Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

I recently had the pleasure of joining the Norwegian Forum for English for Academic Purposes (one small benefit of the Corona pandemic was that this conference took place online this year!)  and listening to Katrien Dereoy’s talk on “Setting the stage for lecture listening: how representative are EAP coursebooks?”

She has presented and published on this topic before and I think it’s very interesting for all EAP instructors and materials writers. So, this post is a summary of what I see as the key points from her talk and what I took away from it regarding what we could do better in our EAP lecture listening instruction and materials in future.

The main finding of Katrien’s corpus linguistic research is that many EAP coursebooks on listening and note-taking in lectures do not always reflect the reality of the language used by lecturers – particularly regarding metadiscourse and lexico-grammatical discourse markers that are used to highlight important points of content in lectures.

In her research on corpora of lectures given in English, namely the British Academic Spoken English corpus and the Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings, Katrien looked at the word classes and patterns of phrases used to fulfil this function, such as metanouns (e.g. idea, point), verb phrases (remember that), adjectives (central idea), and adverbs (importantly). She also categorised two interactive orientations of such lexicogrammatical devices highlighting importance: one focusing on the participants and using phrases like “Now listen” (addressing audience) or “I want to emphasise” (expressing intention), and the other focusing on the content and saying things like “A key point is”. 

Overall, her research comparing lecture transcripts in the BASE and ELFA corpora showed that the frequency with which importance is explicitly marked was roughly equivalent between L1 and L2/EMI instructors. Overall, the content-focussed markers were most common, though a variety of word classes and grammatical patterns were found in both corpora. 

She found that EMI lecturers (often L2 speakers in non-English-speaking countries) were more likely to use a content focus, whereas L1 lecturers used phrases that were focused on the content or the audience in highlighting the importance of points in their lectures with roughly equal frequency.

Another slight difference was that L1 lecturers used metanouns more often than EMI/L2 lecturers. On the other hand, EMI/L2 lecturers often used adjectives (e.g. the main idea) and also deictic verb phrases such as “That’s the main point”,  which were often anaphoric/backward-referring (where the students would have to think back to whatever “that” refers to and then note it down). Apparently L1 lecturers were more likely to use verb phrases, particularly imperatives like “Remember” or “Notice” (≠ directives with second-person pronouns), which are also often cataphoric/forward-referring.

Overall, the most commonly used phrases in authentic lectures recorded in these corpora are:

 Remember/Notice xyz

 The point/question is xyz

 I want to emphasise/stress xyz

 The key/important/essential xyz is xyz

Katrien then analysed coursebooks that aim to teach lecture-listening skills to EAP students. She found that they often do not really teach these phrases that are most commonly used in lectures to fulfill the function of marking importance. Indeed, many coursebooks include tasks where students are asked to identify the key ideas from a lecture except, but do not necessarily give good training on the language that might help them to do so, such as listening out for metadiscourse and discourse markers. Some books include lists of ‘useful phrases’ here, but Katrien noticed a preference for explicit markers and listing words, directives with second-person pronouns (e.g. you need to remember) and other non-imperative verb phrases – so not entirely aligned with what the corpora show about phrases commonly used in real lectures.

Katrien suggests four sets of people who are possibly at least partly responsible for this disparity between EAP materials and authentic lectures, based on Gilmore (2015). These are: the researchers in applied linguistics who are not always good at making their research findings accessible;  language teachers who rely on coursebooks and don’t (have time to) think beyond what the books present them;  materials writers who may use their intuition and creativity rather than research to inform their materials; and publishers who may not want to to deal with having to source and and get copyright for authentic lecture recordings or who may not even see the value in doing so. [Note my use of defining relative clauses here – I absolutely do not want to imply putting blame on all researchers, teachers, writers, etc.!]

Katrien’s main recommendation for training EAP students to understand and be able to take notes on the most important content points in lectures is that EAP instructors should critically reflect on materials’ and appropriateness/relevance of the language presented for their students/context, and adapt or extend them as necessary. Supplementary materials should use language from authentic lecture transcripts, such as those found in databases and corpora like BASE or  MICASE and/or representative input materials for the context – e.g. collaborate with local lecturers and use their recordings/videos.

I agree with Katrien and would add that:

  • Materials writers need to make an effort to access the relevant linguistic (and SLA) research, corpora and word/phrase lists, etc. and use it to inform the language they include in their materials. I feel that particularly writers and instructors in the area of EAP are often in a better position to access these publications and resources than those in other contexts, due to their typical affiliation to a university (and their library, databases, etc) and the academic world in general. 
  • Giving a list of useful phrases is not enough –  students need active training, for example in decoding these phrases in fast connected speech where processes like linking, assimilation or elision are likely to happen and may be a barrier to understanding, and prosody helps determine phrases’ meaning, or training in understand how exactly they are used and derive their signalling power from the context and cotext. These phrases are likely to be helpful to students giving their own oral presentations, too, so materials teaching these discourse markers could span and combine both skills. 
  • Lecturers could benefit from training, too – Not all (in some contexts, not very many at all!) lecturers have received training in this kind of teaching presentation, and many may not be aware of the linguistic side of things that can affect how well (especially L2) students understand the content of a lecture. So, perhaps more EAP materials and users’ guides need to be targeted at the teachers and lecturers as well as ‘just’ the students. 
  • And finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We, EAP instructors and materials writers, need to provide numerous opportunities to deliberately engage with suitably selected, context-embedded discourse markers and academic vocabulary to help students internalise it and use it to succeed in their academic studies. 

References

One thought on “Learning to Listen to Lectures: How representative are EAP coursebooks?

  1. Lots of interesting points, as ever, Clare.

    Have you seen the OPAL lists from OUP – Oxford Phrasal Academic Lexicon? There are four lists based on corpus research, two written, two spoken, two of single words and two of phrases. So the spoken phrases list would be relevant here. You can also filter the list by function. TBH, I haven’t explored it very thoroughly yet, but it looks useful.

    https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/wordlists/opal

    Like

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