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Lecture Discourse and the Study of Languages for Specific Academic Purposes: What Makes a Good Model Text?

Le discours magistral et l’étude des langues sur objectifs spécifiques académiques : qu’est‑ce qui fait un bon modèle textuel ?
Hilary Nesi


Cet article porte sur les similitudes et différences entre les cours magistraux et les genres de l’« infotainment », en particulier les « TED talks », en termes de structure et d'objectifs de communication. Il souligne les effets de la culture sur le discours académique parlé, et avance que le style de présentation est influencé par les attentes du public ainsi que la culture locale et institutionnelle. Le passage d’un style de discours à un autre peut engendrer des difficultés pour les apprenants, qui risquent de ne pas comprendre ou apprécier les intentions des locuteurs ou l’utilisation de références culturelles spécifiques. Les enseignants de langues sur objectifs spécifiques académiques doivent choisir les supports audios qui reflètent non seulement les disciplines et les sujets pertinents pour leurs apprenants, mais aussi les environnements culturels que les apprenants seront susceptibles de rencontrer, afin de les aider à mieux appréhender les spécificités du style du discours des cours magistraux.

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1When creating materials for teaching and learning, languages for specific purposes (LSP) practitioners are often tempted to draw on any readily available spoken or written texts that cover topics relating to their students’ disciplines or professions, particularly if they have only limited access to appropriate texts from disciplinary or professional sources. However, most topic-relevant texts are unlikely to match the genres that learners tend to encounter and produce in their academic or professional lives. If we assume that every situational variable affects register and genre, we should expect differences in the language and organisation of texts produced in different media and contexts, for different types of audiences and purposes. For example, Luzón (2005) and Rowley-Jolivet and Campagna (2011) note that during the process of “genre migration”, when traditional genres are transferred from the page or the lecture theatre to new digital formats, the discourse is inevitably transformed. The rise of digital genres has resulted in an increase in popularising genres where scientists present their own research to a lay audience (Carter-Thomas & Rowley-Jolivet, 2020). Researchers communicate in established ways within their own discourse community, sharing genre conventions, specific lexis and “a sense of things that do not need to be said or to be spelt out in detail in either words or writing” (Swales, 2016). However, these practices are not applicable when communicating with a general public who require their information to be more explicit, less technical, and presented in an entertaining way.

2Pérez-Llantada (2021, p. 66) identified a wide range of emerging genres used in different disciplines to popularise research. These include podcasts, videocasts, blogs, webinars, YouTube videos and TED Talks, all of which “give visibility to the researchers’ scientific advances and make science accessible to the general public by informing, entertaining and educating”. Such discourses are often referred to as “infotainment”, because they blur the distinction between information genres, intended to satisfy our desire for knowledge, and entertainment genres, intended as sources of enjoyment and escape from everyday problems. The term “infotainment” was first coined in the early 1980s (Savolainen, 2021, p. 956) and was used to refer to media discourse, often with a pejorative sense. Since then, the concept has expanded to cover hybrid forms of discourse in other fields, and broadly the same phenomenon has been referred to by a variety of terms, including “politainment” (politics + entertainment), used by Collins and Riegert (2016) to refer to “soft” media coverage of news events and current affairs, “enlightentainment” (enlightening + entertainment), used by Partington (2014) to describe entertaining research overview talks, “edutainment” (education + entertainment), used by Mauranen (2013) to describe science blogs, and “scifotainment” (science + entertainment), used by Zhang (2019) to refer to science communication websites.

