Teaching ESP Writing: OCHA in a CALL Class

Judy Noguchi (Mukogawa Women's University)

Nonnative speakers of English who intend to engage in professional work need the basics of English for professional communications and the skills with which to continue their linguistic development throughout their professional lives. These needs should be addressed in language education at the university undergraduate and graduate levels. This paper will reject the “native speaker model” for language education and promote the “professional discourse community model” plus the equipping of students with skills that can serve them in a lifelong approach to language learning. Specific examples of classroom activities will be presented.

  On July 12, 2002, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced the need “to cultivate ‘Japanese with English abilities.’” It recognized the importance of acquiring “communications skills in English, which has become a common international language, in order for living in the 21st century.” It also acknowledged that “the English-speaking abilities of a large percentage of the population are inadequate, and this imposes restrictions on exchanges with foreigners and creates occasions when the ideas and opinions of Japanese people are not appropriately evaluated.” (http://www.mext.go.jp/english/news/2002/07/020901.htm)
  This last-mentioned portion is of extreme importance in the professional world. Noguchi (2001) discusses the importance of linguistic ability to participate in the construction of knowledge in the sciences. This discussion is based on a rich literature forming the basis of the concept of knowledge being constructed via language. Gross (1990, p. 203) states that "facts are by nature linguistic--no language, no facts." The connection between science and rhetoric has been promoted by many (Woolgar, 1976; Fleck, 1979; Gilbert & Mulkay, 1982; Myers, 1985, 1986, 1988; Latour & Woolgar, 1986; Bazerman, 1988). In 1990, Myers wrote a book entitled Writing Biology: Texts in the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge, in which he traces how a scientific discovery is not reported as such at first, but appears merely as a claim. It only becomes a "discovery" after being retold as an event when it is accepted by the discourse community.
  The need to “cultivate Japanese with English abilities” is obviously evident, but the question arises of how this can be realized. Despite compulsory English education from the first year of junior high school, the Ministry was forced to recognize the inadequacy of this desired language ability. One possible reason often given is the study of English in order to pass college entrance examinations. This usually leads to extreme focus on minute details of grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension with little attention to communicative use of language. Another possible explanation for the inadequacy of linguistic skills is the use of a “native speaker model” as the target. While this might be ideal, it is not realistic and can thus be detrimental to motivation. Such a native speaker target is rejected by the Common European Framework of reference for language learning, teaching and assessment put forth by the Council of Europe after about 30 years of research (2001:5): “…the aim of language education is profoundly modified. It is no longer seen as simply to achieve ‘mastery’ of one or two, or even three languages, each taken in isolation, with the ‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model.” It also emphasizes that “language learning is a lifelong task” and therefore, “the development of a young person’s motivation, skill and confidence in facing new language experience out of school comes to be of central importance.”
The question thus arises of what can be done in the Japanese university situation. Some very promising ideas come from the field of ESP, or English for Specific Purposes. In August 2002, JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers) held a summer seminar to explore new perspectives in this rapidly progressing area, which is also called LSP (language for specific purposes). At the seminar, Noguchi (2002) stated that “ESP is much more than teaching the specifics of coping with specific language problems in specific areas. ESP is about trying to put into practice important concepts of what language is and how it influences human society; ESP teachers need to be aware of this in order to equip their students with what they will need to become active participants in their professions in a globally linked world.”
Described in this paper are specific examples of how these theoretical concepts were translated into classroom explanations and tasks.

Course description
  The course described here was offered by the Graduate School of Science at Osaka University in the spring semester of 2003. This one-semester course was planned to teach first year’s master’s degree students how to write up their research. The course had been taught twice previously in a standard classroom, the first year using OHP materials and the second year using a computer connected to a projector system and a video camera system to allow plain paper materials to be presented on screen. However, it was thought that using a computer-assisted language laboratory approach would enable a more individualized teaching and learning environment, especially because this was a class for graduate students.

