A lite touch for English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

Craig Thaine

Craig Thaine, co-author of Cambridge English Empower, explores the various needs of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) students and the most suitable EAP materials.

Knowing your EAP students

The needs of EAP students can vary greatly. Sometimes a class will be made up of a group of learners who have all studied engineering at undergraduate level in their first language, and they are doing an EAP course in order to do post-graduate study in English. These students will have very specific needs that they all share. Teaching and learning materials can be finely tuned to address these needs.

On the other hand, EAP classes can comprise students who will go on to study in different disciplines. There might also be a mix of those who want to do undergraduate study and those who want to do postgraduate study.

Identifying your EGAP from ESAP students

Thinking about these two groups of students, it’s often helpful to make a clear distinction between English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) – a class with mixed needs – and English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) – the groups of engineers (Hyland 2016).

On balance, there are likely to be more students studying EGAP because this tends to be the focus at undergraduate level. Sometimes these students are unsure what discipline they will eventually study. Another characteristic of EGAP students is that they tend to begin study at lower levels and many institutions have EGAP programmes for learners at A2 and B1 level.

What materials are available?

There is now a good range of EAP materials available for students. They are usually skills-focused and concentrate on a variety of disciplines with associated topics or themes. Often the material includes a long learning sequence, and students carry out a variety of tasks that could involve between 4-8 hours learning time in the classroom.These materials can also be quite serious in their focus. Academic study is seen as something challenging and weighty, and EAP learning materials often reflect this. The rationale is that the materials aim to prepare students for real-world academic study.

How can EAP material affect student motivation?

One downside of materials of this nature is that they can sometimes have a slightly negative effect on students’ motivation. Imagine a student, Raisa, who hasn’t decided exactly what undergraduate study she will do in English. In general, she prefers science-based subjects and is considering either biology or chemistry. In her EGAP class, the teacher embarks on a unit of study that is linked to the topic of design and art history. The unit involves 6 hours of class study time across 2 weeks. Raisa has little or no interest in art and design, so across this learning sequence, there will be little to engage her interest.

To help teachers manage learner motivation, we have created a series of EGAP learning materials, Empower Academic Skills Plus, that are ideal for students like Raisa. They comprise shorter learning sequences across a range of topics. Also, the focus in these materials is on topics and themes that are lighter in tone and are more likely to engage students who may not be so interested in that discipline area. The worksheets, that range for B1 to C1 level, could be described as ‘EAP Lite’.

What about language?

In EAP programmes, a common concern of EAP teachers and learners is the role of the core language systems of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Research carried out on students in Hong Kong who had graduated from EAP programmes into undergraduate study indicated the following speaking and writing needs in order of priority:


1. speaking accurately
2. communicating ideas fluently
3. speaking clearly (pronunciation)


1. & 2. using grammar correctly and linking sentences smoothly
3. using appropriate style

(Evans & Morrison 2011)

These results suggest that students who have English as an additional language and will study on English medium programmes at university have significant needs associated with core language systems. While they sometimes need specialised academic vocabulary and grammar (for example, a stronger emphasis on noun phrases), they also benefit from the kind of grammar and vocabulary found in a general English course book, particularly students at lower levels.

Empower Academic Skills Plus material

In many contexts, students with very general EAP needs don’t have to follow a very specialised EAP programme and benefit from general English with an EAP supplement. The combination of Cambridge English Empower as a course book with Empower Academic Skills Plus material is very useful for teaching and learning contexts like this. The course book provides core language systems input and practice, and the Academic Skills Plus worksheets provide an EAP focus. The topics of the worksheets match the topics of the course book.

Cambridge English Empower Academic Skills Plus worksheet B1 U01

So, if you’re teaching on an EAP programme at the moment and you have students whose needs are not clearly defined, then a ‘lite’ approach to academic English may be an appropriate one. It’s also worth considering the extent to which students need very specialised language. Can their language needs be addressed by the kind of core language systems syllabus that you can find in a general English course book?


Evans, S. & B. Morrison. 2011. ‘The first term at university: implications for EAP’. ELT Journal 65: 4, 387-397.

Hyland, K. 2016. ‘General and Specific EAP’ in Hyland, K. & P. Shaw (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of English for Academic Purposes. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.


Want to find out more about this topic? Check out Craig’s webinar about pronunciation difficulties with EAP learners.


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