Extract from a lecture given in Beijing
How Academic English courses can lead to Chinese students’ success at Western Universities
To help reduce the anxiety amongst 70 IELTS tutors faced with transitioning to AE courses
Conversations are particularly important in AE, as it’s during these that students practise their understanding and expression of the academic concepts offered to them via recorded lectures and academic texts. The skills needed for successful group interactions are specifically focused on in AE courses because it’s these skills that students will require in a western university academic learning environment because much of this is based on group-work. Therefore, the skills and language required, for example, to negotiate and to take turns in conversations are practised at all AE levels.
However, developing the students’ conversational skills is not limited to discussing academic material. Whenever I stop my students speaking Chinese in class, I’m stopping – not the academic practice, but personal utterances, with personal meaning and relevance to them and their classmates. I remind myself always to point out to students that it is this ‘relevant, every-day’ language that is most important – and that this will form the basis of their more formal academic language acquisition.
And so, whenever I can, I incorporate everyday conversation into the AE course on topics relevant to students because when they attend university, they’ll have to function on this level in English with international students. This is the basis of developing friendships and support networks.
That’s something you, as teachers, can do too. AE doesn’t have to be academic 100% of the time. There’s a place for casual conversation and negotiation. Students need to be encouraged to ‘own’ their English domain before they’re hit with the dense language of academia. Both you and the students can ease into this. The best AE lessons start by encouraging students to have fun with academic concepts in casual conversations within a safe language environment.
Teachers of AE have a two-fold job that I’m sure you can identify with. On the one hand, we’re teaching academic language skills and analytical thinking, and on the other, a way of ‘being’ – that encourages students to set goals and aim high. This way of thinking and interacting is underscored by their ability to function naturally in day-to-day life within an international community. It becomes the framework for their academic success.