What is EAP?

Andy Gillett, University of Hertfordshire


At the ESP SIG general meeting at Keele, there seemed to be a general lack of knowledge about EAP. What is EAP? Who are EAP lecturers? What do they do? What are they interested in? I would like to try to answer some of these questions. It is probably true that most EAP lecturers are working in institutes of higher education where English is the medium of instruction. They see many students for whom English is not a first language and who could benefit from English classes. For some students, improving their English is essential - they will fail their courses otherwise. Some think they can get better grades if they learn more English while others study English because they like it. The object of an EAP - English for Academic Purposes - course is to help overseas students overcome some of the linguistic difficulties involved in studying in English. The job of the EAP lecturer is to find out what the students have to do and help them to do it better.

EAP is a branch of ESP in that the teaching content is matched to the requirements of the learners. It is also considered to be ESP if we take Robinson's (1991, pp. 2-5) features which are usually thought of as being criterial to ESP courses.

Even so, EAP has not been mentioned very often in the standard ESP methodology books up to now. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) have little to say about it. Kennedy & Bolitho (1984, pp. 5, 30-31, 110-117) define it and use EAP situations for some of their case studies they also offer some EAP listening and speaking exercises. Robinson (1980, pp. 67-70) looks at some of the materials available. McDonough (1984, pp. 94-95, 115-117,122-123) looks at the language of seminars and EAP testing and Robinson (1991, pp. 100-106) provides a good short survey of the present state of EAP. Several articles in Mackay & Mountford (1978) look at specific EAP problems: listening, language for economists and study skills. It is to be hoped, however, that this will be addressed by the publication of Jordan (in press).


EAP courses are very often pre-sessional courses. That is, they are taken before the students' main academic courses start. Most universities in the UK offer these pre-sessional courses, which vary in length from one year to two weeks. The EAP courses often take place at the institution where the students intend to take their main academic course but this need not be the case. These courses are intended to prepare Students in Higher Education coming to study in the UK to study in English. They also allow students to familiarise themselves with the new environment and facilities of the institution before their main courses start. The students need to learn to adopt particular approaches to their study and learn strategies and skills that will enable them to succeed in the UK HE system. The purpose of the pre-sessional EAP course is to bring them up to the level that is necessary to start a course. In this case EAP tutors need to liaise with admissions tutors to find out what is necessary.

EAP courses can also be in-sessional courses. That is they are taken at the same time as the students' main academic course. In-sessional courses can take one of two forms. They can be seen as language support classes - these are usually free drop-in classes held at lunch-times or Wednesday afternoons and students attend when they are able. Increasingly it is also becoming possible for international students to take credit-bearing EAP courses as part of their degree.


There is often discussion whether these two terms - EAP and study skills - mean the same. I find it useful to make a distinction between general study skills that are not concerned with language and language study skills that will probably form part of an EAP course. There are many study skills books available for native-speakers and they usually concentrate on matters like: where to study, when to study, time management, remembering, developing study habits, filing and organising books, how to spend leisure time and so on, although they do often deal with aspects of study skills that involve language such as planning essays and so on. These general study skills are obviously important to our Students in Higher Education, but they are not usually the main objective of EAP courses. The language study skills will form an essential component of the EAP skills classes.

Academic Writing Classes

For many students this is probably the most important as it is the way in which most of their work is assessed. The aim of an academic writing class is to prepare students for academic writing tasks. These tasks vary very much from writing short answers in exams to writing dissertations and theses. Of course, accurate grammar, punctuation and language use forms an important component of an EAP writing class, along with specific teaching of the formal language required. This will involve teaching of different text types, linking words, signposting expressions, introductions and conclusions. It is also important to teach UK writing conventions as these can vary very much from those even in neighbouring European countries.

