SL in Action: BALEAP Conference in Reading, UK
BALEAP Conference: English for Specific Academic Purposes, Reading, UK April 5-7 2009
Jacqueline Einer, Jonathan Marcus G. Smith, Müjde Şener & Benet Donald Vincent
BALEAP, the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes, only has conferences every other year, so there is generally high competition amongst those who want to present papers. It therefore reflects well on the SL that we were responsible for two presentations at this year?s conference, which was held on the leafy Reading University campus and featured such famous EFL/EAP names as Ken Hyland, John Swales, Hilary Nesi and Christine Feak.
The theme of the conference was English for Specific Academic Purposes [in contrast to English for General Academic Purposes], and Ken Hyland opened the conference with a plenary setting out his understanding of and insights into this area. Hyland used evidence from corpus studies to point out the differences in terms of language use in these areas:
Research Articles and University Textbooks (different genres): articles use more hedges and citations, but fewer ?transitions? (linkers) than textbooks
Across different disciplines: words on the AWL have widely different frequencies, collocations and meanings according to academic discipline / citations are far more frequent in ?soft fields? than in ?hard fields? / reporting verbs differ according to the field (soft fields: discuss, hypothesize, suggest; hard fields: observe, discover, show, analyse), reflecting the differences in how research is conducted and results are interpreted /4-word bundles (e.g. on the other hand, in the case of) also vary widely by discipline.
He concluded by noting that such differences reflect different conceptions of the world, what information and knowledge is important, and different writer/reader relationships in different fields, the implication being that EAP instructors cannot ignore such differences or they risk misleading students.
The other plenaries, featuring Christine Feak and Hilary Nesi, were equally interesting. Professor Hilary Nesi?s talk focused on the reflective writing which students at British universities are obliged to write as part of PDP (personal development planning) and which stands in stark contrast to the ?essayist tradition? which applies to most university writing. This reflective writing strand is a not uncontroversial aspect of university writing amongst students and scholars.
Prof. Nesi used parts of the BAWE (British Academic Written English) corpus to show the strategies such students used to, for example, avoid taking the blame, or, in some cases, to avoid blaming others for the shortcomings of their projects. She also pointed out the kind of evaluative language students use, relating instances to Martin?s evaluative language taxonomy (Martin, J. in Hunston & Thompson, 2001).
Christine Feak?s plenary, on the other hand, looked more in depth at a case study of a student navigating her way through a post-graduate program in an American university, which involved overcoming disciplinary differences to find her own voice. It pointed to the importance of discipline tutors having greater discourse awareness which might help avoid their using criticisms like ?you need to find your own voice? or ?the grammar isn?t quite right? when the real ?problem? with a piece of writing might be simply that it doesn?t follow the epistemological conventions of the discipline concerned; even apparently closely related disciplines such as anthropology and sociology can have surprising differences in terms of such conventions. Dr. Feak also stressed the importance of raising learners? awareness of features of academic writing in different disciplines by training them to be ?discourse analysts? in their own right.
Looking at the conference as a whole, some of the key issues raised are listed below:
-What is academic language? How does it differ across disciplines? What are the differences between ?general English? and academic English (e.g. very low usage of progressive aspect)
-Problems of plagiarism and incorporating sources and how to overcome them through awareness raising as well as through providing language input
-Professional competencies of EAP teachers: what these should be. The need for teachers of EAP to be aware of, for example, disciplinary differences in epistemology and phraseology
-Learner training: encouraging students to become discourse analysts
-The importance of corpora to EAP work (mentioned in all plenaries)
-The mutual benefits of collaboration between discipline specialists and EAP instructors
-How social forces affect language use
In general, the presentations were very interesting and informative, and a large number of them were relevant to our context. We would strongly recommend this conference.
The next BALEAP conference takes place in Portsmouth, UK in April 2011.
Hunston, S & Thompson, G. (Eds) (2001). Evaluation in text: Authorial stance and the construction of discourse. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.