#tbt IATEFL 2016 #4: Chatting in the Academy – exploring spoken English for academic purposes

Michael McCarthy

At last year’s IATEFL, Michael McCarthy gave a talk on spoken English for Academic Purposes (EAP), looking at data and insights from various sources to determine the differences between spoken and written academic English, and to what extent it should be considered in EAP materials.

Insights are an important consideration for those learning English, as well as those deciding how it can be taught most effectively. This is particularly important when considering English for a specific use, such as English for Academic Purposes, and deciding which materials to use to teach it.

In this talk, Michael McCarthy explores a range of questions, including:

  • How does spoken English for academic purposes typically differ from academic writing in university settings?
  • To what extent is spoken english for academic purposes similar to and different from conversational English?
  • What do the insights from corpus analysis reveal about these similarities and differences?
  • How does this knowledge influence EAP materials?

So how is this kind of research undertaken? What data is used?

Michael and his colleagues used a variety of language databases, or corpora, to investigate the kinds of written and spoken language used in academic contexts. Corpora used included the Academic Spoken Corpus: a corpus of lectures, seminars, supervisions and tutorials from both the humanities and science disciplines. They also used a sub-corpora, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE), comprised of lectures and seminars from a variety of disciplines. Both of these were benchmarked against the CANCODE Corpus developed at the University of Nottingham, which contains spoken conversational language from a variety of sources, enabling comparisons between academic and conversational English.

What techniques were used?

Some of the techniques used in this research included frequency lists and key word lists that showed whether something is significantly frequent or infrequent. The team also looked at chunks or clusters of language, and consistency or dispersion, to see how widely distributed a particular piece of language is across a corpus.

Watch Michael McCarthy’s talk to discover more about the key differences, including examples from the corpora mentioned, and how they could be taken into account when planning materials. Michael also shares a number of practical examples and key expressions to teach, which you can apply in your classroom.

Find out more about the Cambridge English Corpus and how this informs our materials!

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