3The TED talk is a good example of a predominantly digital spoken genre bringing expert knowledge to lay audiences in an accessible and entertaining way. The TED talk site1 provides information about the country of citizenship of the speaker, transcripts, readability scores and an indication of speech rate in terms of words per minute; the Ted Corpus Search Engine2 (Hasebe, 2015) enables searches of thousands of talks and provides translations into multiple languages. It is therefore not surprising that TED talks and similar genres have received considerable attention as a possible source of material to practice academic listening skills, for example in articles by De Chazal (2014), Takaesu (2013), and López-Carril et al. (2020). They may at first sight seem like a good classroom substitute for the less accessible face-to-face university lecture, as they can have a similar information load (Wingrove, 2017), and they often cover a substantial amount of the terms that LSP learners need to know in specific fields (see e.g. Dang, 2020, Liu, 2023). Moreover, infotainment speakers also employ some of the same strategies as traditional lecturers to engage their listeners and make their talks more memorable. However, the differences in situation and purpose also make these talks very unlike lectures in certain respects. In this paper we will investigate some of these similarities and differences, and identify some of the particular challenges of academic listening for LSP learners. We will end by suggesting some of the skills academic LSP learners need to develop, and how listening instructors might aid this process.

1. Speaker and Listener Identities

4When selecting texts for LSP listening practice, perhaps the most important thing to consider is the audience the talk was originally intended for. Flowerdew and Miller (1995) identify four cultural dimensions which may affect students’ ability to process lectures: ethnic, local, academic and disciplinary. Cultural differences in any of these areas are likely to exclude some learners.

5There may not be much difference between the infotainment talk audience, the audience for LSP listening materials, and the audience for academic lectures in terms of their proficiency in the language used by the speaker, especially as many universities now expect student mobility, the use of lingua franca languages and some content and language integrated learning (CLIL). However, infotainment talks are always intended for a wide online audience with many first languages and many different cultural backgrounds (Mestre-Mestre & Pérez Cabello de Alba, 2022), even if they are recorded in front of a live audience, for example, at a TED conference. As a result, they tend to have their own particular “international” delivery style, regardless of the local culture of the speaker, whereas traditional lectures are likely to reflect the ethnic, local, academic and disciplinary cultures of a particular department, in a particular institution, in a particular place.

  • 3 Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (Simpson et al., 2002).

6Bernad-Mechó & Valerias-Jurado (2023) were presumably thinking of a Spanish lecture context when they described TED and science video speakers as “smiling, joking and recounting details of their lives … in sharp contrast with traditional academic genres like the lecture”. Possible differences in the way speakers engage with their audiences is something that LSP teachers need to consider when preparing students for study in other cultural contexts. For example, Schleef (2009) compared a sample of MICASE3 lectures with a sample of lectures recorded at a university in southern Germany, and found that the US lecturers checked understanding more frequently and expressed greater solidarity with their students, while in German lectures “less speech management effort is put into making sure students understand the subject matter presented” (Schleef 2009, p. 1118).

7Differences in delivery style may be explained in terms of the popular concept of “cultural dimensions” (see e.g. Hofstede & Bond, 1984), which suggests that audiences from different national cultures perceive the status and social distance of speakers and listeners differently, affecting the way that they perform their roles and interpret each other’s behaviour. Of course, lecturing contexts are almost always asymmetrical, everywhere in the world, with greater power granted to the person who delivers the talk and holds the floor. TED talks originated in California, however, where power distance is reportedly low, and the culture encourages at least the appearance of equal power distribution. High power distance cultures might be expected to place greater emphasis on the authority of the speaker. These two different approaches might be described as “audience-oriented” and “speaker-oriented”, analogous to the culturally‑influenced reader‑writer orientations originally identified by Clyne (1987).

8Audience-oriented speakers may try harder to anticipate their audience’s listening needs, and they may also make a show of reducing the power distance between themselves and their students by sharing personal stories and acknowledging their own failings. The delivery style of TED speakers, noted for “smiling, joking and recounting details of their lives”, is not apparently a universal feature of traditional academic lectures, but researchers have long been aware of the use of personal anecdotes in US lectures (see e.g. Strodt-Lopez, 1987, 1991) and joking and storytelling is relatively common in the lectures collected for MICASE, BASE4 and ELC5 (Nesi, 2012; Alsop et al., 2013; Nesi & Alsop, 2021).

