English for Academic Purposes–But Not Boring!

In an earlier post, I described a growing population of students looking for more academic ESL. They are not yet in the majority, however, and share classrooms with students whose goals don’t include studying anything after ESL. This poses a dilemma for the ESL programs–how to meet the needs of both groups of students at the same time.

The phrase I hear most often used as a solution is “academic, but not boring”. The ESL teachers in these programs are taking an innovative approach in which students develop skills that will help them in either academic or non-academic contexts.

The key argument is that skill development with universally interesting content trumps explicitly academic or workplace content. To put it another way, you don’t have to read a chapter from a psychology textbook in order to develop the langaugeĀ skills required to attend a psychology class. If important language skills can be developed with any content, then ESL programs have the freedom to choose engaging, rich topics for their lessons. This means all students (EAP and otherwise) will be interested in the lessons’ content and all students will work on skills that help them meet their own goals.

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