English Language Education: Who are we and what do we do?

iStock [Todor Tsvetkov]
iStock [Todor Tsvetkov]
Alison Thomas works in English Language Education as an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teacher. Here she shares the work of English Language Education.

English Language Education is situated within the Centre for Open Learning (COL), which forms part of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science. We find as we are out and about on campus that there can be misconceptions amongst students and staff about who we are and what we actually do. Here, I hope to explain our role and how we might be able to support you.

What is EAP?

A few years ago, a member of staff told me: ‘I don’t think my students need you. They can already spell, and I don’t care about commas’. This seems to be a common misconception of what we do. This is probably because the ‘English Language’ part of our title can be somewhat misleading.  First, let’s be clear. We rarely teach spelling and I can’t remember the last time I talked about commas with a student.  We do not proofread – sometimes much to a student’s disappointment! The Students Association can help with this through their Peer Proofreading scheme. What we do do is support the Universtiy of Edinburgh’s international students with their academic literacies: academic reading and writing. This subject is often known as English for Academic Purposes (EAP).

Who are we?

Under different guises, ELE has over 30 years’ experience in providing a wide range of academic and specialist English courses for international students and teachers. There are around 30 members of ELE staff at present. We are all applied linguists, and all of us have spent many years teaching in schools and higher education institutions abroad. I, for example, spent over 15 years teaching at schools and universities in Poland, Hong Kong and Switzerland before returning to the UK.  This means that we all have experience of what it is to live, work and, in many cases, study abroad, and so we all have an in-depth knowledge of the teaching and learning practices of the educational contexts our international students come from.

You’re not subject experts then? 

Probably not! I am not an engineer or a biologist or an economist.

So, how can you help my students?

One important feature of EAP courses is the close attention that is paid to students’ aims and what they plan to study. In an ideal scenario, we will work with subject specialists to find out about their teaching and learning practices, and the conceptual and discursive frameworks central to a particular discipline. We then analyse these texts and practices, and develop courses which help international students make sense of the texts and practices in their discipline. So, rather than deal with content, we will work with students on skills like handling the literature in their field, or how to write cohesive, coherent and comprehensible text.  In this way EAP specialists work to provide a bridge between international students and disciplinary practices at the University of Edinburgh.

It is also our job to ensure that this ‘bridge’ is wide enough to allow everyone to cross, and so the majority of our courses are non-credit bearing allowing our international students to practise unfamiliar genres in a supportive environment.

Next steps:

You can find further information on our courses on our website

Alison Thomas

Alison Thomas has been a teacher of English for Academic Purposes for the past 25 years, teaching at HEIs both abroad and in the UK. She joined ELE five years ago, and now teaches on a wide range of writing support courses.

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