9In academic lectures, stories can model appropriate professional or academic behaviour (Dyer & Keller-Cohen, 2000), and in audience-oriented cultures this is sometimes achieved by acknowledging a failing on the part of the lecturer. For example, in the following extract from ELC (Alsop et al., 2013) the personal story simultaneously illustrates an engineering point, demonstrates that the lecturer is fallible and encourages the student audience to have the courage of their own convictions. In this way it teaches students “not to accept information or assumptions without challenging them” (Sutherland & Badger, 2004, p. 283):

once there was a really great story it happened in my in this class in the first year a student said to me well I said to the students I said I was talking about DC motors and I said you can’t make a DC motor which doesn’t have a commutator it has to have segments to make it work we’ll see about that in the second semester
and a student said well he came to me the next week and he said I don’t think that’s true what you said last week and he um showed me a diagram and I said oh that will never work that's no good
the next week he turns up and he’s built one and he says look and um take it into the lab and sure enough he was right I was wrong and it was a completely new idea that he’d thought of and it turned over it worked and if he’d get a patent on it that’s an amazing story. (ELC UK)

10Academic lecturers have institutional authority and a more or less captive audience who already know who they are. On the other hand, many infotainment speakers work hard to establish their expertise and convince their audiences that they know what they are talking about (Valeiras-Jurado et al., 2018). This means that, although their personal stories can serve some of the same purposes as stories in academic lectures, there is more emphasis on self-promotion and the forging of emotional connections (Scotto di Carlo, 2014; Samayoa, 2017) sometimes achieved through sentimental appeals, as in the following extracts:

Now the idea of a multiverse is a strange one. I mean, most of us were raised to believe that the word “universe” means everything. And I say most of us with forethought, as my four-year-old daughter has heard me speak of these ideas since she was born. And last year I was holding her and I said, “Sophia, I love you more than anything in the universe.” And she turned to me and said, “Daddy, universe or multiverse?” (Greene, 2012)
I grew up on a small farm in Missouri. We lived on less than a dollar a day for about 15 years. I got a scholarship, went to university, studied international agriculture, studied anthropology, and decided I was going to give back. (Clay, 2010)

11Academic lecturers in low power distance cultural contexts sometimes playfully assign roles to themselves and their listeners on the understanding that all parties will recognise the intended irony. For example, it is quite common for them to adopt “a bumbling persona” (Partington, 2006, p. 94), old, infirm, or otherwise incapable, as in the following examples:

when we become consultant lecturers we don’t do things at last-minute-dot-com we do we’re no more organized than you are we’re just a bit older have a bit less hair (BASE)
I thought probably what I’d do is start with a single equation and this is the only equation you’re going to see in this lecture and it’s on the board there now now what does that tell you does it look even vaguely familiar to anyone (laughter) no I’ve probably got it wrong I thought it was something like the equation of relativity. (BASE) 

12In these examples, the failings of the speaker are stated overtly, but the audience is expected to infer an opposite meaning – that the speaker is in fact very capable.

13Some TED speakers self-deprecate like university lecturers, especially those that actually are university lecturers, as in this TED talk about webcasting Stanford lectures: “In fact, I use basically the same technology as this 14th-century classroom. Note the textbook, the sage on the stage, and the sleeping guy in the back. (Laughter) Just like today” (Norvig, 2012).

14A number of TED talks advocate self-deprecation as a powerful communicative tool (e.g. Keller, 2022), but infotainment speakers, addressing wider online audiences whose reactions they cannot entirely anticipate, usually make the message of self-deprecation more overt and signal their humorous intentions more clearly than academic lecturers do. Thus in TED talks a speaker’s acknowledgement of failure is usually quickly followed by a boast about subsequent success, as in the following example: “I thought I was just born with a slow processing brain. And then something happened and I turned over. I turned my weakness over into my strength and I am in a much better place now” (Meher, 2021).

