The TEAPing Point

Explorations in EAP

Progress & Plausibility

Are we, as EAP professionals, ‘just’ language teachers? I think the answer has to be no. It is our responsibility to provide for our learners an induction, of sorts, into the practices of the Academy. We need to demystify the road that lies ahead. This means we need to engage our learners not just in language practice, but also in academic practice.


lang as acad

I think such a view has important knock-on effects for our sense of self within the universities of which we are part. Once we see language work not as a precursor to academic work, but rather emerging from it, it helps pull departments closer and it helps us to explain how and why we can genuinely contribute to what departments do with their students on degree programmes.

Taking an EAP-as-academic-practice view also changes the language we speak. In the past some of the departments we work with misunderstood what we did as being essentially only sentence level work for writing and fluency/pron work for speaking. We now talk to them about synthesis of reading, thesis-driven essay structure, writing literature reviews and empirical research reports. We all know this is what we do, of course, but talking this talk with academics and with university management has transformed the opportunities we now have to connect and collaborate with the other units across the university.

lang vs acad

We now contribute to sessions in the Doctoral Training Programme. We’ve designed a well-received pre-UG induction into writing and plagiarism avoidance for (all) Geography students. We have high-level committee representation and thus increasingly a voice in institution-wide conversations of teaching and learning – for both international and home students. We are not needing to wave the flag quite so much, and people are now beginning to approach us first.

It’s an ongoing enterprise and we have plenty of work still do to; however, changing perceptions has established and enhanced our plausibility internally and this has led to great progress. Ultimately, this is good not just for our unit but also, of course, for the students (non-native and native), who are increasingly aware that we exist and that we can help improve, not just linguistic proficiency, but also understanding aspects of the academic process.

So this is PPP for EAP unit image management: Perception. Plausibility. Progress.


I’m sure others have similar stories to tell, so do share, if you have a moment.


This post is a summary of some of the thoughts and experience presented at the recent AULC conference on ‘Collaboration’, which took place at Durham University, 10-11 Jan 2013. Our slides are available here.


14 comments on “Progress & Plausibility

  1. Andy Gillett
    14 January 2013

    I disagree with your first sentence, Steve, but agree with everything else! We are primarily language teachers, and if by that we mean language in its widest sense, then it is an essential part of almost everything that people might do in the academic world. And as language is part of everything, then what we do is an essential integrated part of academic life. So we certainly do not just “support” this world, we are part of it.

    • Steve Kirk
      15 January 2013

      Thanks for dropping by Andy. I agree, of course, that language teaching is a primary role but I also think that the way we need to conceive of language forces a wider remit. Language for me is the surface reflex of speaker choice, shaping and shaped by the discourse community of which the speaker is part. In an EAP context this means understanding the practices of the academy, such that we see why language and texts are the way they are. Helping learners to see this too takes us beyond language and texts, I think.

      • Julia Molinari
        23 October 2014

        Another reason for redressing the balance between language teaching vs. academic acculturation – thus shifting the teaching-learning emphasis onto the ‘academic’ – is that EAP students bring rich academic literacies to the classroom. They don’t simply bring language deficits. Developing a classroom discourse that harnesses academic literacies means that we begin to foreground students’ disciplinary knowledges and identities from which, as you say, Steve, language (and, crucially, motivation) emerges. Thanks for the post Steve, and hope there are more to come?

  2. Steve O'Sullivan
    15 January 2013

    Hi Steve
    First, of course, the EAP narrative has to be worked out, worked through, understood, and has to be able to be articulated internally. There is a relatively coherent narrative at large, as you suggest. After that, there’s the very interesting possibility of being able to establish and develop a two-way, iterative, equal, mutually beneficial, educative process with departments where, with the clearly articulated narrative in the bag – including what we can really do with language, content, skills, and an international acumen – EAP probably stands a good chance of being taken into the academic fold, again as you say. Cheers.

    • Steve Kirk
      15 January 2013

      Absolutely, Steve. I can see why Andy argues that we are primarily language teachers, but the struggle to achieve and maintain some form of academic cultural capital among departments means, in my view, we have to talk a slightly different talk. This starts with establishing an ‘internal narrative’, as you put it, and this is what (at least some of us here) have managed to begin to forge. We feel less in a ‘for’ relationship and more in a ‘with’ relationship with departments now.

      In a climate of privatisation of EAP units, this identity construction and deep embedding of ourselves within other university structures seems essential for self-preservation. We CAN add to the quality of what academics already do; we just need to make this known in ways that resonate beyond our own, sometimes rather narrow feeling, walls.

      • Andy Gillett
        16 January 2013

        OK. Looking at your (Steve K) original first sentences: “It is our responsibility to provide for our learners an induction, of sorts, into the practices of the Academy. We need to demystify the road that lies ahead. This means we need to engage our learners not just in language practice, but also in academic practice.” But isn’t that something that every academic should do with his or her students? And, as academics, I agree that we also need to do it. But what is our specialism? What do we have that others don’t? What’s our USP, if you like? When you say “Are we, as EAP professionals, ‘just’ language teachers? I think the answer has to be no.” If we are not just language teachers, then what else are we that’s different from everyone else?


