EAP Presentation skills: Learner perceptions, problems and an itsy bitsy case study

In this post I am going to talk a bit about EAP (English for academic purposes) and presentation skills in relation to learner problems and students’ perceptions. I will do this by sharing with you a small case study. Before moving on, let me just let you know that in EAP very often students are asked to give a presentation about something they are doing research on. Presentation skills are also assessed as part of many/almost every pre-sessional EAP course.

My experience

I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to teach pre-sessional EAP at 3 great universities (in the UK). Moving around the UK whilst teaching EAP, has allowed me to see how different universities teach presentation skills and how presentation skills are assessed. It has also given me the opportunity to witness presentation skills learner problems. Whether the learner is Chinese, Iranian or Greek, international students do tend to face the same or similar problems.

What do learners know about presentations anyway?

A bit of context: I had a group of four EAP students, all Greek and all post-graduate level learners, studying at a university here in Greece. During our first session, I asked them, ” How do you prepare for a presentation?” Their answer surprised me. They had never had any input whatsoever on how to give a presentation in English, although they were expected to, and had, given one or more presentations in English while attending university.
When I first meet my Chinese students during their EAP courses, I ask them about their presentation skills experience, 99% of the times I get the same response.

What do you consider important when giving a presentation in English?
I asked my (Greek) learners the million dollar question (what do you consider important for a good presentation?) and this is what they thought:

1st Planning
            2nd Language (General vocabulary)
                    3rd  Signposting language
                             4th  Pronunciation

                                       5th  Appearance of visuals

Valid points, don’t you think? All the above are important when giving a presentation. But there are more…..
So, I then observed my learners in order to see what kind of difficulties they had when presenting research in English. I observed them without having given them any guidance on how to deliver a presentation in English. They used material they had actually used at older conferences, material they had presented before. I looked at structure/content of a presentation, language, pronunciation and voice, communicative effectiveness and presentation skills. This is what I found.

Learner Problems
Structure/Content of presentation:

  • Missing slides ( overview/introduction, main body, conclusion format was not followed)
Pronucniation/ Voice:
  • Speech often monotonous, robotic
  • Intonation similar to their L1
  • Mispronunciation of key words
Content/Task Fulfillment:

Whilst all learners knew what they were talking about, there was an over reliance on their research papers. They did not elaborate on their ideas.
  • Grammar/lexical range was basic (not enough complex structures)
Communicative Effectiveness/ Techniques:
  • Students were not giving a dynamic presentation. They stayed glued to their computer (some did not even stand up as a chair was available)
  • No eye contact with audience
  • a lot of reading from slides
  • Visuals were too wordy with a lot of unnecessary animation
Finally, during their first presentation, my learners plagiarised a lot, but they didn’t know they were plagiarising!
Both my Chinese and Greek learners have similar weaknesses when presenting in English.   Presentation skills in EAP require the bringing together of many sub skills. In order to help the learners, it is essential to know what the individual learner problems are and address them in class. Knowing general learner problems is a good starting point though.

Want to hear about assessment criteria, learner problems and syllabus design?
On Thursday the 15th of January I will be giving a short talk on my experience teaching presentation skills to a group of Greek learners. I will look at assessment criteria (used by 3 universities) and learner problems, and how they inform syllabus design.
The conference is free, online and hosted by Sheffield University and Oxford University Press.
If you are interested in hearing the talk, press here for more information.

Till next time……


2 thoughts on “EAP

  1. Hi Joanna,

    I'm also teach EAP presentation skills this term. I like you!re point about knowing specific learner problems from the start, I think Ss need as much practice as possible! I used this video, which shows, in a very funny way, all the things you should not do when giving a presentation, Ss found it really helpful so thought I'd share: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ENOvAGQ5UlU



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