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EAP – The medium or the message?

English for academic purposes (EAP) is the branch of ELT that concerns itself with the study of English in, and for, higher education, Claudia Civinini writes. We wanted to have a taste of the research that powers teaching practice in EAP, and we went right to the source: the courses that prepare future EAP instructors. We talked to Professor Sue Wharton, course leader of the MA English language teaching – EAP and ESP at the University of Warwick, and Dr Heath Rose, course leader of the MSc Teaching English Language in University Settings (TELUS) at the University of Oxford. Their responses focus on the ever-increasing use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in higher education, and the changes brought by the use of English as a lingua franca (ELF).

What is currently the most important area of research in EAP? Both Professor Wharton and Dr Rose referred to the impact of globalised use of English on academia. Dr Rose focused on how this, and the diversity of usage associated with the spread of English, challenges the conventions of academic language. Professor Wharton, instead, mentioned the importance of determining the impact that the varieties of academic English from education settings worldwide have on standard and assessment.

We then asked our usual questions to academic researchers – if you were applying for a grant for research in EAP, what project would you present and why? Following from the previous question, Professor Wharton would construct and investigate comparable corpora from English medium higher education settings around the world. Dr Rose would like to analyse how English is used for academic purposes beyond the mere language of study, examining academic writing, conferences, publishing, meetings, communications and writing grant applications. The aim would be to discover whether academic norms of language use are changing as a result of English being used as the academic lingua franca.

What is the single most pressing issue that still needs to be investigated in EAP? For Professor Wharton, it is the links between EAP ‘language provision’ and the language learning that happens on content courses, and how to best connect the two, embedding ‘language, content, discourse and culture learning in academic settings’. Dr Rose says that the most pressing issue is ‘the challenge of Englishisation of higher education’, which has created a variety of new contexts for EAP. He gives as an example the different needs of Chinese students learning EAP to study business in China compared to German students preparing to pursue degrees in Sweden. It is important, argues Dr Rose, that teaching EAP adapts to student needs and contexts, and doesn’t ‘merely transplant EAP practices of anglophone settings in EMI ones’.


Pic courtesy: Michael Fötsch