All you ever wanted to know about EAP

I have recently volunteered to plan and deliver a short workshop for my coworkers on academic writing. I’m very much looking forward to this because I do very little F2F teaching these days – I’ve just done my biannual two weeks and so am not likely to step inside a classroom until exam time in June, during which time any teaching I do will take place online.

Photo taken from ELTpics by Dace Praulins, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

A little bit of background: our department has recently run a couple of in-house workshops on various aspects of conducting academic research, so my topic – academic writing in English – ties in nicely with the overall theme. I also have considerable experience teaching introductory EAP sessions to undergrads, which helps explain my readiness to volunteer. For those interested in what that experience entails, I wrote briefly about it for EAP stories over on Joanna Malefaki’s blog (along with six other EAP instructors from a range of backgrounds).

My usual EAP classes are different from the coming workshop in that I have 60 hours instead of a semester and roughly 30 undergrads as opposed to half that many adults (yeah, yeah, undergrads are also supposed to be adults and if you’ve followed me for some time you know how I feel about that 😛 ).

I’ve been thinking along the lines of “Everything you wanted to know about EAP (but had no chance to ask)” for the title of the workshop, with the idea of covering as much of the very basics as possible in 3 hours. Obviously, I already have some ideas – one of which is definitely to use that table with academic phrases and their actual equivalents (you know the one: sample size was small = I could only find one person to experiment on, that kind of thing) maybe as a matching activity for humorous effect.

If you were running a similar workshop, what is something (the one thing) you would definitely include? I don’t mean actual activities, but topics. The assumption is that the audience has research experience (and in terms of writing it up) but hasn’t had (many) EAP sessions. Your input would be very much appreciated, PLN – thanks in advance!

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Some thoughts on translation and proofreading

This came up in my Twitter feed today and made me smile.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a post on proofreading for a while now. There’s often a translating/proofreading/language-editing project in the works, so it feels like a highly relevant topic.

I’m not a trained proofreader/language-editor, by which I mean this isn’t something I have a degree or any formal certificates in. The English lit program at the university I went to now offers courses in translation; i.e., you can opt for a graduate program in translation, which I suppose would have constituted formal training, only it wasn’t available in my university days.

I got into it because people would ask me to translate/proofread something and it was a way to augment the budget, always an appealing idea but especially when you’re a student. I sometimes do translations into Croatian (I never proofread texts in Croatian) but it’s way more often translations into English and/or proofreading/language-editing texts in English. This may be somewhat unusual for NNSs in some places, but it isn’t all that unusual in Croatia (see a not-so-recent post on how this is valid for ELT as well – some excellent comments there).

I’ve never advertised this service. Some of the work I ended up with as a result of Octopus advertising (although most of our business was corporate language training), but in this case clients wouldn’t ask for me specifically. The other projects came about thanks to recommendations, either by clients or colleagues. I’m not kidding myself; if this was something I were doing for a living, I’d definitely have to advertise, but as a side gig it works pretty well.

When I was younger – yeah, I know this makes me sound 95 – there was a fundamental difference to how I approached the job: I didn’t communicate with the client beyond agreeing on the essentials (rate, deadline) and submitting the finished product. If a question came up as I read the text – and usually a lot of questions came up – I dealt with them as best I could. Again, when I was younger, dealing with translation issues as best you could was often not very good at all because of the scarcity (and cost) of reference materials and scarcity (perhaps total absence?) of professional communities one could easily join. There was no internet in any meaningful sense and I recall handing in a very early translation (for someone working in a bank) written out by hand.

Things changed gradually and these days when I translate/proofread/language-edit I talk to the client. There’s rarely a text I don’t add comments to, asking for help in figuring out what the author meant to say or suggesting an alternative, if I think I’ve understood what the author meant but am not absolutely sure, so I don’t feel comfortable amending the text directly. Sometimes the author writes back, so we actually exchange thoughts. More often the author can figure out – I assume – what to change by themselves on the basis of my comment.

February 10 – Ok, so today in the opening sentence was about three weeks ago. It takes me ages to get around to posting something. What else is new?

Let’s see if I can pick up where I left off. I don’t know how quick other translators/proofreaders are – I think I’m fairly slow. Thorough sounds better. I did have a couple of courses on translation at university and they taught us I learned that the idea is to convey the author’s idea sticking as close as possible to the source text, yet phrasing it as naturally as possible in the target language. In practice, this means I am loath to leave anything out, which can be a problem if the author is a tad verbose. I would like to cut (what I feel is) unnecessary text, but I don’t think this is my place. I will recommend the author do that though, if I feel that it would benefit the reader.

I can’t say that all my translation or proofreading gigs have been interesting – that would simply be untrue – but overall I enjoy this kind of work and feel I’ve learned something about topics I might otherwise have remained largely (and on occasion blissfully) ignorant of. For instance, weather and climate, architecture, public administration, Croatian history, online learning, presenting sales plans and results, etc.