15There is no self‑deprecation in the Malaysian component of ELC, a higher power distance cultural context, although counterpart references to students falling asleep (as in the extract above from Norvig’s TED talk) seem to be common in all lecture contexts (but not in TEDs): “right everyone happy or asleep Monday morning wakey wakey (ELC New Zealand) if it is too comfortable then perhaps half of the class will be falling asleep (ELC Malaysia).”

16A sense of shared understanding, along with in-jokes about individuals and events known only to the group, may help to increase a sense of disciplinary and professional identity, and help create a bond between speakers and listeners (Nesi, 2012). However, although irony, sarcasm and self-deprecation may be effective means of maintaining rapport if the speaker already knows the audience quite well, they can have an opposite effect to the one intended if audience members do not share the same cultural expectations. Martin (2022) found that lecturers’ personal revelations and self-deprecation could undermine their authority and make their students feel embarrassed. Wang (2014) investigated the interactions between Chinese students and their lecturers at a university in the UK and found some serious misunderstandings that affected students’ attitudes towards faculty. In one lecture, the lecturer joked that she thought the students were looking forward to writing their assignments. She explained to the researcher that this was an attempt at bonding: “I think it’s always important to try to connect … with their own experiences”, but only one of the Chinese students in the audience recognised this as being intentionally humorous. In another more damaging episode, a lecturer announced that the following lectures would be delivered by a colleague, self-deprecatingly presenting this as “good news” for the students:

Some of you might have been thinking it was Carla this morning on Economics, well the good news is, you get Carla next week, and the better news is, ready for the - I will listen for the cheers, this is the last formal lecture you get from me on this subject. (Wang, 2014, p. 88)

17In this case, the lecturer was using a common audience-oriented strategy, and about half the Chinese students understood his intention to appear modest about his own popularity and lecturing skills. The other half, however, simply assumed that he did not like teaching them:

Researcher: do you think the lecturer himself thinks it’s good news?
Student 1: with regards to the lecturer, I think because the British people are generally lazier, and if he doesn’t need to work
Student 2: no money
Student 3: pretty good
Student 1: they don’t get paid according to working time.... (Wang, 2014, p. 88)

18Infotainment speakers have no personal knowledge of their audiences, and cannot afford to risk alienating them in this way. Their personal appeals are therefore less subtle, to avoid the possibility of misunderstandings.

19These differences in the ways speakers present themselves and engage with their audiences call into question the suitability of open access online infotainment talks as LSP materials preparing students for traditional academic lectures delivered in specific cultural contexts. This is because they may not provide enough opportunity for students to learn about and recognise traditional lecturing strategies, especially those that they may misunderstand, for cultural reasons and/or because of lack of familiarity with the genre.

2. Phases and Moves

20Differences in length and delivery mode have a knock-on effect on the way lectures and infotainment talks are constructed. Most lectures last for at least 50 minutes, are spontaneous and unscripted, and prompted only by notes. Speakers may lecture on the same topic many times over the years, but they are unlikely to formally rehearse their talks. Infotainment talks are usually shorter (18 minutes in the case of TEDs), and unlike lectures, they are scripted and highly rehearsed (Samayoa, 2017).

21Drawing on Swales (1981, 1990, 2004) and Sinclair and Coulthard (1975), some scholars have divided the traditional lecture into introductory, “content” and concluding sections, and have described the generic structure of these sections in terms of their specific communicative goals, or moves, which follow a conventional sequence. This rhetorical approach may work for lectures that are written and then read aloud, but reading lectures aloud is not a practice that has been reported in previous studies, probably because written texts tend to be too information-dense for real-time listening, and would therefore be very difficult for audiences to follow. Spontaneous lectures can be quite disorganized and idiosyncratic, with less regard for generic conventions. For this reason, we cannot expect lectures to be neatly divided into introductions, middle parts and conclusions. It works better to acknowledge that different types of communicative goal can be realized almost anywhere within a lecture. Lecture moves are often referred to as “phases”, following Young (1994).