However, EAP lecturers often find they need to concentrate on the process of writing - planning, organising, presenting, re-writing, proof-reading, etc. (Robinson, 1988). In my opinion, the most useful single skill that I can teach most of the students I meet is organisation. If students make little grammatical mistakes, they get a small correction. However, if there is a problem with organisation, they will get a big red question mark. Writing classes are often task based and project work allows students to work in their own field (see Bloor & St John, 1988). Projects also allow students to become familiar with ways of working in British HE. In particular they will have the opportunity to develop the right kind of approach to studying in the UK. This involves developing a willingness to accept responsibility for their own learning so that they are able to learn independently using initiative and self-discipline. They will need to develop the ability to think logically and independently, to be reflective and critical, to analyse, to synthesise and to be creative. They will also need to develop the ability to use IT, to mount well-presented arguments, to solve problems and to work as a member of a team.

The following would be typical content:

Academic Listening Course

Many students are initially very worried about their listening skills. Academic listening usually involves the non-native speaker of English trying to follow a lecture or discussion in English and write adequate notes on it. As in many ESP classes, there is the question of whether the problems are listening problems or language problems. Certainly much listening to lectures or similar texts is essential. There is also a need for making students aware of the way lectures are organised, the particular kind of language that is used in lectures (Lynch, 1983) and making sure they know the language, particularly the pronunciation of familiar words, of their own subject. For me the most important skill is for students to learn to recognising the structure of lectures - the main points and subsidiary points.

A typical syllabus would include:

Academic Speaking Skills Course

This is becoming increasingly important as teaching methods change to involve more group work, joint projects and group marks. Home students see problems if Students in Higher Education are not seen to be pulling their weight in collaborative work. Academic speaking classes try to help the students to be more aware of what is involved in seminar or group activity and to supply them with some of the interactional language that is used there. One problem is the difficulty of obtaining good data from which we can analyse the language involved. In general though, many confidence raising group work exercises are necessary, as well as teaching of the language used. Students will be given practice in making presentations, taking part in discussions on academic topics and so on.

Such a course might include:

Academic Reading Course

The big difficulty with reading is the amount involved. These classes therefore aim to assist the non-native speaker of English studying in the medium of English at tertiary level to use a wide range of reading strategies in order to receive more benefit from the course. Many students still rely on painstakingly slow word by word reading. It soon becomes clear to them, however, that they cannot read every word in the library. General efficient reading strategies such as scanning to find the book or chapter, skimming to get the gist and careful reading of important passages (Wallace, 1980, pp. 9-51) are necessary as well as vocabulary building exercises in the student's own area. Learning about how texts are structured can help students to read more efficiently.

An academic reading course could include:


Most EAP lecturers are involved to some extent in testing Students in Higher Education. This can involve advising admissions tutors on what external English language tests are available and what the scores mean. On the basis of these scores, students can be accepted or given offers conditional on reaching a particular level of English, or attending a certain length pre-sessional course. The most well known EAP test is the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test. This test is jointly managed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the British Council and IDP Education Australia. The test tests academic reading, writing speaking and listening and reports the level of each skill on a band from 1 to 9. Many universities also have their own proficiency tests which are written, administered and updated by EAP lecturers.

Answering exam questions

For many Students in Higher Education, the biggest worry about studying in English is exams. Time is the biggest problem, so an ability to understand the question quickly and plan an answer is important.

IATEFL Conference, Keele

There is always a good selection of EAP related presentations at IATEFL. Presentations on EAP topics at the recent IATEFL conference at Keele included.

Jeanne Godfrey - Black Holes in EAP - investigated seminars and described what she described as the " black holes of academic spoken interaction." - what actually happens in seminars.

Leila El-Badri - A global approach to teaching basic research skills - described how she teaches the basic skills of summarising, paraphrase, library skills to first-year students to enable them to write a well-developed research paper.

Carole Arijoki - A module for a module- described how overseas students at British Universities can gain credit for their English classes.

Jan Fisher - Is English language testing successful in our Kingdom? - looked at the use of IELTS as a selection tool.


