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English for Academic Purposes by Liz Hamp-Lyons

Smt. S. B. Gardi Department of English,
Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavnagar University Bhavnagar
M.A. Semester 3
English Language Teaching 1 
Unit 1: The role of English in India
English for Academic Purposes by Liz Hamp-Lyons
  • Introduction: Over the past 25 years TESL/TEFL in universities/colleges and other academic settings - or in programmes designed to prepare non-native users of English for English-medium academic settings - has grown into a multi-million-dollar enterprise around the world.
  • Teaching those who are using English for their studies differs from teaching English to those who are learning for general purposes only, and from teaching those who are learning for occupational purposes.
  • Background: The practice of teaching EAP has been with us for a long time - wherever individual teachers of non-native students in academic contexts have taught with a view to the context rather than only to the language - but the term 'EAP' first came into general use through the British organisation SELMOUS (Special English Language Materials for Overseas University Students), which was formed in 1972.
  • Although the organisation's first collection of papers from its annual meeting was titled English for academic purposes (Cowie and Heaton 1977), it didn't change its name to include the term until 1989, when it became BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes). 
  • The field of EAP was first characterised within a larger perspective by Strevens (1977a). Strevens saw EAP as a branch of the larger field of English for specific purposes or ESP (which was known in its early days as 'English for special purposes'). He described, first, a move away from an emphasis on the literature and culture of English speakers and towards teaching for practical command of the language; and, second, a move towards a view that the teaching of the language should be matched to the needs and purposes of the language learner.
  • EAP is an educational approach and a set of beliefs about TESOL that is unlike that taken in general English courses and textbooks. It begins with the learner and the situation, whereas general English begins with the language. Many EAP courses/programmes place more focus on reading and writing, while most general English courses place more focus on speaking and listening. General English courses tend to teach learners conversational and social genres of the language, while EAP courses tend to teach formal, academic genres.
  • In discussing ESP and EAP, Strevens (1977b) argued that courses can be specific in four ways:

    1. by restricting the language taught to only those skills which are required for the learner's immediate purposes; 

    2. by selecting from the whole language only those items of vocabulary, grammar patterns, linguistic functions, etc., which are required for the learner's immediate purposes; 

    3. by including only topics, themes and discourse contexts that are directly relevant to the learner's immediate language needs; and 