  3. Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)
    16 January 2013

    Glad to hear the dialogue between your department and those of the disciplines you support is happening–a very useful one to have for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is awareness of what we do.

    I’m lucky, I guess, that I’m good friends with the professor of the credit course my students attend (I attend it too) and that she is employed through our program, so it’s easy to have that dialogue.

  4. Steve Kirk
    16 January 2013

    Yes, personal friendships can go along way – since you have someone ‘on the inside’! We have fairly close relationships with some departments but not with others. One major recent step forward, however, is that we now have a named representative in each university department, so that’s 27 academics who have become a first port of call and who, in principle, should be keeping up with what we’re doing and what is available to the students in their departments. This kind of thing is helping to keep us visible and, as I said in the talk of which the blog post above is part, helps to ensure, in an age of privatisation, that we are sitting firmly at the table and not on the menu!!

    • Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)
      27 January 2013

      Congrats! Good steps, for sure. Where we have some issue really is the overlap between supports for students. Our college (one unit within the university) also has a writing centre for undegraduates and an English language learning conversation cafe, two things our program itself have established specifically for our students. Seems to me we should be pooling our resources since we’re all working toward the same goals, but this is challenging to coordinate.

  5. Steve O'Sullivan
    18 January 2013

    Andy’s questions seem pretty key. 1) ‘What’s our USP, if you like?’ (or DSP? – Distinguishing Selling Point(s)). 2) ‘If we are not just language teachers, then what else are we that’s different from everyone else?’ The BALEAP TEAP Competencies Framework, for instance, could be a possible place to seek out some USP starting areas. A couple more USP-type questions along the same track also come to my mind: ‘What’s the distinguishing input, what’s the value added resulting ouput, and what/where is the evidence for both?’

  6. Andy Gillett
    20 January 2013

    Here are a few quotations from the summary of the BALEAP TEAP Competencies framework, that do not, as far as I can see, deal only with language.

    “An EAP teacher will have a reasonable knowledge of the organizational, educational and communicative policies, practices, values and conventions of universities.” OK, but every university lecturer would have this knowledge, An EAP teacher might know more about the communicative policies.

    “An EAP teacher will be able to recognize and explore disciplinary differences and how they influence the way knowledge is expanded and communicated.” Definitely true. But this is because we teach students from different disciplines. A chemistry teacher does not need to, for example, know ho a physiotherapist writes.Academic skills teachers know a bit about this.

    “An EAP teacher will recognize the importance of applying to his or her own practice the standards expected of students and other academic staff.” Sure, but true for everyone.

    “An EAP teacher will understand the requirements of the target context that students wish to enter as well as the needs of students in relation to their prior learning experiences and how these might influence their current educational expectations.” Sure, but again true for everyone teaching in HE.

    “An EAP teacher will understand the role of critical thinking in academic contexts and will employ tasks, processes and interactions that require students to demonstrate critical thinking skills.” True, but every university lecturer is aware of this. An EAP teacher will have a special interest in the role language plays in critical thinking.

    “An EAP teacher will understand the importance of student autonomy in academic contexts and will employ tasks, processes and interactions that require students to work effectively in groups or independently as appropriate.” True, but, again, it is the same for every university lecturer.

    So it would seem to me that when Steve (K) says that we are not just language teachers, he is saying that we are also university lecturers. And as such we need the knowledge and skills of a university lecturer as well as those of a language teacher. If that’s true, then, of course, I agree. Or is there more than I am missing? The only thing I can find is non-linguistic knowledge of different disciplines.


    • Steve O'Sullivan
      21 January 2013

      No, your comments here make total sense. Coming at the TEAP CF more from the ‘Language Teaching’ angle, though, there are a number of descriptions (particularly the academic discourse-related ones) which appear to come into potential distinguising hallmark territory (i.e. when comparing EAP Teachers’ ‘uniqueness’ with subject Lecturers and/or ‘Academic Skills Teachers’).

    • Steve Kirk
      21 January 2013

      Thank you, Andy and Steve, for this dialogue. I think I have things to add here, but I’m feeling that this probably deserves.a separate post. The conversation is moving away from the intent of the original post, towards related but very interesting territory that I’d like to give proper time for consideration. I’ll aim to post a few thoughts in the next day or two. Cheers.

  7. Steve Kirk
    24 October 2014

    Julia, thanks for posting. I don’t seem to be able to reply to your comment, so I’m writing down here. I agree completely, the deficit model, rife in our universities still, focuses on cant’s not on cans – and student knowledge and existing (academic/other) literacies are central to the cans.

    And on the very long absence from writing, yes I do hope to post again soon. I have multiple drafts behind the scenes that never seem to have found the light of day. Like your wonderful blog, I was planning this to be a site for thinking about my doctoral work, but it hasn’t turned out that way. I will be getting back into the writing groove here soon, however. Cheers,

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This entry was posted on 13 January 2013 by in Communities of Practice, Identity, Ontologies of EAP and tagged , , .



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"We are told and socialised into what to reject, but rarely told how to create." (Bernstein, 1977, p. 167)

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