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From policy to practice: optimizing resources for teaching scientific writing acceptable to international discourse community norms

Susan Birch-Becaas et Ray Cooke
p. 49-64


Les universités françaises sont dorénavant encouragées à mettre en commun leurs ressources humaines et logistiques afin d’améliorer leur efficacité et leur impact global. Produire des programmes de pointe interuniversitaires pour les étudiants de maîtrise et de doctorat est l’un des aspects de ce processus. Cet article explique comment la politique linguistique devrait tenir compte des besoins spécifiques des apprenants de l’anglais à des fins spécifiques (ESP) et comment ces besoins peuvent être traduites dans la pratique pédagogique. L’article souligne la nécessité d’enseigner les conventions du discours scientifique afin que les étudiants en prennent conscience et les approprient dans leurs propres rédactions.

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  • 1 For example, the University of Bordeaux broke up into four separate universities, each with its own (...)
  • 2 The DEUG (Diplôme d’Etudes Universitaires Générales) after two years, the Licence after three years (...)

1When the ‘Loi Faure’ for French universities was promulgated on 12 November 1968 in reaction to major social, economic and political upheaval throughout France that same year, it gave universities the opportunity to bring ideological cleavages to the fore and to split into component parts on the basis not only of scientific affinity but also of local political interest. Universities, which hitherto had been organized monolithically with an unwieldy centralized administration, were given the opportunity to diversify into smaller, more streamlined establishments in which disciplinary areas were grouped together.1 These new universities were administered by a board on which sat elected representatives of the students. Furthermore, the students had some degree of choice as to which teaching units or modules they wanted to take and were not subject to a selection process to be able to go to university. Mere obtention of the baccalaureate sufficed. In addition, the national system of qualifications allowed students to obtain four separate diplomas in five years.2

  • 3 Three of the four universities in Bordeaux have now decided to merge into a single establishment. S (...)
  • 4 Figuring in good position on the Shanghai Index has become of paramount importance for universities (...)

2Forty-five years later, some of this remains unchanged. Students continue to exercise some choice in what they study and the baccalaureate still opens the door to studying in universities. However, national and European legislation in the past ten years, together with the economic crisis that Europe has been going through for the last decade, has turned the process of university governance in France and the way studies are organized upside down. From 2002, implementation of the three-stage system set out in the Bologna Process rationalized and limited the number of university qualifications that a French university could award. Further legislation in 2006 and 2007 encouraged universities to become more financially autonomous in their own governance and to work more closely together on a geographical basis within a framework known as the PRES (Pôles de Recherche et d’Enseignement Supérieur). Indeed, some universities have decided to go beyond the mandate of the PRES and to merge entirely into a single establishment.3 However, the intention is in no way to return to an undemocratic past but to combine forces so as to be able to meet the economic and academic challenges of the 21st century.4 This 45-year period is the backdrop to understanding some of the developments that have taken place in the domains of ESP (English for Specific Purposes) and EAP (English for Academic Purposes) in general, the objectives that French universities have set themselves in this area, or rather are in a position to set themselves, and the ways in which they are taught. Our objective in this article is therefore to examine how thinking about courses in ESP has evolved during this period with a particular focus on teaching scientific English at masters and doctoral level.

A Historical Framework

  • 5 It is widely admitted that the first reference to this emerging domain was made by Barber in 1962. (...)

