With many thanks to my colleagues with whom I have had endless discussions about this textbook!
This series of attractively-designed textbooks piqued our interest as soon as we heard about it! My review focuses on: de Chazal, E & McCarter,S ( 2012) Oxford EAP A Course in English for Academic Purposes. Upper Intermediate/B2. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
The books are divided into units, which are each further divided into four sections (reading, writing, speaking, listening) plus a vocabulary page. Each unit deals with one topic, and audio and video materials are provided on a DVD which accompanies the student’s book as standard. The student’s books also include a very useful language reference section, glossary, and a key to the exercises.
The official description of the series from the OUP website states that:
Oxford EAP provides a course that is inclusive and international with a strong focus on the core skills needed for academic study, catering for the needs of EAP teachers and students across the globe.
One issue we faced, though, was that the range of topics was really very wide, thus a number of sections dealt with topics too far off what our students study, so they were less able to engage with them to achieve good language-learning results. Nonetheless, the topics and materials are accessible to non-experts, and the reaction may be different with another cohort of learners. This may also be less of an issue in EAP groups preparing students for study in different disciplines. As a further note, some examples show conventions more acceptable in some fields than others (such as use of first person in writing, or explicit Thesis Statements), so tutors will need to highlight this for students.
The series sells itself on its modular structure, which OUP says will enable teachers (and learners) to be flexible in selecting the relevant units for their own goals and priorities. They also suggest that this flexibility makes the books appropriate for both pre-sessional and in-sessional EAP courses. In my experience, this is true only to a limited extent, depending on the context. Most university terms run for 15-20 weeks, and unless they are intensive courses I doubt that any group would manage to complete a book in this time. In my context, we used the listening & speaking sections in one term and the writing (and some reading) for another 15-week term. I personally felt quite pressured to get through the units I had chosen, since there are so many exercises, which often build on each other and cannot be omitted. And indeed, students won’t want to omit too much if they have paid out for a textbook!
That said, the exercises are on the whole very worthwhile and provide a straight-forward introduction to key academic skills, with the majority of the input being authentic materials from OUP’s other academic textbooks – a major selling point of this series! The skills, for example presenting, reading academic texts, listening in academic contexts, essay writing, and seminar speaking skills, are introduced and practised progressively throughout various units, and the language and skills are well integrated, for instance by using example sentences which pertain to the unit’s topic to demonstrate the language structures. The vocabulary pages seemed to be targeted accurately at the B2 level, and are ideal for self-study.
Our students have a pretty strong command of English (good upper intermediates) but need to cover the basics of academic working. With this goal in mind, my colleagues and I liked many of the listening activities, particularly listening to lectures in units 1 & 9. The sections on presentations and speaking on seminars were also all worthwhile. Some of the videos exemplifying presentations are held by other EFL students – this makes them highly authentic, but our students did notice some mistakes in their speech, and sometimes took them into their own language production. Therefore, it is important to note that these videos are not always a good model for language, though of the skill being trained (e.g. presenting). The language activities in the B2 book were sometimes a bit too easy for our students, though most probably benefited from the re-cap of previously learnt lexis and structures. Indeed, one colleague commented:
It wasn’t really clear to me whether users of this book would be aiming for B2 on the CEFR, or whether the aim was to take them from B2 up to the linguistically dizzy heights of C1!
However, I’d say the skills presented are definitely appropriate for this level. In fact, the C1 (Advanced) book, in comparison, is more aimed at students entering doctoral programmes. (As for rest of the series, I’m not sure A2 learners need an EAP book! But that is a discussion for another time!) For undergraduates, the writing sections in this Upper Intermediate book do a commendable job of introducing and expanding on essay writing, particularly: starting the process, topic sentences, paragraphs, essay introductions, essay conclusions, comparison essays, citation and referencing, and argument essays. Some further practice on paraphrasing, or some longer example essays would also be helpful, though these are probably found in other levels within the series.
Overall, the Oxford EAP textbooks have a large number of good selling points, and the Upper Intermediate book ranks among the best I’ve seen for EAP at this level. In general, it does a good job at achieving its aim of preparing students for academic work in English at university. Nonetheless, the length and scope may turn out to be drawbacks for some contexts, and, as with any coursebook, working with it will require some pretty detailed planning and materials selection on the part of the teacher.
You can find other reviews of this book / series here: