ELT Best Practices: EAP in Canada

Scott Roy Douglas, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus and Publications Chair of TESOL affiliate BC TEAL, speaks of EAP in the Canadian context, authentic tasks for authentic purposes using authentic contexts, and how learners from diverse linguistic backgrounds contribute to our campuses and communities.

Sherry Blok (SB): What does the EAP landscape look like in higher education in Canada

biopic for scott douglasScott Douglas (SD): A few years ago I looked at EAP university programs for a presentation I did at the University of Manitoba on EAP…What I found was there were almost as many different kinds of programs as there were universities in Canada.

In terms of research on EAP program outcomes in a Canadian context, at the time of my investigation in 2013, there were about 12 peer-reviewed articles published in the last 20 years. The research showed that there was a real mix of results. Some early research indicated that EAP programs were not good predictors of academic success (Black, 1991). Other research studies explored the mismatch between what EAP programs offered and the requirements of undergraduate studies (Raymond & Parks, 2002). Some researchers pointed out that EAP programs were too short (Blayliss & Raymond, 2004), while others warned of the potential frustrations of EAP students (Cheng & Fox, 2008). However, it wasn’t all negative. The positive studies appeared to outweigh the negative results because it wasn’t always just about language. There was a sense in the literature that EAP programs were successful in boosting student confidence and increasing social networks (Lee & Wesche, 2000; Raymond & Des Brisay, 2000), helping international students outperform non-EAP international students (Dyke, 2013; Fox, 2005), acculturating international students to university settings (Fox, Cheng, Berman, Song, & Myles, 2006), encouraging significant linguistic and academic gains (Crossman & Pinchbeck, 2012), and fostering social engagement (Fox, Cheng, & Zumbo, 2013). It made me think that language ability is only one variable of many and there are other benefits of EAP programs. A lot also depends on the content of a particular EAP program. So, other variables can be more important than simple language outcomes such as standard subject-verb agreement usage. All in all, I’d say if you look at EAP in higher education research in the Canadian context, the research leans towards the positive, but there still remains much research to be done.

SB: As English continues to dominate as the lingua franca, the level of English language teaching abroad has significantly improved. Nowadays, students seeking English language education have many options to consider. In your opinion, what are international students from diverse language backgrounds seeking in a “study abroad” language program nowadays, as opposed to a decade or two ago?

SD: I was involved in an inquiry project exploring short-term study abroad programs with Japanese teacher education students. I found that they weren’t necessarily coming to British Columbia for English, because their English was already particularly good. They were coming to learn more about local English language teaching methods; they were coming to hang out with and meet new people; and they were coming to climb mountains and see the lake. It was really about having a meaningful experience to bring back home.

When setting up interactions between international short-term study abroad students and local students, we found that it has to be fostered. Similar to the Canadian Explore Program (French or English language bursaries), the program administrators hired university students to live with the short-term study abroad students and hang out with them. For example, sometimes they would all go play basketball together because those were some of the experiences they were looking for. They also went to restaurants together, saw movies, and visited coffee shops….It was about putting their skills to use and growing their general knowledge in relation to their majors, all through English.

SB: In higher education in Canada, as in many countries, recruitment of international students is a viable way to sustain existing and develop new programs. With the influx of international students from diverse linguistics backgrounds, some say that they are not sufficiently prepared to handle academic work. What is your response to this statement?

SD: It’s fascinating to see how the popular press sees international students in Canada. There are all kinds of negative articles out there. There are articles in which professors decry how students are not prepared for university studies and the concomitant negative effects on the academy….I think sometimes people forget about what it’s like to be 18 years old in general….All students, both local and international, who are 18 years old, are still learning how to write. They have 4 more years ahead to hone their vocabulary and polish their writing skills. What we don’t want to do is apply standards that are far beyond what students can be expected to do for their developmental level. In particular, we don’t want to impose higher standards on international students that we might impose on local students.

SB: What’s the solution?

SD: I always turn to professional development when thinking about these things. I think Faculties of Education can offer a lot to their institutions in terms of understanding adolescents as they are developing their literacy skills. There could be a partnership with teaching and learning centres on campus to provide professional development to help first year university instructors master the instructional and assessment strategies that support students from both English and diverse linguistic backgrounds gain the language and writing skills that will help them demonstrate they are reaching the learning outcomes for a course. It’s about knowing and implementing instructional strategies teachers can use to benefit everyone. It’s not about dumbing down the curriculum or changing the outcomes. It’s about how instructors can create the scaffolds that promote content and language learning, and it is about making content comprehensible so that instructors are supporting all undergraduates regardless of background.

SB: You are a proponent of content-based instruction (CBI) in EAP. Can you briefly describe this approach to language teaching?

SD: In EAP, content can be used as a vehicle to get at vocabulary, grammar, and learning strategies. The idea is that instructors are using content in the EAP classroom so that they have both content and language learning goals, and the goals are housed within that content. A good example is a lesson I have taught connected to the four stroke engine and the Otto cycle. The content goal was to understand how an internal combustion engine works. The writing goal was to produce a process essay, and the grammar point was to use the passive voice. It was like killing two (or more) birds with one stone. The students walked away understanding a bit more about how a car engine worked, and they also had an opportunity to gain some new vocabulary and writing skills. CBI can also be mixed with inquiry-based learning. When content is mixed with students asking and finding the answers to their own questions, content can be a powerful context for the students because with this teaching approach, students are guiding their own interrogation of the content.

SB: How do you blend CBI with problem-based learning?

SD: Picking up the engineering theme, one thing the EAP program on our campus has held is a Maker Day. Maker Day creates authentic tasks for authentic purposes using authentic contexts. The students were presented with a problem and they worked together to find a solution. One problem was to design wallets for senior citizens with arthritis. Students had to design a wallet to address the problem and then present their designs to each other. Each group picked one design and created a physical prototype. The goal was to model the engineering design process while fostering students’ abilities to create detailed descriptions of a prototype in English. Following the activity, the students wrote about the wallets that they created, and it was impressive how critically engaged the students were by the entire Maker Day experience. By taking it one step further with the post-Maker Day writing activity, students had that lived experience of physically making a wallet prototype, so their writing was more meaningful because they had experienced how the whole design process might unfold.

SB: Tells us a little bit about your involvement with TESOL’s English language teaching affiliate, BC TEAL, in your province.

SD: I got involved in BC TEAL to create a professional development network and to meet people when I moved to the British Columbia. I am currently the publications chair, with duties related to our newsletter and journal. The newsletter comes out three times a year—each with a particular theme, such as Building Communities. When you look at goals of the newsletter, it is really to represent the voices of our membership. It was a conscious decision to reflect the diversity of our province and of our teaching profession in the authors of the papers, so we have teacher candidates, graduate students, university professors, men and women and people from diverse linguistic backgrounds.

I am also the editor of our journal, and our goal is to publish six articles a year. Similar to the newsletter, the journal also represents all of our membership as well and people all around us—anyone who has something to say about the BC context. We promote teachers as researchers, so articles are peer reviewed. We match people up, so if an article is submitted on EAP, it is reviewed by someone in EAP.

To hear more of Scott’s thoughts on English as an additional language teaching and learning, follow him on Twitter @ scottroydouglas. Check out the BC TEAL Newsletter Archives


Black, J. (1991). Performance in English skills courses and overall academic achievement. TESL Canada Journal 9(1), 42–56.

Blayliss, D., & Raymond, P. M. (2004). The link between academic success and L2 proficiency in the context of two professional programs. Canadian Modern Language Review 61(1), 29–51.

Cheng, L., & Fox, J. (2008). Towards a better understanding of academic acculturation: Second language students in Canadian universities. Canadian Modern Language Review, 65(2), 307–333.

Crossman, K., & Pinchbeck, G. (2012). An intensive academic English course for generation1.5 ELLs bound for postsecondary studies: Curriculum design, development, and implementation. TESL Canada Journal, 29(6), 232–245.

Dyck, G. N. (2013). Chinese and Canadian students in undergraduate degree programs in a Canadian university: A quantitative comparison. In T. Coverdale (Ed.), Transnational higher education in the Asian context (pp. 216–225). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillian.

Fox, J. (2005). Rethinking second language admission requirements: Problems with language-residency criteria and the need for language assessment and support. Language Assessment Quarterly, 2(2), 85–115.

Fox, J., Cheng, L., Berman, R., Song, X., & Myles, J. (2006). Costs and benefits: English for academic purposes instruction in Canadian universities. In J. Fox & C. Doe (Eds.), Carleton papers in applied language studies (Vol. 23, pp. 1–108). Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Carleton University. Retrieved from http://www.carleton.ca/slals/ccms/wp-content/ccms-files/cpals-2006-Fox-et-al.pdf

Fox, J., Cheng, L., & Zumbo, B. D. (2013). Do they make a difference? The impact of English language programs on second language students in Canadian universities. TESOL Quarterly, 48(1), 57–85.

Lee, K., & Wesche, M. (2000). Korean students’ adaptation to post-secondary studies in Canada: A case study. Canadian Modern Language Review, 56(4), 637–689.

Raymond, P. M., & Des Brisay, M. (2000). An EAP course for Chinese MBA students. TESL Canada Journal, 17(2), 89–100.

Raymond, P. M., & Parks, S. (2002). Transitions: Orienting to reading and writing assignments in EAP and MBA contexts. Canadian Modern Language Review, 59(1), 152–180.

About Sherry Blok

Sherry Blok
Sherry Blok is the assistant director of programs at the Centre for Continuing Education, Concordia University. Montreal, Canada. She holds a master’s degree in second language education from McGill University and has more than 20 years of experience as an ESL lecturer in the intensive English program at Concordia University. She received the TESOL Teacher of the Year Award in 2015 and has presented nationally and internationally on topics related to English for academic purposes, global citizenship education, assessment, and teacher feedback.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ELT Best Practices: EAP in Canada

  1. Arjun Bikram Giri says:

    How can we participate in this programme

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.