3If we turn our attention back to 1968 and ask ourselves what was being taught in France in the areas of ESP and EAP at that time, the answer would be virtually nothing. These domains were unheard of in France at that time, and in fact the notion of specialized languages or discourses, what they are and how they may be taught had received little attention until then.5 The foundations of what in France has come to be called the “secteur LANSAD” (Langues pour les Spécialistes d’Autres Disciplines) – as opposed to majoring in a foreign language - were laid by pioneering figures like Francisque Costa, Michel Perrin, Jacqueline Schlissinger and Michèle Rivas. They realized that France would fall behind other countries in Europe if it did not develop a policy of providing well-designed English language courses to LANSAD students in higher education. They also realized that, if they were to be taken seriously, any policy recommendations to be made would have to be supported by research in LANSAD produced by members of learned societies. Hence, the 70s and 80s witnessed the advent of GERAS (Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche en Anglais de Spécialité), APLIUT (Association des Professeurs de Langue des Institutes Universitaires de Technologie) and UPLEGESS (Union des Professeurs de Langues des Grandes Ecoles). The latter published its first Cahiers de l’APLIUT in 1980 followed twelve years later by the first volume of Asp (Anglais de Spécialité), the review of GERAS. Nor could research and representation suffice. For the movement to be sustainable, it had to train future ESP/EAP practitioners in France with a masters level program so that the rationale and techniques of ESP/EAP teaching could be mastered by as large a number of teachers as possible, at a time when universities in France had the financial wherewithal to recruit ESP/EAP teachers to teach scientific English, and when official legislation was making the study of scientific English obligatory, if not entirely well thought through, for some categories of students. For example, the decree of 18 March 1992 stipulated that medical students in their first two years of study were to follow 120 hours of tuition in English. Since the decree provided no information about what the pedagogic objectives of the teaching should be, an annex was published on 19 October 1993 stipulating the following vague objectives:

  • 6 Our translation.

The main thing is not to make sure that the students know everything about everything, which is not really any different from nothing about nothing, but that they are able to read, analyze and synthesize information: briefly, to develop their critical ability, which is the objective of all university training. It is in this sense that knowledge of foreign languages, especially English, is necessary.6

  • 7 Profession Infirmier: 2009.
  • 8 For a discussion of these recommendations and how they are worded, see Barrault-Methy, 2012.

4Nevertheless, successive French governments have never considered this issue in global terms. For example, there is no explanation why the foreign language requirements of medical students received official attention in 1992 and not those of law students or physics students other than the fact that there has never been any overall policy guided by an expert panel or think-tank. Decisions regarding such requirements have been taken - if at all - on a top-down basis, with very little input being sought from language professionals working at grassroots level. When recommendations are made, they may be aberrant in terms of course design, objectives and timeframes set out to achieve them. A case in point is the scant outline provided in the 2009 curriculum for trainee nurses that was designed to transform their studies into a program that could be equated with a full degree course, a status that their studies had not hitherto enjoyed.7 The outline made little pedagogical sense, provided no guidance as to how the objectives were to be achieved, and made no suggestions as to how the wide range of practices and settings in the 326 training centers for nurses in France were to be harmonized. The universities received the mandate to coordinate their studies so that they could be integrated into the LMD (Licence, Masters, Doctorat) scheme of the Bologna Process, although no guidelines were issued for doing this, either. That they could not be given simply highlighted the lack of consultation of grassroots professionals capable of providing commonsense input at the outset. In fact, the numerous recommendations produced by the Council of Europe regarding language policy at university level have been implemented only sparsely in French universities.8

Certification, Credit Requirements and Course Design

5The situation has been quite different, however, with regard to language certification per se. The advent of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) allowed policymakers not necessarily versed in the intricacies of course design to produce legislation meeting the requirements of alignment with European policy, thereby laying further bricks on the foundations of a harmonized Europe. For example, the decree of 2000 that set up the CLES9 (Certificat de Compétences en Langues de l’Enseignement Supérieur) in France represented the first-ever measure taken by a French government that concerned language teaching and learning in French higher education in its entirety. Although the very idea of creating a sustainable perennial national language certification system to rival the international giants like TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) and Cambridge continues to generate hot debate over a decade later, and despite the fact that the initial implementation was poorly thought through, the introduction of the CLES has contributed to the general awareness in French universities that knowledge about the second language (L2) and performance in it should be considered together and not separately. Hence, course design has made major strides forward in the last ten years because course contents have had to incorporate the notion that learners should be able to do something with what they learn. A typical shift in stance has been the movement away from the quasi-exclusive use of articles taken from the popular press (e.g. Newsweek, The Economist) as discussion material to the introduction of pedagogic materials designed to cover the descriptors of the various levels of the CEFRL and taught with actional or communicative techniques. The progressive implementation of discipline-specific CLES 3 certification (level C1 in the CEFRL) is likely to attract some masters and doctoral students, who would otherwise have recourse only to the abovementioned international certification systems, while others may feel that the most operational form of language certification is acceptance of a poster in an international conference or a article/short report in a journal with a good impact factor.