OCHA to raise awareness
  In order to use the “professional discourse community model” and to have the students acquire the skills to continue their linguistic development, the OCHA approach was devised. This acronym represents the kinds of activities that the students are asked to engage in to raise their awareness of the linguistic features of professional texts. It stands for Observe, Classify, Hypothesize and Apply. The students are told that each text has both content and structure, and that in this class, the focus will be on the latter. By repeating these activities for all sections of the research paper that they are writing, it is hoped that they will not only acquire the rhetorical, grammatical, lexical and technical features of this professional genre, but that by doing this, they will also learn how to approach other types of texts that they might encounter in their future work.
  The importance of learning these genre features is clearly evident from the ample research in professional discourse (Bhatia 1993, Belcher and Braine 1995, Flowerdew 2002, Gunnarsson et al. 1997, Swales 1990, Swales and Feak 1994). One interesting paper reports the relationship among “lexical phrases, culture, and subculture.” Okamura and Shaw (2000) examined the differences among transactional letters written by academic professionals and non-professionals who were native speakers of English and nonnative speakers of English. What is referred to in this paper as “discourse community,” they refer to as “subculture.” They asked four groups of NS and NNS who were or were not members of professional discourse community to write a cover letter to the editor of an international journal to accompany the submission of a manuscript. They classified their findings into the three categories of grammatical, rhetorical and lexical. All of the groups displayed acceptable grammatical performance, but rhetorical awareness, which is important in professional texts, was lacking among the nonprofessionals, even the native-speaker subjects. Their other important finding was the importance of teaching lexical phrases to the NNS as these were “signals of insider status” (a concept from Nattinger and DeCarrico 1992).
  This class was planned to have the students observe the genre features by asking them to identify the PAIL (another acronym) for each portion of the text. The P stands for the “purpose” of that section of the text, A is the “audience” for which it is aimed, I is the “information” that it should contain, and L is the “language features” that are employed to present this information in order to respond to the purpose as expected by the target audience. For example, the title of a journal paper has a different PAIL from the introduction section of the paper. The title must first attract the suitable target audience to the article, as it is frequently the first part of the article to be seen, during scanning of a database listing or a table of contents. The title should be as appealing as possible to as wide a range of professionals as possible. Even those in peripheral areas might be able to benefit from what is reported. The information that the title should carry is a summary of the entire paper and this is done, sometimes in a complete sentence format, sometimes using appropriate phrases. On the other hand, the introduction section of the article has the purpose of explaining the basis of the research, including theoretical and background information so that the audience that has chosen to read the paper will be able to understand the reasoning underlying the work being presented. The language features used have been analyzed by many ESP researchers following the tradition of Swales (1981). The PAIL of the different parts of a research article is explained in the course textbook (Noguchi and Matsuura 2000).

Class activities
  A total of 12 classes were held from mid April to mid July and one class will be held in mid September. In the first class, the approach was explained and students were asked for permission to allow their written work to be shown to other members of the class and to be analyzed for research purposes. The first task was to find (printed or online version) of the instructions to authors for the journal in which they wished to publish their paper. The students are asked to complete Excel files with information such as journal name, journal policy, types of papers accepted, where to send the manuscript, title page information and details, paper sections and order, maximum length, style instructions, paper and page format details, electronic submission details, page charges, copyright agreement details, and offprint information. This is done before dealing with the rhetorical, grammatical and lexical details mentioned above. This type of activity was devised because the technical details of preparing legible manuscript is usually another great stumbling block for novices, especially nonnative English speakers. Starting with the journal instructions to authors not only makes the students aware of the physical format of a paper to be submitted (and greatly eases the task of the instructor) but also shows them how to decipher a professional text. The completed Excel files are combined and given out to all students so that they can compare the differences among journals and learn that they do need to adapt the manuscript to the journal requirements.
  Next, the students are asked to analyze the features of the different sections of the text and the reported results are again combined and returned to all members of the class. Following the Observe and Classify activities, the students are asked to Hypothesize about how they could Apply this information to their own writing. An example of an analysis of an abstract is shown in Table 1. The Section analysis is based on the textbook explanation for the different types of information usually presented in an abstract: abs1, background of research; abs2, purpose of research; abs3, methods used; abs4, main results; abs5, main conclusion. Students are asked to observe verb tense that is used to signal different types of information in professional texts and “hint words” or words and phrases which serve as discourse signals to guide the reader.
  After these observation and classification stages, the students are asked to hypothesize about rhetorical structure (order of information presentation), grammatical structures (one important class words is the verbs), and lexical items. Here the students are introduced to the utility of concordance programs and are encouraged to build their own individual databases for personal reference when writing their papers. See Table 2 for sample collocations that can be useful when writing alone.
  The next step is applying what they have learned to their own writing. Table 3 shows that they turn in their abstracts in a similar format to that used for the analysis. This is to reinforce the importance of text structure. These steps are repeated for all sections of the research article to be covered. As most of the students are first-year master’s students who have only recently or not yet actually started, their research, they can often only write the Introduction and parts of the Experimental and Results sections. Thus, more class time can be devoted to comments and discussion on how their work can be improved.
  At the time of this manuscript preparation, the course has one more period to be held in September. This class will be devoted to simple oral presentations of each student’s work.

Concluding remarks
  This paper has outlined the theoretical basis of an ESP course for writing up research at the graduate school level. The aim is at effective professional communication by utilizing the OCHA approach to raise awareness of the structural features of a text of a specific genre. This approach can continue to be useful for dealing with professional texts in work situations that the students are expected to encounter in the future.

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                    Table 1

                    Table 2

                   Table 3