20 Myths about EAP

According to the highly reliable and academically valid online resource known as Wikipedia:

An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true. As with all folklore and mythology, the designation suggests nothing about the story’s veracity, but merely that it is in circulation, exhibits variation over time, and carries some significance that motivates the community in preserving and propagating it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_legend (accessed 21/5/12)

We therefore thought that with this blog, an interesting place to start would be with some of the urban myths and tales that currently exist in the world of EAP.

So please find below our ‘top 20 myths of EAP’ that are tutor and student generated.  Please note that they are presented in no particular order and simply represent the ones that we seem to hear most often.

What is interesting to us is to what extent these myths are based in ‘truth’, why these myths have developed to the extent that they have, and what they say about the current state of the teaching and learning of EAP:

  • Wikipedia is a reliable and valid resource for academic information
  • Preparing students for the IELTS test is teaching EAP
  • EAP can’t be taught at lower levels
  • Students can be characterised according to culture – e.g. Chinese students can’t do critical thinking, Arabic students can’t spell or write, Asian students don’t participate in seminar discussions.
  • The best way to learn academic vocabulary is to learn all the words in the Academic Word List
  • Rote learning has no place in university study
  • Every paragraph should start with a topic sentence
  • Formative tests motivate students to learn
  • Hedging means being tentative in your writing, so using words like ‘might’
  • All academic writing follows an introduction-main body-conclusion structure
  • The key role of the EAP tutor is that of gatekeeper to the academy
  • Being an autonomous learner means being able to work on your own
  • EAP tutors should only give students feedback on their grammar and vocabulary – the content of what they write can’t be assessed
  • Cohesion is achieved through the use of discourse markers
  • The four skills must be taught and tested separately
  • EAP students need to be taught study skills
  • Professional development is optional
  • Tutors don’t need to know much about academic disciplines in order to teach EAP
  • ‘I’ is never used in academic writing
  • Critical thinking is a skill that can be taught

We hope that this list will inspire you to respond with your own comments and thoughts, as well as with any more myths you feel need adding to this list, or by ‘busting’ any myths that are in fact true.


16 Comments on “20 Myths about EAP”

  1. Dr Sara Hannam says:

    Very interesting first post and one that really caught my attention. I agree with most of your ‘myths’. Looking forward to seeing more of your interesting work as posts like this will create discussion and debate in ‘our’ world which is much needed. I agree that critical thinking (i.e. deeper questioning about learning and wider society, challenging assumption and status quo thinking) is something that cannot be directly taught – we can lay the groundwork in creating the right environment. But the term Critical Thinking has become quite empty of meaning in EAP as it is overused to signify…….something which is not defined but often boils down to arguing an essay in a UK academy style (as you rightly point out is not uniform anyway) which can be reproduced without really having any critical thought at all. If critical thinking is not something that all EAP teachers ‘do’ then indeed it is unlikely they will include it in their teaching repetoire. I hope for more on this and will bookmark your blog and let people know that you have started it in my social networking world. Thanks.


    • Alex says:

      Hi Sara,
      Thanks for spreading the word. Am I right in thinking that you have a blog? Something tells me you had (have?) a very interesting blog on critical perspectives on TESOL? I seem to remember a long and stimulating exchange about dogme with Scott and others? Is it still going? I no longer have the bookmark for it. I am planning a blog post here fairly soon on reflexivity against reflection and would be interested in your thoughts…


      • Dr Sara Hannam says:

        Hi Alex – thanks for your reply. Yes I do have a blog ‘critical mass ELT’ http://sjhannam.edublogs.org/ though I haven’t posted on it for quite a long time as I am taken up with a lot of other writing activities at present. But there is some archived content there which may be of interest. And the thread you refer to where Scott T and I talked about Dogme and Critical Dogme can be found here http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/dogme-nothing-if-not-critical

        It is still going on in various spheres I would say and I always enjoy reading Scott’s posts on his own blog which I note is on your blog roll! I look forward to your post on reflexivity/reflection and will happily post my thoughts when you do it. Thanks for keeping in touch. It is great to see these developments in EAP. Very timely!

        Best wishes

        Sara Hannam


  2. Edward de Chazal says:

    Thank you Julie and colleagues – a great new blog! I strongly agree with many of the myths (that they are myths not realities, that is), and some of them are certainly pervasive. They would benefit from a bit of unpacking – e.g. why do consider them to be myths, how did they come to be accepted as reality? Funnily enough, I did just this with a similar blog on EAP myths and realities, which you might like to access at: http://oupeltglobal.wordpress.com/tag/edward-de-chazal/
    Looking forward to reading some more comments!