    4. by addressing only those communicative needs that relate to the learner's immediate purpose.
  • It can be seen that when all four kinds of specificity are applied to a course, the result is something quite restricted; this restriction resulted in some dissatisfaction with early approaches to ESP.
  • EAP, on the other hand, has generally managed to escape these problems because the academic context has proved able to provide subject matter that is sufficiently specific and relevant to satisfy learners' needs but also sufficiently general to be applicable across a fairly wide range of contexts. It also offers subject matter that can satisfy some of the broader educational and social aims that learners and teachers bring to the education process. Jordan (1997) offers a useful andcomprehensive overview of practice in EAP. 
  • Needs analysis is fundamental to an EAP approach to course design and teaching. If a general approach to an EAP course is taken, the course usually consists primarily of study skills practice (e.g. listening to lectures, seminar skills, academic writing, reading and note-taking, etc.) with an academic register and style in the practice texts and materials. If a needs analysis indicates that the study situation is more specific, many of the same areas of study skills are still taught, but with particular attention to the language used in the specific disciplinary context identified in the needs analysis.
  • The language is attended to at the levels of:
  • register: lexical and grammatical/structural features (the best-known work is Ewer and Latorre 1969);
  • discourse: the effect of communicative context; the relationship between the text/discourse and its speakers/writers/hearers/readers. See the Nucleus series (Bates and Dudley-Evans (eds) 1976-85); see also the English in Focus series (Widdowson 1974—(1980)) and
  • genre: how language is used in a particular setting, such as research papers, dissertations, formal lectures (the work of Swales has been most influential here; see also Chapter 27). 
  • Needs analysis leads to the specification of objectives for a course or set of courses and to an assessment of the available resources and constraints to be borne in mind, which in turn lead to the syllabus(es) and methodology. The syllabus is implemented through teaching materials, and is then evaluated for effectiveness.
  • The development of the field of EAP has been rapid in the little more than 20 years since its recognition as a legitimate aspect of ELT. Nowadays it is accepted that TESL/TEFL to learners who are bound for or participating in formal education through the medium of English should include a component of study skills preparation. Even for those who have reached high educational levels in their own language, there are differences in study behaviours in the Anglo tradition, and these differences are becoming increasingly well understood through the research described below.
  • Research: As is the case in ESP (see Chapter 19), much of the EAP materials development described in the practice section below is underpinned by work in needs analysis. The most thorough EAP needs study was conducted by Weir for the development of the Associated Examining Board's TEAP (Test of English for academic purposes), and is summarised in Weir (1988). 
  • A good overview of needs analysis is provided by West (1994), and papers describing needs analyses in particular geographic and educational contexts frequently appear in the journal English for Specific Purposes.
  • Jordan (1997: 29) sees four dimensions of needs: those of the target situation, of the employer or sponsor, of the student, and of the course designer and/or teacher. Research into EAP falls within one or more of these areas. The term 'texts' is used in the discourse analysis sense here, and EAP research includes studies of spoken texts and genres such as seminars (e.g. Furneaux et al. 1991; Prior 1991) and lectures (most notably Flowerdew 1994a). Studies of the textual practices of academics (e.g. Latour and Woolgar 1986; Myers 1990; Dudley-Evans 1993, 1994b) offer another interesting area that feeds into EAP practice and theory: by understanding what 'experts' do, novice academics can shape their own academic language towards those models. 
  • Research into the academic language needs of students is more humanistic than research that looks at texts, genres and academic contexts; it incorporates a wider view of 'needs' and typically includes students 'wants' and preferences as well as more concrete needs. The first major study in this area was Geoghegan (1983), who interviewed non-native students at Cambridge University; this work made clear how students' perspectives can be compared to those of other stakeholders. 
  • Research in this area attends to affect, i.e. how students feel about their study experiences (e.g. Casanave 1990; Johns 1992); it also includes studies pointing out differences between students‘ wants and expectations and staff's expectations (e.g. Channell 1990; Thorp 1991; Grundy 1993).
  • The related field of contrastive rhetoric combines the textual perspective and the student perspective, as it studies how students' academic work (usually written work) in English is affected by what they know about their own language (Kaplan 1966, 1988; Connor and Kaplan 1987; Connor 1996). Some work also queries the consequences for students when they have to accommodate too many of the conventions of English academic discourse practices, perhaps losing to an extent their sense of identity (Spack 1988; Fan Shen 1989). 

  • This work is linked to the field of'critical language awareness' (Fairclough 1992; Ivanic 1998; Tang and John 1999). Not surprisingly, there is a rich body of research into effective teaching approaches for EAP. EAP practitioners have concentrated on solving the problems closest to home, since EAP is a field firmly grounded in practical needs. The largest and most prolific field is academic writing (e.g. Robinson 1988a; Kroll 1990; Belcher and Braine 1995; Kaplan and Grabe 1996), particularly in the US, but there is also significant work in academic listening (in particular Anderson and Lynch 1988; Flowerdew 1994a), academic reading (principally in the journal Reading in a Foreign Language; see also TESOL Quarterly and System); academic speaking has been mainly ignored (but see McKenna 1987).Swales and Feak (1994) reveal the symbiotic relationship between research and practice in their important research-based textbook, Academic Writing for Graduate Students.
  • Other research into advanced research writing includes Sionis (1995) and Bunton (1999). A growing area of research concerns the dissertation student-supervisor relationship and its effectiveness (Belcher 1994; Dong 1998). 

  • There is also significant research into the assessment of EAP. This began at the end of the 1970s with the development of the English Language Testing Service (ELTS) by the British Council under B.J. Carroll, and continued through the 1980s in the work of Weir for the Associated Examining Board on TEAP. 

  • As ELTS became the standard measure of English proficiency for non-native speaker applicants to UK and Australian universities, a major validation study (Criper and Davies 1988) was conducted and was followed by a full research and development project (Clapham and Alderson 1996) culminating in the introduction of the IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) in 1989. The major EAP assessment in the US is the Michigan English Language Institute's Academic English Test, which is used almost entirely internally.