22Young (1994) found six discontinuous phases recurring throughout lectures, in no particular order: “preview”, “theory”, “example”, “interaction”, “conclusion” and “evaluation”. The pragmatic annotations of ELC by Alsop and Nesi (2014) added other phases, such as summaries and storytelling. They found no clear division between introductory material and the main body of ELC lectures, as references to the new lecture topic could be interspersed with previews, reviews, and “housekeeping” announcements, multiple times within the first few minutes of a talk (Alsop & Nesi, 2015).

23Some of the phases identified in lectures have no counterparts in infotainment genres. For example, housekeeping, where lecturers talk about events external to the lecture, provides an opportunity for important administrative information to be conveyed to entire cohorts of students, concerning field trips, assessments, timetable changes and so on. Summaries, an extension of the preview phase identified by Young (1994), are necessary in lectures because a lot of new information is conveyed over the course of a lecture series, and students need to be able to keep track of this and embed it in their minds. Table 1 shows four types of summary which occur frequently in ELC (Alsop & Nesi, 2013), serving to review key information that has already been provided and preview content that is new.

Table 1. Lecture Summary Types

last week we looked at resolving forces into components

review of previous lecture content

main three things that have come out of here though out of these tests is yield stress ultimate stress and modulus of elasticity

review of current lecture content

so what are we going to do today is we are going to wrap up chapter five the second law of thermodynamics

preview of current lecture content

in the next two lectures we’re actually going to delve a little bit into material properties and then we’re going to get back into the solid mechanics

preview of future lecture content

24In contrast, infotainment talks are free-standing and have no need for housekeeping and little time or need to review and preview content. Their scripted nature and their focus on a single message means that their generic structure can be described more neatly.

25Chang and Huang (2015) found seven sequential moves in TED talks – “orientation”, “introduction”, “speaker presentation”, “topic development”, “closure” and “concluding message”. This structure is recognisable as a form of the problem-solution text structure (“situation”, “problem”, “response” and “evaluation”) described by Hoey (1983). The presentation move provides the speaker’s credentials and is an opportunity to create an emotional, possibly sentimental, bond, as we explained previously, but it is also often a way to problematise the topic of the talk by drawing attention to a situation that is inequitable or morally questionable:

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, bouncing from house to house with a loving, close-knit family as we struggled to find stability in our finances. But when my mom temporarily lost herself to mania and when that mania chose me as its primary scapegoat through both emotional and physical abuse, I fled for my safety. I had come to the conclusion that homelessness was safer for me than being at home. I was 16. During my homelessness, I joined Atlanta’s 3,300 homeless youth in feeling uncared for, left out and invisible each night. There wasn’t and still is not any place for a homeless minor to walk off the street to access a bed. (Whitley, 2017)

26This can then be followed by an introduction to the response that the talk advocates (in this case the use of the arts to help homeless youth), as the speaker explains how he/she personally overcame adversity:

when I had nothing else, I had the arts, something that didn't demand material wealth from me in exchange for refuge. A few hours of singing, writing poetry or saving up enough money to disappear into another world at a play kept me going and jolting me back to life. (Whitley, 2017)

27Typically the final part of a TED talk includes a “call for action” (Ratanakul, 2017) as in the following examples, because TEDs have a mission to “catalyze impact”6 and persuade listeners of the need for change in order to make the world a better place.

So citizen scientists, makers, dreamers - we must prepare the next generation that cares about the environment and people, and that can actually do something about it. (Harada, 2015)

As women around the world struggle to achieve political, social and economic equality, we must reimagine motherhood as not the central, core aspect of womanhood, but one of the many potential facets of what makes women awesome. (Hinde, 2017)

Making Africa’s hundred-year leap will require that Africans summon the creativity to generate ideas and find the openness to accept and adapt ideas from anywhere else in the world to solve our pervasive problems. With focus on investment, films can help drive that change in Africa’s people, a change that is necessary to make the hundred-year leap, a change that will help create a prosperous Africa, an Africa that is dramatically better than it is today. (Ogunyemi, 2017)