  3. The first item seems upside down to me. I’d have thought the myth is that Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source of information. Certainly, most EAPers I know are telling their students they mustn’t use wikipedia as a reference in their work.
    In fact, studies show that academics rate wikipedia entries in their field very highly in terms of accuracy and depth of content. It’s only the lack of attribution that limits the use of wikipedia as a valid academic source.

    To crank up the irony, here’s the wikipedia source on wikipedia as a reliable source.
    University of Leicester


    • Julie says:

      The use of the Wikipedia definition of ‘myth’ was meant to be tongue in cheek, but also meant to highlight the confusion there is around what Wikipedia is and isn’t and why we tell students that they (as you say): ‘mustn’t use Wikipedia as a reference’.

      Part of the reason for focusing on the EAP myths is that they can stem from teachers’ and students’ misunderstanding or lack of understanding of academia. As an example, you say that the only reason that Wikipedia isn’t a valid academic source is because of the lack of attribution – but doesn’t this miss the crucial point about academic sources – i.e., that academic articles have to go through a system of peer review before publication? This self regulation ensures that only good quality research gets published. Wikipedia cannot be considered an academic source for this fundamental reason. It deals in facts in the same way that an encyclopedia or an introductory textbook does. This is quite far removed from academics publishing their research as a contribution to knowledge.

      So perhaps what’s important for EAP tutors is for us to get our ‘facts’ straight first and foremost. There is a place for Wikipedia in academic study, but that place is not as an academic source. It is an incredibly useful starting point for EAP students to get a basic understanding of a term or a concept and to get a sense of the leading experts or contributors in a particular field. But, as other contributors to this thread have said already, it’s making sure students understand this and see Wikipedia as a way of starting their own journey into exploring their own research questions rather than a means of answering them.

      P.S. On a related note, I had a student who quite reasonably argued that what she’d cut and pasted from Wikipedia into her essay was not plagiarism because there was no identifiable author and she wasn’t taking someone else’s research or ideas and presenting them as her own.


      • Dear Julie,

        in support of your:

        \”There is a place for Wikipedia in academic study, but that place is not as an academic source. It is an incredibly useful starting point for EAP students to get a basic understanding of a term or a concept and to get a sense of the leading experts or contributors in a particular field. But, as other contributors to this thread have said already, it’s making sure students understand this and see Wikipedia as a way of starting their own journey into exploring their own research questions rather than a means of answering them\”,

        here is a timely and apt example from a 2012 article in the Journal of Pragmatics:

        \”According to Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia
        (2009), an ‘‘inaugural address’’ is the presidential speech given to inform the people of the president\’s intentions as a leader\” (page 2 of http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378216612001397).

        I think it supports your view because the reference to wikipedia in this article does indeed act as a \’starting point\’ in this author\’s journey in so far as it occurs in the introduction to the article and is then followed up by scholarly references.

        As Theresa says below, it is \’how\’ we use the source that makes our work academic. How else would we be able to conduct original primary qualitative research which often requires reference to anecdotal narratives and accounts (which are not academic sources)?

        So, Wikipedia may not be an academic source per se, but it can be part of an argument, and it is sound argumentation that EAP should be helping students develop (I think), not unqualified, de-contextualised ‘myths’.

        Julia Molinari


  4. Theresa Brisbane-ingall says:

    This is a really interesting topic and It would be great to look at each of ‘myths’ (dare I say) more critically..
    I was interested in the comment that James posted as., In my experience as well. Wikipedia is often viewed by EAPers and other academics as a great pariah, and not without some justification, In fact, it’s only recently and after a SCORE short -term fellowship (re Open Educational Resources) that I’ve rethought my position. I don’t think we will ever stop students from using Wikipedia. I think that the question is now not, ‘Should students use it?’ but rather ‘how’ students should use it. We need to help our students to develop a Wikipedia literacy, which will also take a lot of thought on our parts in helping to define the parameters.
    You may find the following link of interest:




  5. Theresa Brisbane-ingall says:

    I have a rogue full-stop and comma. Sorry!


  6. eflsarah says:

    Some of the myths seem to fit the “one format fits all” idea (or myth) and that academic disciplines all follow the same conventions. I sometimes feel that what is taught in ‘EAP’ can confuse students (i.e. ”I’ is never used in academic writing’ or ‘every paragraph should start with a topic sentence’), rather than help them.


