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Teaching EAP: A Professional Challenge




Teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) can bring a lot of challenges for both teacher and students. Here Fatih Yücel discusses some of the issues.

Have you ever taught an EAP course? Did you enjoy it or was it a nightmare? How about your students? Did they benefit from the course or did they neglect it? You can add many more to this list of questions.

To begin with, for most language instructors it is already a challenge to switch from teaching English as a Second Language to teaching English for Academic Purposes as the syllabi and the outcomes are totally different from each other. To my knowledge, university circles also face some significant problems about designing and implementing EAP courses, because EAP is a course for adults; therefore one has to convince the learners about the benefits.

What are the key challenges?

Preparing Suitable Course Materials:
Most EFL instructors have access to infinite number of sources to use in class, so it is generally not an issue to add variety to their lessons. As for EAP classes on the other hand, it is not that easy to find and/or prepare suitable materials. Jordan (1997:269) summarizes the main areas of difficulty that may need addressing about materials writing as follows;

  1. Shortage of time;
  2. Insufficient money to finance additional teachers to help with teaching/writing;
  3. Difficulty of obtaining access to subject specific information, data, and the appropriate academic conventions of the target discourse community;
  4. Lack of co-operation from staff in specialist departments;
  5. Lack of self-confidence, experience, imagination, creativity;
  6. Fear of lack of credibility with students.

Student Motivation:
Motivation level of university students is another challenge in teaching EAP, because “university students do not invest as much time in learning English as they do in learning their specialist subjects. One of the reasons is that they don’t see English playing a significant role to major in a certain discipline.” (Metsheng, 2009) Moreover, student body reaction to EAP classes is quite complex. While learning a language at university level is generally seen as an obstacle to their majors (that causes the lack of motivation to learn), most students are also aware of the fact that they will need English to have a better career after school. Unfortunately, most justify their neglection by claiming they will invest time in learning English after graduation.

Teacher Competence:
Amongst the other aspects, teacher competence can not also be underestimated in terms of the challenges faced in teaching EAP. Are we all qualified enough to teach EAP? Have we had enough training about how to teach it? On a scale of one to five, how would you rate your performance? Another bunch of questions… As stated elsewhere in the text, teaching EAP is not the same as teaching EFL. In order to teach EAP, one must have strong academic background. Otherwise, the teacher will both have to train himself/herself and the students. If you do not have to teach it unexpectedly, I strongly suggest you attend a number of workshops, seminars besides exchanging ideas with more experienced teachers in the field. Keeping yourself updated about the study skills (as you will need to train your learners about how to learn and practice) will also be helpful.

Real World vs EAP Classroom:
Actually, this one directly correlates with student motivation again and to be honest, it is the biggest challenge for me and for those who teach at a similar university environment. No matter how well you teach, if the knowledge given is not used at freshmen year, you can not motivate anyone about the importance of your lesson. My suggestion to tackle this problem is simple but needs some preparation. A detailed needs analysis will help you to a great extend. As EAP classroom will cover both receptive (e.g. note-taking) and productive (e.g. research paper writing) skills training, from learning styles of the learners to the expectations of professors in the departments should be determined carefully. Otherwise, real world will unfortunately overcome your classroom.

Jordan, R. R. English for Academic Purposes: A Guide and Resource Book for Teachers. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Metsheng. (2009) The Challenges of Teaching EAP in EFL Contexts.
[Photo by Tulane Public Relations via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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  1. I teach EAP in a pre-university program at a private language school. Most of the students in our program have conditional acceptance contingent on them completing the program. We do not have a tremendous problem with motivation, as many of our students DO have the motivation to succeed in order to begin university. However, I have found that resources are a big problem. Finding resources with academic content and accessible English is nearly impossible. I look forward to future blog posts that hopefully address that problem: either good places to access resources, or time efficient ways to modify academic resources for an EAP class.

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