28TED speakers set out to “wow, inspire and amaze an audience” (Wingrove, 2017, p. 80), and they tend to employ an enthusiastic delivery style, full of positive evaluation (awesome, dramatically better etc.). Like traditional lecturers, they can exploit kinesics (hand gestures, gaze, posture, facial expressions) and prosodic features (intonation, accent, stress) as non-verbal means of conveying meaning (Fortanet-Gomez & Querol-Julian 2010), but they also have other engagement strategies at their disposal which are denied the traditional lecturer. Talks which are professionally produced exploit filmic modes such as close-up shots, cuts, sound effects and visual effects (Xia & Hafner, 2021; Bernad-Mechó & Valerias-Jurado, 2023), with the intention of arousing the audience’s sympathy and excitement.

3. Listening Skills for Academic LSP Learners

29Infotainment talks are designed to attract listeners and retain their attention, so learners generally require little encouragement to use them for extensive listening practice outside class. Given the vast number of talks now available online (there are more than 4,200 TED talks according to the latest count on the TED website) there will be talks on topics relevant to students in most academic fields, and these can provide exposure to appropriate field-specific vocabulary.

30However, students’ behaviour when listening to these talks will be different from their lecture listening behaviour, because the purpose of infotainment is so different. TED talks tend to use technical concepts to support a persuasive argument for change, whereas the main aim of traditional lectures is to embed technical concepts in the listeners’ minds. Deroey’s (2018) study of 25 current English for academic purposes (EAP) listening coursebooks concluded that the discourse features they presented did not match those of authentic lectures, and that therefore they were not very useful as a means of preparing students for the demands of their degree programmes. The same is true for infotainment talks, which are targeted at a general audience who are not expected to be familiar with the topic, and who are not expecting to be assessed on what they have learnt from the talk. Part of the skill of taking notes in traditional academic lectures is the ability to understand and select what information to record, and this involves recognition of the summarising strategies that lecturers use to flag key information. The amount of new knowledge conveyed in infotainment talks is relatively small compared to traditional lectures, so speakers do not expect their listeners to take notes, and summaries are not needed.

31TED speakers are “under pressure to impress upon the audience the importance of their own particular work” (Partington, 2014, p. 149), and they devote a lot of their talk to self-promotion or promotion of an enterprise they are personally associated with. We would not expect this degree of overt persuasion in academic contexts. The ability to persuade is a useful skill in some academic activities, such as when making certain kinds of funding bids, or writing for publication purposes, but academics and students generally need to show their awareness of the complexity of the issues under discussion rather than presenting a single argument in a forceful way. Lecturers are expected to provide a balanced view of what is known and accepted in their field, and in most educational contexts they would probably be regarded with suspicion if they used the persuasive tactics that are typical of TED talks.

32Thus the infotainment delivery style may not be a good model for academic LSP learners. Just as delivering a Three Minute Thesis, another popularising genre, might constitute negative training for student speakers preparing for a formal PhD viva (Carter-Thomas & Rowley‑Jolivet, 2020), so exposure to TED talks might constitute negative training for student listeners preparing to attend traditional academic lectures. Instead, these learners might benefit from exposure to some of the more subtle strategies that lecturers use in an attempt to engage learners. For example, they could practise distinguishing typical lecture phases such as storytelling, summarising and evaluating, and considering their purpose. In many contexts it would be worthwhile showing learners examples of understatement, irony and self-deprecation, and discussing with them what they think the lecturer was trying to achieve by using these strategies.