  • 10 JORF n° 99 du 27 avril 2002 page 7630 texte n° 51.
  • 11 The article describes the requirement as “ the aptitude to master at least one foreign language” (o (...)

6Additional thrust for this tendency at masters level was provided in two stages. First, article 6 of the Decree of 25 April 2002,10 which laid down the conditions for creating a masters degree at national level, stipulated that masters degrees could not be awarded unless students could demonstrate mastery of at least one foreign language. This effectively meant that all masters curricula were henceforth to contain a language component receiving European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits, i.e. that all masters students would study at least English as part of their curriculum and that this would stand them in good stead for their future professional or academic careers. This seemingly good news for language teachers in universities required mitigation, however, since the vague wording of the article provided no guidance to universities as to how they were to measure what constitutes mastery of a foreign language or how they were to meet the objective they had been set.11 This posed few problems in the mostly scientific or medical universities where there was a tradition of teaching ESP/EAP, where the staff were dedicated to that branch of language teaching and participated in the activities of the learned societies, and where research was undertaken in that domain. On the other hand, in many arts faculties where the tradition was to teach the more “classical” disciplines like literature, translation and civilization to language majors, there was understandable diffidence about what was to be taught to students who were not language majors and who, for the majority, had a level in L2 far below that of the students they were accustomed to teaching. The difficulties they experienced can roughly be equated with the difficulties that the present authors would experience if they had to begin to teach medieval Saxon poetry! What tended to happen, therefore, was that some masters students in technical disciplines received lessons based mainly on the lexical register of the specialty in question, i.e. on the aspect of a foreign language that is perhaps the most readily circumscribed, without ever being shown how the language functions in context, who its users are, what pragmatic relations exist between them and how this affects the way the language evolves.

  • 12 Jolion Report, p 19, our translation.

7The second fillip was in the form of the decree of 28 July, 2009 concerning the recruitment of teachers in the primary and secondary sectors. Known as the “mastérisation” decree, it required that candidates who passed the competitive exam to become teachers should also have attained the B2 level in a foreign language and not just mastery of a foreign language, as had been the requirement in the abovementioned 2002 decree. This measure effectively provided a framework for course design at this level because it meant that the notion of performance, i.e. not only what a student knows about an L2 but also what he/she can do with it, was henceforth a prerequisite in language teaching. Of course, with the decreasing budgets that universities have been facing in recent years, it is even less possible now than before to offer a sufficient amount of dedicated language tuition at masters level. For this reason, a solution adopted by some universities, but one requiring good overall organization across the LMD spectrum, is to offer a B2 program from the very first year at university and to back this up with remedial work in dedicated on-site language centers for students whose level is lower than B2. In fact, the Jolion Report (2011) on the first two years of implementation of the 2009 decree attributed the Ministry of Education’s decision to add the B2 language requirement directly to the universities’ inability to deliver language courses allowing masters students to attain the mastery of a foreign language: “As the National Education Authority does not seem to place much confidence in this aspect of the training that our Higher Education system validates, it has decided to introduce a supplementary requirement: laureates of the masters competitive exam will also have to have obtained the B2 level in a foreign language.”12

  • 13 For a discussion of these requirements, see Fries (2009).

