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EFL vs EAP: Product to Process writing

EAP course

Tim is based in Bangkok Thailand, where he works as a CELTA trainer and also prepares students for the IELTS exam. He is a tutor on our Teaching IELTS and Teaching EAP teacher development courses. He has taught EAP at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and Leicester University in the UK. He spent 10 years teaching English in Russia and has worked in Japan. In this blog post he discusses EFL vs EAP: Product to Process writing

Most EFL teachers start off teaching general English, helping students work up the levels from elementary to advanced, teaching language in everyday contexts. But many learners need English for a specific purpose where the use of the language may have specific features not covered in a general English course.

One of these purposes is English for Academic Purposes – learners want to do a degree in English and need an advanced command of Academic English in order to do that. The differences with General English can be seen in all 4 skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) but are perhaps most obvious in writing.

EAP course

Writing tasks in a General English (GE) course – creating a product

Many teachers of GE might find that writing is not very important in their course. Learners are generally most keen to practice their speaking skills and writing will either take place as a controlled task (a gap-fill type task to consolidate a language point being taught) or will be given as a homework task to be collected by the teacher in the next lesson. Many General English coursebooks (such as New English File from OUP or Cutting Edge from Pearson) do include engaging and authentic writing tasks (such as writing an article, an email to a friend, a job application etc.) but these are presented in a product writing approach. Language is presented, an example is perhaps given and then students write (perhaps at home) their final product which is assessed by the teacher.

Writing Academic English – a process

One of the big differences with academic writing is the scale – an email to a friend might be 150 or 200 words long. But an academic essay is likely to be 3000 words or more. This is why many native speakers approach this kind of writing as a process – parts of the essay are drafted, then reviewed (by the author, their peers and their tutors) then edited before the final draft is ready to be submitted. This is done to ensure the content is as useful as possible, containing a consistent and clear argument that is appropriately supported and referenced.

But this process of drafting and editing can be useful to the non-native writer in developing the quality of the language in the text. In General English, teachers will often collect in a piece of writing and correct all the errors and return it to the learner with some encouraging comments. But how much do learners really take in from this? With a large class, the teacher will probably take several hours marking their work, but the student will probably glance at it, see how many things were corrected and pay most attention to any ‘mark’ or ‘grade’ the teacher awards. The effort the teacher made correcting their work is largely wasted.

Upgrading language – a process

We all understand that the process of improving a learner’s language is a process – there are no quick fixes and it’s generally a slow process of gradual improvement. So how can we draw their writing into this process? How can we get them to focus on improving the quality of their language after they have finished their first draft? This is where the teacher plays an invaluable role in guiding the learner. And the quality of the first ‘marking’ is key. Here are some tips to make your hours spent marking written work have more impact on the quality of your learners’ language:

  1. Don’t overload them – there’s a limit to how much they can take in so limit the corrections to a manageable amount. 10 errors is a manageable number to deal with. This means the teacher has to be very skillful at selecting the most important errors that can lead to significant improvement. It’s tempting to correct everything, and learners often expect you to do this. You will need a discussion with them about why you are only focusing on a limited number.
  2. Choose common errors – identifying recurring errors or problems is most likely to have the largest impact on the quality of their writing.
  3. Make them do the correction – if the teacher has already corrected the error, there is little chance of the learner thinking deeply about it or internalizing the correction. Instead, highlight the error (e.g. underline it) and use a correction code to help students see the problem. For example:

WW – wrong word: they need to choose a different piece of vocabulary

Prep – wrong preposition

VT – verb tense: they need to change how the verb tense has been formed, or change the tense

A – wrong article

You can develop your own code as long as you are consistent with it – introduce it the first time and use it regularly. The students will soon get used to it.

  1. Devote classroom time to correction work – when you give them their work back, give them 10 minutes to read through the problems and try to fix them. You can monitor and help them and perhaps then ask them to re-write and submit the corrected text next lesson. You can also go through with the whole class any common errors that all students struggle with. You could even find some accuracy focused task or ‘controlled practice’ task to help them consolidate their understanding.
  2. It’s not only the teacher’s job to correct – encourage them to read through their first draft in class before they submit. This could be done by a classmate especially at the higher levels where they are more likely to notice relevant errors.

Creating autonomous learners

If your students are aiming to study in university, they will need as many independent learning skills as possible. Teachers in university are not going to be as engaged in their learning as an average EFL teacher. It’s important to help them take control of the writing process and recognize the importance of drafting and editing in order to achieve a higher quality of writing.

The quality of the teacher’s ability to highlight areas where they can improve is crucial and the EAP teacher therefore needs a deep understanding of academic writing and how a learner’s writing can be usefully improved to take it to the next level.

If you are interested in knowing more about Teaching English for Academic Purposes or what this could mean for your career, enrol in our online individual, online group or face to face Teaching EAP course here or get in touch to find out more.

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