33It is possible to access authentic academic lectures online, via MOOCs (e.g. Harvard University, Stanford University), YouTube (e.g. University of Michigan), portals such as Open Education Global7, or an institutional website (e.g. Yale University8 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Open Courseware)9). OpenCourseWare (OCW) lectures from Yale and MIT are available for free on a non-commercial basis, and include transcripts, additional documentation as well as video footage. These lectures can be considered a “hybrid” genre, as they are intended both for students in the lecture theatre and public audiences online. However, when Crawford-Camiciottoli (2020) examined 15 OCW lectures from Yale and MIT, she found that the speakers behaved as they would have done in a non-recorded face-to-face class, making no reference to OCW, the recording process or future access to digital versions of the lectures. In terms of lecturer-audience interaction there was also little difference between these OCW lectures and matched lectures from MICASE. Lecturers referred to assessments (housekeeping) and told personal stories. Indeed, one of the OCW excerpts that Crawford‑Camiciottoli (2020, p. 9) discusses contains an example of lecturer self-deprecation of the kind that is found quite frequently in MICASE, BASE and ELC:

Student: So that formula, shouldn’t it be dQ/dP times P/Q because dQ/dP just refers to the change of the quantity with respect to price, not necessarily the percent change?
Lecturer: Yeah, you’re right. I was trying to get too fancy with my calculus. You’re right. Let’s just stick with the non-calculus formula. I never should deviate from my notes. So let’s just stick with the non-calculus formula

34The OCW sample contained slightly more interactive and informal features than the MICASE sample, but this might have been due to the kind of people Yale and MIT selected for OCW delivery. They were “highly experienced and often distinguished faculty members” (Crawford-Camiciottoli, 2018: 36), reportedly chosen for their enthusiastic, passionate teaching style.


35Science discourse is always hybrid to some extent; “its qualities are constantly shaped and reshaped by the qualities of other discourses” (Kuhi, 2017, p. 64). Theorists such as Hyland (2009), Kuhi (2017) and Savolainen (2021) have suggested viewing popularising genres along a cline, with some tending towards the information end of the scale, and some much closer to entertainment. Genres at the entertainment end of the scale tend to develop a simplified single-perspective narrative that may not adequately prepare learners for nuanced academic arguments. On the other hand, genres at the information end of the scale work to construct technical concepts on the basis of everyday knowledge, through discourse which “allows a non-specialist audience to recover the interpretative voice of the scientist” (Kuhi, 2017, p. 65). This is in fact a strategy employed in traditional lectures, where scientific theory is often linked to students’ everyday interests and experiences, via stories and scenarios (Nesi & Alsop, 2021).

36OCW lectures from Yale and MIT might be appropriate listening materials for some students of languages for specific academic purposes, especially because additional resources such as transcripts are also provided on the Yale and MIT websites. They seem quite representative of lectures delivered in the USA in terms of their ethnic, local, and academic cultural dimensions, for example regarding their audience-orientation and local references. Crawford-Camiciottoli’s 15 lecture sample contained lexical items strongly associated with American culture, relating, for example, to university life, sports, government, politics, films and television shows (Crawford-Camiciottoli, 2018); these topics were referred to in lectures in an attempt to engage the audience, rather than because of their relevance to lecture themes, but of course their cultural-specificity would create difficulties for outsiders, and would perhaps interfere with their comprehension of serious lecture content.

37LSP instructors must make an informed choice about what cultural elements to focus on, as part of useful language and skills training. This in turn will help them select the listening resources that best fit their students’ needs.

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3 Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (Simpson et al., 2002).

4 British Academic Spoken English corpus:

5 Engineering Lecture Corpus (with UK, New Zealand and Malaysian components):





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Hilary Nesi, « Lecture Discourse and the Study of Languages for Specific Academic Purposes: What Makes a Good Model Text? »Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues [En ligne], Vol. 42 N°2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 05 décembre 2023, consulté le 19 mai 2024. URL :

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Hilary Nesi

Hilary Nesi is Professor of English Language at Coventry University, UK. Her research activities mostly concern the discourse of English for academic purposes, corpus development and analysis, and the design and use of dictionaries and reference tools. She was principal investigator for the projects to create the BASE corpus of British academic spoken English and the BAWE corpus of British academic written English. She also led the Writing for a Purpose project which produced corpus-informed academic writing materials for the British Council. She is co-editor of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes and the Elsevier Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (forthcoming).

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