8This requirement for certification at B2 level, which is mirrored by the requirements of the Commission des Titres d’Ingénieur for obtaining an engineering degree13, means that there are now two main approaches for designing ESP/EAP courses for masters and doctoral students.

9On the one hand, some higher education institutes seek to impart language skills and knowledge based on the CEFRL descriptors. In this case, course design is approached in terms of a progression with regard to what learners know about their L2 and can do with it. Some self-evaluation may be incorporated by using the European Language Portfolio, a self-report tool for getting learners to think actively about how they learn their L2, what they can do with it and what else they need to learn to be able to do in order to improve their performance. An advantage of this approach is that an in-house language policy can be set up that covers the three tiers of the Bologna Process. For example, a reasonable objective for degree level is for students to have achieved the B2 level after three years of higher education. Then, as students undertake their 2-year Masters program, they should be transitioning to C1. Doctoral students should implicitly have reached C1. However, as students reach 5 years of higher education and beyond, the CEFRL descriptors become less satisfactory because they less readily take into account the ever-increasing specificity of the types of tasks that such students need to know how to undertake, such as writing an abstract or a poster, preparing a short, efficient oral presentation, etc. In fact, if the language teachers themselves have never undertaken such tasks in their own field of study, a situation frequent in French higher education where teachers from schools unaccustomed to the world of research are recruited to teach languages, disequilibrium may occur where the learners have more conceptual knowledge of the discursive and oral objectives that they should be achieving than their teachers. This would not in itself be dramatic provided sufficient help were on hand from other language teachers who also undertake research in their own right, as discussed below. However, this is not the norm and testifies to the need for further training for language teachers in ESP/EAP. Therefore, an approach based solely on language descriptors and implemented by teachers not fully aware of how professional discourse communities such as geologists or clinicians use their occupational L2 is likely to have shortcomings. The worst case scenario is the situation where language teachers working in isolation are assigned to a particular disciplinary department in a university and have no way, or no incentive, to reach out to other language teachers and develop interdisciplinary didactic and pedagogic skills. Complacency may set in if this is the case, and even burnout.

10The other approach is possible if the members of the pedagogic team themselves undertake research in ESP/EAP as tenured teacher-researchers. If so, they will be aware of what masters and doctoral students need to know about their L2 in terms of function and form, and especially what they use it for. As we have already seen, ESP/EAP as a research domain is still in its infancy, so even language specialists who have undertaken research in the traditional branches of language learning and teaching, such as literature and civilization, are unlikely to be familiar with the fundamental concepts of ESP/EAP. Consequently, some universities are in a position to offer appropriate, tailor-made L2 training to their masters and doctoral students while others are not. This in itself is an argument for promoting a human resource policy at ministerial level whereby every higher education establishment has within its workforce at least one trained ESP/EAP teacher, possibly undertaking his/her own research and regularly participating in meetings organized by the learned societies. If this could come about, then it would be possible to conduct informal in-house training of other language teachers. Without this, it is unlikely whether overall standards in the teaching of ESP/EAP will increase, especially if no form of national certification of pedagogical practices in this domain is set up. In brief, the quality of ESP/EAP teaching in French universities would improve if the authorities were to provide the impetus for it.

From Policy to Practice: Language Training for Doctoral Students

  • 14 JORF n° 195, 24 August 2006, page 12468, text n° 22.
  • 15 Our translation.

11We now turn our attention to initiatives taken within the latter approach. As we have seen, the underlying principle here is that course design is based on the learners’ occupational requirements, not on any particular points of grammar or structure that the teacher feels should be learned according to a pre-ordained order based on their supposed difficulty to grasp. If we focus on doctoral students, the situation may be considered apart from the first two levels of the Bologna Process. First, unlike the latter, there is no statutory requirement for language training to be given to doctoral students in France. Article 4 of the decree of 7 August 2006 governing doctoral training14 stipulates that doctoral schools “should offer courses to doctoral students that are useful for their research and professional project and which they need to be able to acquire a broad scientific culture. These courses should not only aim at preparing future researchers for working in the public sector, industry and the services sector but also more generally for any profession that requires the skills learned during their doctoral training.”15

  • 16 For further discussion of this procedure, see Birch & Cooke, 2012.

