How do you teach Academic English?

by Kevin R Burns
(Kanagawa, Japan)

How do you teach Academic English?

     Firstly, what is academic English?     It is the language appropriate for study in a university setting.    It is also the English necessary to understand the subject materials and write about it.    It encompasses the style of how things are done.    In an AE class, you might teach how to write a business letter for business or economics majors, or how to write essays for a more general academic English class。

     I take a pragmatic approach to how I teach my students, and ask myself what are they likely to need?    Which English skills will they likely be required to use in the future?     Will they need to know how to write a proper Email?   Understand a doctor`s prescription, or give a process power point presentation to prospective clients of the company they work for (in the future)? What will they need to do, either in another institution of higher learning, or after graduation? I feel these are important questions to ask yourself as a teacher, so you can gear your classes to your students.

If you happen to be teaching English through an academic subject such as nursing, engineering, business or another subject, there are many things one can do as a teacher to improve our students` knowledge. If teaching nursing students, you could teach English through “issues in nursing.” You could have the students listen to lectures on different issues in nursing (perhaps a TED talk), read articles on current issues, have the students speak about it in a presentation for the class or discuss it in small groups, and finally write papers on it giving their opinions. All the while, you could be doing rotating pairwork, and having them ask each other questions about these issues. You could prepare the questions, or have your nursing students do it.

Some of my students are science majors and they may need to do presentations about scientific processes in the future, or state their theories in an authoritative way.
I teach an Academic Presentation class where they learn how to do presentations in English on topics they are interested in. We not only focus on the language necessary for various academic presentations, but also on eye contact, speaking clearly,
and work on pronunciation and listening as well.

Will your students need to write essays for an institution of higher learning, or for a journal? Do they know how?

I have found that many of my students do not understand how to write in an essay style. Simply getting them to indent and write a title is still a challenge at times. But while
teaching them the correct style of writing, they better their writing through process writing practice. We write at least three drafts, the first of which is an outline for a short essay. In this outline they have a topic sentence, a short conclusion and space for reasons and details. From their I can correct their errors, or point them out to them. As well, I can alert them to where they have deviated from the correct style
for universities for example.

Students learn academic English by learning from their mistakes. Often they can correct their own errors once they realize they have gone astray, and others I correct in the hopes that they will learn from my example. By the third draft, most of the papers are quite good and some are publish worthy. You can also of course, try peer correction. Sometimes students can detect the errors of their classmates more easily than their own.

Depending on how long your Academic English course is, and the focus of your institutions` curriculum, you might be able to delve further into the subject. If you have time in the term, you can pursue reading and study skills like skimming, scanning, inferencing, and go over this further by giving them reading examples of the types of texts they will need to read.

Certainly there are many ways to approach the teaching of Academic English. As you can see, I prefer a pragmatic approach that gets to the heart of what my students may need to do in English in the future. Our students` time is limited, so I feel the need to maximize the effect by teaching them practical skills. As well, your choice of which skills to focus on, or even cover, will vary according to your program and how
much time you have to devote to it. Finally, academic English is exciting, as students can come out of it with many real world skills.

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