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What is English for Academic Purposes (eap); Egap (english for General Academic Purposes) and Esap (english for Specific Academic Purposes) Controversy

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Table of contents

  1. What is EAP
  2. EGAP and ESAP Controversy
  3. General ELT and EAP Comparison

What is EAP

EAP, a sub-discipline of ESP, is differentiated from ESP by its focus on the development of academic skills that prepare the students to succeed in their studies and professional life (Hyland & Shaw, 2016). Whether in a specific discipline or interdisciplinary studies context and students needs influence the specificity of an EAP course (Hyland & Shaw, 2016). This brings diversity in the purpose of EAP courses. For instance, in an English speaking country pre-sessional courses aim to prepare students for higher studies by providing them the core academic skills that are applicable to all disciplines, such as, note-taking, paraphrasing, questioning, summary and report writing etc. (Hyland, 2006; R.R. Jordan, 2012). In-sessional courses are more of remedial in nature that can also be credited in a Degree programs (Gillett, 1996) or they can target specific or integrated needs of the parallel program (Evans & John, 1998).

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EAP in ESL environment globally is where students study in English medium education and have high GE proficiency. The role of an instructor here is to develop also common-core study skills (Hyland & Shaw, 2016). Lastly, countries where certain subjects are taught in English medium instructions yet the rest of the education is in the native language such as Arabic. These students have lower English proficiency (A2) and literacy compared to ESL learners and course planners need to plan accordingly keeping this stance in mind (Evans & John, 1998; de Chazel, 2014). All the above scenarios determine the key aspects of EAP course design (Evans & John, 1998). Contrastive rhetoric and intercultural rhetoric, a recent development, has helped EAP teachers to understand how students use certain structures, language and patterns owing to their cultural background. However, this is a limitation of EAP because further research on transfer and influence of cultural and demographic aspects of learners is still at its infant stages and requires in depth study to support students, understand needs and design courses. This approach would discourage what Ramies (1991) defined as “Butlers’ stance” of EAP in institutes (Hyland & Shaw, 2016).

EGAP and ESAP Controversy

EAP sub-categories, EGAP, ESAP and EOP, depend on the context and discipline they are taught in. EGAP encompases skills and language that are common across all disciplines (Hyland, 2006; R.R. Jordan, 2012). ESAP differs from EGAP in the aspect of specificity which could be special discoursal demands of a particular discipline and encompasses a variety of English for Specific and Occupational purposes (EOP), such as English for Law, Nursing and Engineering (Evans & St John, 1998; de Chazel, 2014; Hyland, 2006). The argument that there is little difference between generic skills across disciplines and are transferable is valid to a certain degree. However, the differences across various disciplines are greater than the similarities (Hyland, 2006). For instance, general report writing rules are transferred when writing a medical report. Nonetheless, it still requires teaching discoursal features that the learners need specifically to write a medical report. Additionally, this aspect is also an implication that EAP teachers face i.e whether to focus on skills that can be transferred between disciplines or to focus on the specific “texts, skills and forms needed by learners in distinct disciplines” (Hyland, 2006, pg. 9). As Hyland (2006) quoted Bhatia (2002), ‘who observes interdisciplinary learners require communication skills that are not merely an extension of general literacy but a multitude of literacies to cope with disciplinary variation in academic discourse’. Consequently, ESAP, is suitable for in-sessional courses and EGAP for pre-sessional programs (de Chazel, 2014).

EOP refers to situations that require training learner for a specific job requirement (Hutchinson & Waters, 1991). EOP learners are people who are non professionals starting a job and majority of ESAP course have learners studying an academic degree program (Evans & St John, 1998). However there is no rigidity applied as students can be working and studying simultaneously (Hutchinson & Waters, 1991). Therefore, considering a multimodal approach and curriculum is required.

General ELT and EAP Comparison

GE syllabus is mostly language driven and EAP syllabus is skill based. GE course progresses gradually using series of course books to reach a required proficiency level. Conversely, time is of constraints in EAP and students have specific targets to reach for instance a specific IELTS score (de Chazel, 2014).

There exist differences in topics, vocabulary and text type in GE and EAP. Topics and text types in EAP include scientific topics and genre such as journals and abstracts etc. making the use of authentic material more feasible. Therefore, EAP assessment is based on skills and meaning and not on discrete language items or knowledge of discipline in a course (de Chazel, 2014).

Teacher student relationship in an EAP course is not where the teacher is the source of information. In EAP teacher and students may have the same proficiency level and understanding of the subject. EAP students are self motivated, goal oriented and autonomous learners. (de Chazel, 2014).

Critical thinking is another key element that distinguishes general ELT from EAP. Edward de Chazal cited BALEAP competency framework for EAP professionals (2008) that emphasis the importance of critical thinking in EAP. GE course lack this due to their appeal to social communication (de Chazel, 2014).

Academic writing is based on the culture of the specific discipline. It follows ridgid discoursal norms of structure, genre, forms and tasks (Hyland & Shaw, 2016). Though these specific discoursal features are absolute, they to some extent diminish creativity and makes writing formulaic (Hyland & Shaw, 2016). Students come from various discoursal backgrounds and literacies are assimilated to accustom themselves to a dominant discourse. Uniformity or individualism of disciplines versus conventions students writers use are different but who decides if they are wrong and why. With English as the lingua franca of EAP and its globalisation and numerous demographic societies, why are old set conventions and discoursal features so rigidly applied. Why do teachers have to follow rigid modals when teaching EAP and encourage the global and not the local dialects of the authors even if the former is for international appeal. Why students writing should converge and not diverge bringing variety and new discoursal features to the discipline. I would like to explore more in this area of EAP as well.

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Like all EAP teachers I too started my career teaching GE. It gave me the benefit to use the common approaches when teaching EAP courses. However, I find teaching EAP more challenging because of the difference between students’ individual needs versus syllabus provided, students’ literacy and language proficiency level, and motivations. For this reason I chose EAP as my specialism to enable myself to design a course that would suit learners needs, facilitate learner autonomy, cover the institutional syllabus, and develop learners writing, note taking and reading skill, which Saudi learners struggle with.

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