12Consequently, initiatives in this direction are taken on a local basis and depend on factors such as the presence of a teacher or team of teachers able and willing to develop such courses, the willpower at decisional level to organize them, and the funds available to run them. None of these factors is set in stone, however, since budgetary restrictions, which are common in French universities at present, primarily impact the “non-necessary”, i.e. any training that is not contractually part of a university curriculum. An additional factor is what may be termed the “language-learning culture” of the establishment in question. If the policy-deciders feel that they themselves managed to learn scientific English the “hard way”, i.e. by trial and error and without any formal ESP/EAP training, they may be reticent to support such initiatives for their own doctoral students. This diehard attitude, however, is more than counterbalanced nowadays by the thinking of many directors of studies, whose own existence as recognized scientists is largely impacted by the overall contributions of their teams, including those of their doctoral students. In fact, in the ever-increasingly competitive world of research, both thesis director and doctoral student need each other, so it is in the interests of both that the latter should know how to write and speak good scientific English. Furthermore, the argument that five years of learning English at university level (degree and masters) should be enough for future scientists to be able to communicate in English is untenable, since the pedagogical objectives of those years lay only the foundations for the specific tasks in English that doctoral students must subsequently learn to master. For these reasons, it is highly advisable for universities to fund appropriate language training for doctoral students, even though there is no harmonization in France in this regard. It is even possible to organize training on an interuniversity level within the same geographic or urban region, provided sufficient willpower and awareness is on hand. An example in point is the joint program run by Université Bordeaux 1 and Université Bordeaux Segalen in which doctoral students from disciplines as disparate as physics, sociology and archeology are brought together to reflect on each other’s scientific discourse. Far from being an alienating experience, the training modules prove profitable for all participants since they arouse awareness with regard to the differences and commonalities in scientific discourse and community behavior that exist across the scientific disciplines.16

The case of doctoral students

13After discussing the overall situation in French universities, we now describe a specific English course created for doctoral students in our university. We first focus on the specific needs of such students and then demonstrate the applications of research in ESP through discussion of the objectives, organization, materials and pedagogical approach of the course. As discussed above, universities are under pressure to make their courses more relevant to the world of work and to facilitate the professional insertion of their students. In Taillefer’s survey of her economics graduates in 2007, she reported that foreign language use at work was increasing. Indeed, 30% of the sample reported using two languages at work and requiring a B2-C1 level in those languages (Taillefer, 2007).

14Doctoral students across the spectrum of health, life sciences, and social sciences need to be able to participate in their international discourse community. They need to be able to present their results in poster sessions, workshops, give papers, publish papers, create networks of colleagues and make themselves visible on the international stage. English is the international language of science and whether it is viewed as a “neutral lingua franca ” or a “dominating overpowering force” (Tardy, 2004, p. 247), students nowadays need to be autonomous in their use of the English language. The role of the ESP practitioner is, therefore, to analyze their students’ future professional community, the types of discourse they will use and the linguistic and communicative strategies they will need. As Shaw points out, “widespread use of English is an inescapable part of globalization and understanding the specific situations and purposes associated with it is a necessary task for language teachers and policy makers” (Shaw, 2011, p. 65).

15We therefore need to ask ourselves the question “What is English for science?” and “What are the specific target situations that we are preparing our students for?” In English for Research Purposes, students have often been encouraged to follow native-speaker (NS) norms but a new line of thought is emerging in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) where the question is “What do effective ELF users do as lecturers, supervisors, students or research group members?” (Mauranen, Hynninen & Ranta 2010, p. 184).

