global Forum for EAP Professionals) Professional Issues Meeting (PIM) held on 24th June 2006 attempted to start to try to fill that gap by looking at research that has attempted to provide evidence that EAP course are helpful and what can be done to improve EAP and encourage EAP. As well as this, methods and techniques to do this research were also looked at. See Gillett and Wray (2006) for more details. But more is needed and Lynch (1996) is a good starting point for someone who wants to carry out this kind of research.
Teaching EAP, therefore, involves developing in the learner – who could be a pre-undergraduate or a published research professor – the language and associated practices that they need in order to undertake study or work in English medium higher education. For that reason, it must start with the learner and the academic context in which they work or study. It is unlikely that a textbook will exist for such a narrowly specified audience, so it will always be necessary for the EAP teacher to be able to analyse contexts and language, understand learners’ needs and develop materials that suit those contexts and needs.
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 field are of interest to all lecturers in higher education, and are not part of the defining characteristics of EAP. The defining characteristics of EAP, that set it aside from other subjects in higher education, are its focus on the language and associated practices that leaners need in order to undertake study or work in English medium higher education.
EAP, therefore, takes the communicative needs of the learner in an academic context as central, and also uses the most modern methods and techniques available – although some of these may be 5000 years old or more (Musumeci, 1997). EAP, as is the case with all ESP, can be considered to be an example of Communicative Language Teaching par excellence.
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