When I started this post I thought I might describe the proofreading process and what resources I use, but now I feel this would probably best be left for another post.

I’m curious as to how many other teachers do this kind of work? In Croatia it’s pretty common, or so I used to think. Now my impression is that it may not be as common as (I thought) before. This could at least in part be due to the feeling I have, as a member of both teaching and translation online communities, that there is a clear distinction between the two professions. Although… if I had to commit to an observation, it would be that language teachers are more often asked to proofread/translate than translators are asked to teach a language class. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

How do you feel about teachers translating/proofreading/language-editing texts? Are they qualified to do this simply by virtue of being teachers (speakers of other languages in the case of translation/language-editing)? And finally, if you know of a MOOC that deals with this area, please let me know!

Anonymous reviewer

This may actually turn out to be my second post this month, which hasn’t happened since I started blogging. I don’t want to jinx things, so here goes. It’s about the Moodle workshop – their peer review activity. I suspect it works like most online peer reviews do: first you set up the task, then there’s a submission period, an assessment period and when that’s over everyone sees the feedback their classmates have given them. Pretty straightforward. Oh, and I always make it a double-blind process; I don’t think there would be as much useful feedback if the students knew whose work they were reviewing.

I’ve run the peer review a number of times now and have introduced a couple of tweaks along the way, so I thought it was about time I had some kind of written record of how things developed.

Photo taken from ELTpics by @aClilToClimb, used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

In my course this activity is part of a unit on descriptive writing, so the idea is to jazz up a bland piece of writing using a number of possible strategies. The feedback students give each other is on how successfully these strategies have been used, not on language accuracy. At least that is the plan, although people occasionally have given feedback not entirely restricted to strategy use. The bland piece of writing comes from a book – I hesitate to call it a coursebook because it’s not, but the course is built on the material it covers to an extent. The book, however, doesn’t suggest the students do anything other than improve upon this piece, so the peer review is my online adaptation.

The submission stage lasts around 5 days. Moodle allows you to be quite strict about this, which means that it’s up to you to accept late submissions or not. I did the first year, but this proved to be complicated during the next stage – assessment. If you decide on a deadline by which work needs to be submitted, everyone who has submitted something can start assessing at the same time. If you accept late submissions, some students will need to wait before they can start assessing. I decided this wasn’t fair and at the risk of not including everyone in the task, I’ve now had a fixed submission deadline for a couple of years.

When you have all the submissions, they need to be shuffled around and allocated to other students. This can be done by the system or manually. I always do it manually, trying for a balance between weaker and stronger students. The assessment stage takes another 3–4 days, and again it is up to the instructor how (in)flexible they want to be regarding the deadline. I don’t think I’ve ever had everyone observe the deadline; I always need to nag gently remind some people to finish their assessment.

I could simply set a cut-off time after which the system would not allow further assessments, but my feeling is that it would be unfair on those students who have given their peers feedback but wouldn’t receive any themselves. As it is, there’s always at least one student who doesn’t assess and ignores my DM, and I then do the assessment myself so as not to hold the activity up forever.

Tweaks

  1. Something I tried in one of the early iterations of the course was to organize a second round of the activity for those students who had missed the deadline the first time around. I think I only did that once, because it quickly dawned on me that this an invitation to be taken advantage of.
  2. Also early on, the majority of students wrote their learning journal entry as soon as they completed the submission phase, which meant that few people reflected on giving feedback. This has since changed (I schedule the deadlines differently) and now most say how they feel about the peer review and what they have learned from it, if anything. There have been some interesting comments re the perceived inadequacy of someone who is not a teacher giving feedback.
  3. When the assistant mods started helping me, I asked them to assess the students’ work as well, so each student would end up with two assessments. This, arguably, is not strictly peer review in the sense that the assistant mods had done the activity when they were doing the course themselves, but perhaps it could be argued that they are still students, so in a sense it is peer review?
  4. A change introduced last year is that each student now has to give feedback to two other students. In MOOCs I think it’s common to review the work of several people, but this makes sense because of the low completion rate – you want to be sure everyone will receive at least some feedback.
  5. Last semester, when the course was run in blended format, the students did the activity online but when we next met in class we had a follow-up discussion. I picked out some of the comments from their learning journals – these are shared with the group so I knew that these were thoughts the students were more or less comfortable sharing – and in pairs they decided if they agreed with the statements. Then, when I knew each pair would be ready to say something, we discussed them as a class.

A reason I like peer review so much is that I think it is transferable to life outside the classroom. Not the submission–assessment process perhaps, but realizing the importance of giving useful feedback. Focusing on specific issues, not the person. Being helpful and identifying what could be done differently and possibly more effectively. Realizing that a piece of writing can be improved upon even if we don’t focus on simply correcting grammar errors.

How do you feel about peer review? If you run an online course do you do this type of activity with your students? How about in the classroom?