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English for Academic Study: Listening; English for Academic Study: Speaking

Writer(s): 
Peter Wells, Kansai Gaidai University
Publisher: 
Garnet Education

 

English for Academic Study: Listening

[Colin Campbell and Jonathan Smith. Garnet Education, 2007. pp. 75, ¥4,200. ISBN: 9781859649862.]

English for Academic Study: Speaking

[Joan McCormack and Sebastian Watkins. Garnet Education, 2007. pp. 134, ¥4,200. ISBN: 9781859649909.]

English for Academic Study (EAS)is a university preparation course developed in collaboration with the University of Reading (UK) at the University’s Centre for Applied Language Studies. In EAP terminology it could be described as English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP). According to the publishers, the series is “designed to challenge and stimulate students on pre-sessional courses and pre-departure courses” and is aimed at “students with an IELTS level of between 5.0 and 7.0” (equivalent to paper-based TOEFL 500+) (Garnet website, 2008, <www.garneteducation.com//english-for-academic-study-eas-series_21.html>). The English used is mainly British English. This is particularly noticeable in the Pronunciation book, which uses British English Received Pronunciation throughout.

The series consists of five course books and two study books. The course books are Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, andExtended Writing and Research Skills, and the study books Vocabulary andPronunciation. The website claims that these books form a set of integrated courses, and the back covers state that the books can be used “in conjunction.” However, the two books under review are written by different writers, they use different and unrelated approaches and materials, as will be shown below, so there is no compelling pedagogic reason to use them together with the same class. In this respect they differ from the Readingand Writing books in the series, which are more integrated, having common topics for six out of their seven units.

The Listening text consists of eight units. Apart from the introductory first unit, each unit focuses first on a macro-skill,for example identifying key ideas, note taking or digressions, and secondly a micro-skill, for example word stress, word families, or word boundaries. A typical unit consists of a warm-up activity in which the new macro-skill is discussed; exercises on the macro-skill, including predicting, note taking, and answering open-ended questions; exercises on the micro-skill, such as gap filling, and a review of the main skills practised in the unit. The exercises are varied in nature, and the questions are clear, thoughtful, and relevant.

The material used for the listening practice is taken mainly from real lectures in various disciplines, specifically from the BASE (British Academic Spoken English) corpus. However, on the accompanying CDs (and the optional DVD, which contains exactly the same material), the lectures are re-presented by actors, not the original lecturers. This makes the materials easy to listen to, but it does detract from their authenticity.

The transcripts of the CDs/DVD are included in the course book to facilitate the exercise of listening while reading.This is a useful exercise, but allowing the students access to the scripts can cause problems, as they may be tempted to read the text during the first listening, or before it. It is probably preferable for the teacher to use photocopies of the transcripts at the appropriate time (for example, Jones, 2008, p. vi).

The lectures are on such wide-ranging topics as the European Monetary Union, animal behaviour, global warming, contestable markets, and computer security. This makes the material challenging. Not only are the lectures intended for native English speakers, they demand understanding of specialist terminology and concepts, such asgross margin, putative social learning, bulimia, parental contact orders, and oligopolies.This raises the question how far EAP should go in terms of teaching discipline-specific language. According to Higgins, “It is not the job of the English teacher to teach technical vocabulary. It consumes too much time and he will probably not do it well” (cited in Jordan, 1997, p. 250).

It is generally accepted that students from a single discipline can benefit from content-based EAP (i.e., ESAP—English for Specific Academic Purposes) with an appropriately trained teacher. However, experience and research indicate that EGAP groups, which are usually multi-disciplinary, do not benefit from being exposed to academic materials from a variety of disciplines, as the teacher may not have the relevant subject-knowledge, and the students may not be interested in material from other disciplines. “Two important limitations of the discipline-specific EGAP curriculum proved to be the teachers’ lack of understanding of the students’ academic disciplines and the students’ lack of knowledge about their peers’ academic backgrounds” (Liyanage & Birch, 2001, para 38).Moreover, the discipline-specific texts chosen for EGAP are usually pitched at an elementary academic level, for the sake of the non-specialists in the group, and that seems to be the case with this course. They thus offer little to the specialists, in terms of either interest or language-learning.

Another issue raised by this book is that of the tension between skills-based teaching and approaches, which are more task- or topic-based. The materials offered in this course are extracts from lectures, chosen for specific linguistic features they exhibit, and taken out of their context solely to practise a particular skill. Such austere concentration on skills is likely to deter all but the most highly motivated students. In the unlikely event that they do become interested in what the lecturers are actually saying, keen students may well be frustrated by the fragmentary nature of these extracts. As the book deals exclusively with listening and the other books in the EAS series are not linked with it, the listening comprehension exercises do not lead to any meaningful productive tasks; in other words this member of the series cannot really be described as integrated either in itself or as part of the series.

To summarise, this is a traditional EAP course book with a limited audience and strictly circumscribed aims and objectives. Those who favour the approach it has chosen will find it to be fairly effective in fulfilling its aims.

 

English for Academic Study: Speaking

 

Although EAS: Speaking belongs to the same series, this book differs in a number of significant ways from its Listening counterpart. In the first place, in each of the 10 units there a is focus on topics, such as A Healthy Lifestyle, The Influence of the Media, and Protecting the Environment,though specific skills are also targeted. Secondly, the topics, as can be seen from the above examples, are ofgeneral interest, instead of being discipline-specific. Thirdly, although there is no point of contact with Listening, this is an integrated course, using reading and listening material as stimuli for oral production.

A typical unit begins with focussing comments about the skills to be practised, followed by warm-up activities on the topic. There are then between five and seven varied and well-designed tasks, addressing a range of skills, including pronunciation. Each unit concludes with an opportunity to reflect on progress. Among the many skills directly or indirectly related to academic speaking covered in this course are: language for agreeing and disagreeing, informal mini-presentations, anticipating arguments, describing charts and data, and debating. Each pair of units is followed by a Review, Unit 6 is a Consolidation Unit, and the last four units aim to extend skills already introduced. The authors estimate that each unit could take about 6 hours to complete.

Although it is a demanding text, I believe that EAS Speaking is more interesting and motivating than EAS Listening. It successfully solves the problem posed by Listening in that it uses topics accessible to all advanced students, regardless of discipline, without sacrificing academic rigour in terms of skills. If you are teaching a pre-departure course, especially where the English to be used is British English, this book is definitely worth considering.

 

References

Jones, L. (2008). Let’s talk 3: Second edition (Teacher’s manual). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for academic purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Liyanage, I., and Birch, G. (2001). English for general academic purposes: Catering to discipline-specific needs.In Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 17. Retrieved 18 Jun 2008, from<www.iier.org.au/qjer/qjer17/liyanage.html>.

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