    I noticed that the definition of ‘myth’ came from wikipedia, was this done on purpose?


  7. Yes Sarah, I agree that the underlying assumption that academic disciplines all follow the same conventions is always my own bone of contention in the EFL world, since I teach only Physics students.
    I am also very pleased to see Theresa and James jump in on the Wikipedia myth – I would add my own link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Community_portal for people who do not seem to understand that Wikipedia is as good as we, and our students, make it. In the words of its Education programs manager,
    “We don’t want them to cite Wikipedia,” he said of students. “What we really want them to do is understand how to use and critically evaluate the articles on Wikipedia and then learn how to contribute to make those articles better.” http://bit.ly/JXYUPV

    It would be of great interest to continue this discussion on the recently created Ning for “European lecturers engaged in teaching English for academic purposes”.
    Created by Anne Hodgson last month it is at present mainly populated by EAP teachers in Germany, and it will only take off if you come and join us there:-)


  8. Alex says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far! Julie is, I think, going to comment on the comments about Wikipedia. I just wanted to follow up on Edward’s suggestion that a few our myths need unpacking.

    Taking, as an example, ‘Being an autonomous learner means being able to work on your own’ is, in my experience, a fairly pervasive myth (for both students and teachers) that can take a number of forms. At the most simplistic level autonomy is reduced to i) studying alone and ii) studying that takes place out of class. Reduced, in essence, to students’ responsibility to ‘do homework, learn vocabulary, prepare for tests …’ and is a feature of student activity that is beyond the scope, remit, engagement of tutors and takes place outside the classroom. Autonomy is therefore something which is encouraged but signals to students and tutors that autonomy is atomistic – an individual responsibility to study.

    What this reductive version of autonomy ignores, for example, are the dialogic, collaborative, experimental, experiential and (most importantly) reflexive elements of autonomy that entail (but cannot be reduced to) collective and individual control, management, and responsibility for not only for autonomous learning but also autonomous language use. It also ignores interdependence (both with tutors and other learners) and the objective contextual affordances and constraints of autonomy in a variety of learning contexts – most importantly the classroom. Significantly, reductive notions of student autonomy fail to capture the possible productive relationships between student and tutor autonomy and, consequently, the potential of pedagogies for autonomy for transforming classroom practice vanish. Often the most reductive forms of autonomy have no influence on classroom life.

    The problem with a reductive version of autonomy is that it is not only a myth generated by tutors and students it also comes about because of significant confusion in the field. Smith and Ushioda recently suggested that autonomy is beyond discursive control, noting that versions, dimensions, definitions and practices claiming autonomy abound. The confusion and profusion of definitions, versions and practices associated with autonomy in language education have led some to: adopt an inclusive, pluralistic and relativistic stance towards autonomy; others have tried to reclaim the core radical and original version of autonomy; others have defined what autonomy is not, and some have created hierarchies of autonomy (privileging ideological and transformational versions of autonomy). It is hardly surprising that there is widespread confusion and this goes some way, perhaps, to explaining why such reductive notions of autonomy exist in EAP.

    This brings me to my last comment for now. Elsewhere someone commented on this blog by suggesting it would be better to focus on what EAP is and not what it is not. This is to miss an important point I believe and one of the reasons why we set up this blog. EAP can’t be discursively controlled – what practitioners (and students) do, think and practice as pedagogy in the classroom is what (partly) defines EAP. This blog is all about exploring assumptions, questioning and critiquing EAP. If EAP, like autonomy, is beyond discursive control, then it seems to me important to articulate the myths and to examine why they exist. With a bit of luck we – practitioners of EAP – might even begin to get a clearer sense of what EAP could become or, at least, a sense that it can be other than what we currently practice.


  9. Karen says:

    As I was reading your myths of EAP list, I found myself flashing back to several professional development seminars and staff meetings where EAP instructors were arguing over the validity of several of these thoughts (particularly whether content should be assessed). I’m glad to see I’m not alone in beliving that many of these ideas are thought of as myths by others.


  10. […] For more discussions on Wikipedia and other ‘myths’ surrounding EAP, see here: “20 Myths about EAP” […]


  11. […] For more discussions on Wikipedia and other ‘myths’ surrounding EAP, see here: “20 Myths about EAP” […]


  12. Clare says:

    The comments and discussion here inspired by blog post: https://clareseltcompendium.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/the-role-of-wikipedia-in-eap-writing/ Thanks everyone!


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