Review ~ EAP Essentials

A practical, appealing and professional resource book for teachers of EAP
Reviewed for Teflnet by Dave Allen

EAP Essentials is a comprehensive and pragmatic resource book for all teachers of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). The content is delivered in line with current learning methodologies – that is, it includes input sections followed by case study examples and tasks, many of which are reflective in nature, to involve the reader in a process of self-paced learning.

The book has ten chapters: The context of EAP, Text analysis, Course design, Reading, Vocabulary, Writing, Listening and speaking, Critical thinking, Student autonomy, and Assessment. Most of these chapters are around thirty pages in length, making the text sufficiently comprehensive. In addition, there is an accompanying CD-ROM that contains photocopiable resources for classroom activities and teachers’ notes.

The authors say that the book is intended to be ‘like working with an experienced EAP lecturer’: you get practical advice and knowledge drawn from both research and experience (but without the camaraderie born of the daily grind!) In many ways I think that the book achieves this aim. There are many insightful and pertinent observations made, for example, about dealing with subject-teachers in other departments and forming links across university faculties. I enjoyed reading (as opposed to just hearing) that individual departments’ advice to students regarding their writing is often somewhat naive and unhelpful, e.g. ‘writing is like anything else: it just requires hard work’. For second language learners embarking on university-level English-only courses for the first time, this type of advice is about as helpful as leaving a note on the door saying ‘back in five minutes’. Luckily, this book offers much more practical solutions for teaching EAP to non-native speakers.

The Text Analysis section (chapter 2) offers a good overview of aspects such as genre, register, theme-rheme, cohesion, and general-specific text development. Of course, book length treatments are available on many of these aspects and the present text merely skims the surface. However, the numerous tasks for teachers and students (in the text and on the CD-ROM) mean that this text actually covers much more than the sum of words printed on its pages.

The exercises provide considerable intellectual stimulation and focused reflection for practicing teachers. By reading and working through the tasks, teachers new to this area of English teaching will be able to learn about aspects of key importance (e.g. noun phrases, rhetorical structure and academic style), and also experience tasks designed for learners in the EAP context, thus providing useful models for designing their own activities. For more experienced practitioners, this text offers a thorough review and synthesis of central strands of EAP curricula and methodology, with the aforementioned practical observations of the authors being a very welcome addition.

The suggested reading at the end of each chapter points the reader in the direction of many well-known books covering the different aspects of EAP. The book is aimed at practicing teachers wanting to develop their skills and knowledge, rather than academics reading for research. This is obvious from the lack of research articles in the suggested reading, but also in the referencing style, which uses a numbered endnote system to avoid the inclusion of bulky citations. Although this system is not particularly helpful for chasing up references, the use of previous research helps to support the authors’ points, rather than being based on subjective experience alone. The balance is just right: there is enough research and reading to follow up on information, but this is not overburdening for practitioners, who will appreciate the pragmatic tone and content of the text.

A useful and innovative unit focuses on Critical Thinking (chapter 8). This is accompanied by a set of ten resource materials on the CD-ROM, making it a thorough and practical introduction to developing critical thinking in the EAP classroom.

The authors advocate using authentic texts (and genres) in the classroom, and elucidate the benefits of this through a comparison of two teacher’s approaches to a particular lesson. However, there is a section later (p.134-5) that discusses writing one’s own texts for classroom use, again with an example case study. In sum, the text appears to agree with Swales (2009:5) in advocating the ‘occasional use of instructor-written materials’. Personally, I always find it easier to find and adapt texts than to try to research and write up my own.

If I have one gripe (and I do) it is that some of the texts and topics used in the materials in the CD-ROM are either not academic enough (e.g. washing dishes) or relevant only for humanities and social science students. The non-academic ones are justified as being useful for introducing new students to the concepts of EAP such as genre or register while still utilizing familiar genres (e.g. formal/informal letters or single paragraphs); suggesting that the intended audience is at a lower band of proficiency. More advanced learners will need more exposure to authentic texts in their target areas, and as soon as possible: for these learners it may be better to skip the formal/informal letters and jump straight into selected academic texts with non-academic texts for comparison.

The second point is that science and engineering students are (again) disadvantaged and expected to read business case studies about hotels and chocolates, elementary nature vs. nurture arguments and mobile phone essays. Other ‘popular’ themes in EAP materials are the linguistic and education articles – an assumption of applied linguists seems to be that everyone else is interested in their subject because they are studying EAP, and as they have usually done research themselves, they use these as texts for teaching (this is even suggested as a source of materials, p.134-6). There is one useful activity for mathematical expressions and another in the critical thinking section that focuses on forming hypotheses, but all the others are purely humanities and social science topics.

Overall though, this is a minor problem (if one which reflects a consistent trend in EAP materials writing). The text is very well-organised, well-written, practical, stimulating and resourceful. The text encourages reflective practices and gives support for teachers new to the area. The colour scheme is restricted to black and green on white, but skimping on presentation is fine when the contents are this good.

Reviewed by Dave Allen for November 2010

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