EAP is thus an important area of ESP, accounting for a large amount of the ESP activity world-wide. Most of the work, however, takes place, unknown to much of the English language teaching world, in universities. It is discussed in journals and at conferences such as IATEFL and BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes). There have been several EAP related articles in this newsletter, and maybe there would be interest in more.

References and Further Reading

Adams, P., Heaton, B. & Howarth, P. (Eds.). (1991). Socio-cultural issues in English for academic purposes. London: Macmillan.

Bloor, M. & St John, M. J. (1988). Project writing: The marriage of process and product. In P. C. Robinson (Ed.), Academic writing: Process and product (ELT Documents 129, pp. 85-94). London: Modern English Publications.

Blue, G. M. (Ed.). (1993). Language, learning and success: Studying through English. London: Macmillan.

Brookes, A. & Grundy, P. (Eds.). (1988). Individualisation and autonomy in language learning (ELT Documents 131). London: Modern English Publications.

Cowie, A. P. & Heaton, J. B. (Eds.). (1977). English for academic purposes. London: BAAL/SELMOUS.

Flowerdew, J. (Ed.). (1994). Academic listening: Research perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1987). English for specific purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan, R. R. (1989). English for academic purposes (EAP). Language Teaching, 22, 150-164.

Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for academic purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Kennedy, C. & Bolitho, R. (1984). English for specific purposes. London: Macmillan.

Lynch, T. (1983). Study listening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mackay, R. & Mountford, A. (Eds.). (1978). English for specific purposes. London: Longman.

McDonough, J. (1984). ESP in perspective. London: Collins.

Robinson, P. (1980). ESP: English for specific purposes. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Robinson, P. (1991). ESP today: A practitioner's guide. London: Prentice Hall.

Robinson, P. C. (Ed.). (1988). Academic writing: Process and product (ELT Documents 129). London: Modern English Publications.

Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommended Text Books

Fairfax, B. & Trzeciak, J.(1999). English for academic study series: Listening. London: Prentice Hall.

Glendinning, E. H. & Holmstr´┐Żm, B. (1992). Study reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamp-Lyons, L. & Heasley, B. (1987). Study writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, T. & Anderson, K. (1992). Study speaking. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, T. (1983). Study listening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McGovern, D. (1994). English for academic study series: Reading. London: Prentice Hall.

Northedge, A. (1990). The good study guide. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press.

Rignall, M. & Furneaux, C.(2000). English for academic study series: Listening. London: Prentice Hall.

Madden, C. G. & Rohlck, T. N. (1997). Discussion and interaction in the academic community. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Smith, M. & Smith, G. (1988). A study skills handbook. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (1994). Academic writing for graduate students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Swales, J. M. & Feak, C. B. (2000). English in today's research world. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Trzeciak, J. & Mackay, S. E. (1994). English for academic study series: Study skills for academic writing. London: Prentice Hall.

Wallace M (1980). Study Skills In English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Waters, M., & Waters, A. (1995). Study tasks in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weissberg, R. & Buker, S. (1990). Writing up research: Experimental research report writing for students of English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

White, R. & McGovern, D.(1994). English for academic study series: Writing. London: Prentice Hall.

Williams, R. (1982). Panorama: An advanced course of English for study and examinations. London: Longman.

Andy Gillett is Principal Lecturer in EAP in the School of Combined Studies at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK. He has spent most of the last 25 years teaching ESP in private language schools, State Colleges and Universities both in the UK and abroad. He is now mainly involved in organising, planning and teaching EAP courses to students taking a wide range of courses at the University of Hertfordshire's campuses at Hatfield, north of London, UK.

Address: School of Combined Studies, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 9AB, UK.

Andy Gillett (1996). What is EAP? IATEFL ESP SIG Newsletter, 6, 17-23. (updated August, 2000)

Bob Jordan wrote a follow up article to this in the next issue of the IATEFL ESP SIG Newsletter. Click here to read it.

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