  • Practice: A main activity of specialists in EAP is materials design and development. In-house materials can be specific to the study context of the students, and can be designed to suit pre-study classes where all the practice materials must be built into the course text, or to concurrent courses where the materials can be closely linked to the teaching going on in a subject class. Published materials, on the other hand, are inevitably fairly general.

  • The fundamental similarities between study demands at the same educational level can be capitalised on in creating materials intended to provide basic preparation for good study habits. Among the earliest books in this area were Study Skills in English (Wallace 1980), Panorama (Williams 1982) and Strengthen Your Study Skills (Salimbene 1985). EAP courses also typically focus attention on the language skills separately: the 'rules' and strategies of academic skills are not like those of the general language skills, and this is acknowledged in books such as Study Listening (Lynch 1983), Study Writing (Hamp-Lyons and Heasley1987) and Study Reading (Glendinning and Holmstrom 1992). In-house materials have the great strength of responding directly to the local needs; however, the more specific materials are to a situation, the less likely it is that they will be published as textbooks for economic reasons. In the USA a concern with literacy dominates the literature and the terminology of academic skills development (see, e.g., DiPardo 1993; Johns 1997). Readers can usefully refer to the journal College Composition and Communication; for attention to the literacy skills of second language (L2) and second dialect users, readers can refer to journals such as College ESL and the Journal of Basic Writing.
  • Current and future trends and directions: We can expect that more attention will be paid to EAP at pre-tertiary (college) levels. It is increasingly understood that children entering schooling can be helped to learn more effectively, as well as to integrate better into the educational structure, if they are taught specifically academic skills and language as well as the language needed for social communication (Heath 1983; Hasan and Martin 1989; Christie 1992). In counterpoint to the probable increase in attention to EAP in early schooling, thesis writing and dissertation supervision are also receiving more attention at present, as indicated above.The knowledge base which has built around traditional university-based academic needs has led to the understanding that academic language needs neither begin nor end in upper high school/undergraduate education, but span formal schooling at every level. Going still further, a related development is a concern with the English language skills of non-native English speaking academics, especially those teaching and researching in non-English language countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and this group's needs are beginning to be addressed (Sengupta et al.1999). We can expect this more all-encompassing view of EAP to develop much further before it is exhausted.The discourse of academic literacy is more usually found outside TESOL: e.g. in the USA in work relating to students from ethnically and dialectally diverse backgrounds (e.g. Berlin 1988; Auerbach 1994; Fox 1994) and in highly politicised terms (e.g., Freire 1970 [1996]; Giroux 1994). In the UK it is associated with the Lancaster critical linguistics group (e.g. Fairclough 1992; Ivanic 1998); and in Australia with the critical genre group (e.g. Cope and Kalantzis 1993; Luke 1996). With its basis in educational Marxism and critical linguistics / critical education, 'academic literacy' argues from very different premises than traditional EAP. However, I have argued (Hamp-Lyons 1994) that, despite arising from quite different sociopolitical contexts, the concepts of academic literacy and those of EAP are linguistically and pedagogically quite similar, and certainly the different movements share a common desire to provide appropriate and effective education. The debate over motives and means in this area - in the pages of the English for Specific Purposes journal between Pennycook (1997) and Allison (1996, 1998) - provides fascinating insights into these issues. Part of this debate relates to the role of English in the modern and future world, and the evident dominance it now has in scholarly publication in most parts of the world (Swales 1990b; Eichele personal communication 1999; Gu Yue-guo personal communication 1999). We can expect this to be a fruitful and controversial area of research - and polemic - in the first years of the twenty-first century.

  • Conclusion: EAP is a thriving and important aspect of TESOL that has so far received less attention from researchers than it deserves. It is also more complex and potentially problematic than most English language teachers recognise at the beginning of their EAP teaching. Its greatest strength is its responsiveness to the needs of the learners; but this is its greatest weakness too, making many of its solutions highly contextual and of doubtful transferability. For this reason, it will offer a rich site for study and practice for the foreseeable future.
  • Key readings:
        Allison (1996) Pragmatist discourse and English for academic purposes
        Connor (1996) Cross-Cultural Aspects of Second Language Writing
        Hamp-Lyons and Heasley (1987) Study Writing
        Hutchinson and Waters (1987) English for Specific Purposes
        Swales (1990a) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Contexts 


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