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Has EAP instruction at Canadian
universities
been successful?
by
Robert Berman
- 4

Tentative findings

To answer one of the questions posed at the start, “Is EAP important to L2 students’ success?” our findings to date point to an un-resounding “Yes, probably”. For one thing, students who have taken EAP tend to be quite positive. For example, with regard to writing instruction, one said, “I didn’t even know there was structure in writing in English to begin with, so that’s one thing I really learned.”

Another reported, in reference to learning how to listen to lectures: “I learned at least how to follow the logic from [EAP] because to me, before, each sentence are separated. … Even though I translate it, I don’t know how to put it together. To make it like, what this mean, right? … Also I know how to follow the professor… and what is the biggest point he is saying. When should I pay attention to him, stuff like this.”

In regard to the second question, “What other key factors contribute to (or impede) the success of L2 students?” it seems clear that “bravery” for want of a better word is an important factor. Students who take risks to put themselves into an English environment seem to benefit from their risk taking. This student, who purposely sits beside “Canadians” in class is illustrative of such behaviour:

“Second-language people would like to stuck together…in the lecture because they feel safer and easier… I didn’t feel it works out perfectly to me. Because first of all, we’ll end up sitting together and talking in Chinese…so I tried to jump to some like normal seat with like making Canadian friends.”

Parents are also an enormous factor. Here is one illustrative example, reported by a young man who was studying in Beijing when he got a phone call from his parents:

“One day…my parents phone me when I was in Beijing, they tell me… ‘Come home.’ Then: ‘You can go to Canada.’ They just made that decision, and I was so surprised.”

This dialogue with another student is also illustrative:

“I want to study here … but my parents want me to…PhD.” [laughs]

Is that also your goal?

“No, actually, I prefer just studying college, like children or something…and find a job.”

Do you talk to your parents about your goals?

“Yeah, many times, but they won’t change their mind, and so I can’t change because they control me.”

Whether parents help or hinder their children is a question that will not be answered here, but it is clear that they wield enormous power.

Another crucial factor must be the discipline instructors’ own English communication skills. One professor reported: “We use a lot of TAs... All undergraduate courses have TAs. Most of those TAs are foreign students. And so they barely even understand the language so they’re in no position to help improve…students’ English. So there’s a real disconnect…yes it would be nice to have better writing skills, but how do we achieve that?”

In addition, discipline professors’ available time is clearly an important factor. One reported: “We’ve been under pressure…to increase our student numbers…so we’ve been very aggressive at marketing.... Going forward, I think is dependant on swinging in the other direction… we’re gonna have to cut back…’cause it’s killing the faculty and staff, trying to support this number of students.”

Conclusion

Our study has just begun. Nevertheless, we can already say that EAP seems to be having at least some success, but that we have a long way to go, especially to better serve the special language needs of students going into particular disciplines. Furthermore, there are certainly other important factors weighing in upon the success, or lack thereof, of L2 students in their academic studies, such as their inclination to take risks, parental control, and the available time and language skills of discipline specific professors and TAs.

Berman, R. 2002. Toward a common concept of English for academic purposes. Paper presented at the conference of the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics, May, Toronto.

Cheng, L. and Myles, J. 2002. Presented as a paper at the conference of the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics, May, Toronto.

Clapham, C. 2000. Assessment for Academic Purposes: Where next? System, 28, 511-521.

Fox, J. 2002. Tracking validity: Test impact over time. Presented as a paper at the conference of the Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics, May, Toronto.

Hyland, K. & Hamp-Lyons, L. 2002. EAP: Issues and directions. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 1, 1, 1-12.

Simner, M. 1998. University reactions to the Canadian Psychological Association’s position statement on the TOEFL. Presented as a paper at the Social Responsibility of the Language Tester, Summer Institute, July, Ottawa.

Biodata

Robert

For eight years, Robert Berman has been an Associate Professor and the Director of the English Language Program at the University of Alberta. The funding for the study from which this article stems was received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In August 2006 Robert will take up a position as Associate Professor at the Iceland University of Education, where his research interests will involve the teaching and learning of writing.

robert.berman@ualberta.ca

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