16The issue is therefore to identify what is acceptable to the community, what are the norms of acceptability for publication, and what enables students to participate and then gradually establish themselves as expert members of their community. As seen above, the distinction has often been made in scientific English between native speaker (NS) and non-native speaker (NNS) usage. However, there has been a move more recently towards comparing “novice” writing and “expert” writing, regardless of the author’s first language (Flowerdew, 2008,; Salager-Meyer, 2008). Indeed, Mauranen et al argue “If the vast majority of readers and writers are not native speakers of English, perhaps qualities such as clarity and effectiveness in communication should be considered from their perspective rather than that of the native-speaking minority” (Mauranen et al 2010, p. 184).

  • 17 For an overview of CLIL in higher education, see Taillefer 2013.

17To develop appropriate materials to meet the specific needs of their learners, ESP practitioners must analyze the target discourse they are teaching and apply their findings in the classroom. As Johns, Partridge and Belcher underline with reference to Swales’ work, “developing an appropriate pedagogy for a specific group of learners has always been the goal of ESP practitioners” (2011, p. 1). In the first three years of university, ESP courses often focus on familiarizing students with authentic and often popularized discourse from their domain, placing the emphasis on reading and listening skills and acquiring strategies to become more autonomous readers and listeners. The ESP practitioner can draw attention to specific features of the discourse and to recurrent lexico-grammatical elements. Through a communicative, task-based approach, students may gather information from documents that they then reformulate in an oral presentation or written report. As students advance in their studies, the focus turns to more specialized documents and the specific target genres that the students will use professionally. It is therefore pedagogically advisable to liaise with the researchers and lecturers of the discipline who can provide examples of authentic scientific discourse and shed light on its pragmatic use in situations of authentic communication. This may also lead to CLIL courses (Content and Language Integrated Learning), especially at master’s level, where disciplinary courses are taught in English by subject specialists in collaboration with language teachers.17

Course description and the role of the ESP practitioner

  • 18 See Whyte (2013) for description of an oral presentation course for doctoral students.
  • 19 See annex for description of modules offered.

18The course we describe here is a writing course for PhD students.18 As mentioned above, the overall aim of such high-level ESP courses is to enable students and future professionals to fully take part within their international discourse community and to gradually move from the periphery of the community to its center by increased participation in it, and thereby gaining greater visibility in it (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Subject specialists can provide valuable input by recounting their own transition from novice to expert and their progressive incorporation within the community. In this scenario, the ESP practitioner assumes a more ethnographic role by examining the norms and conventions of the community. Here, the objective is to raise awareness of discourse norms, the rhetoric of science and the strategies used by researchers to present their findings. Students enroll for specific modules such as writing an introduction or writing a discussion at the most appropriate time within the course of their PhD.19

19The approach centers on needs analysis, genre analysis, discourse analysis and, to some extent, use of corpora and specialist informants. Therefore, the language teacher works very much upstream. As Basturkmen points out “ESP courses are built on the foundations of investigations of needs and specialist discourse” (Basturkmen 2010, p. 144).

  • 20 See Flowerdew (1999) and Swales (1990) for discussion of these difficulties. For example, writing a (...)
  • 21 TYOS, an online scientific writing tool. accessed 28 January 2014.

20PhD students need to be able to publish their results and present their work in conferences. The “high-stake” genre is therefore the research article. Analysis of research article discourse has shown the introduction and discussion sections to be the most difficult to write20, so one module of the course focuses specifically on writing up an introduction section. Few pedagogical materials exist for this type of course although some cross-disciplinary principles can be applied from textbooks such as those by Swales and Feak (2000) or Weissberg and Buker (1990). Indeed, it is far more motivating for students to work on articles from their own fields so they are required to send us published articles of central importance from their domain ahead of the course. These articles can then be used as examples of “expert writing” by the teacher in order to focus on structure, rhetorical functions and linguistic features. By examining the rhetorical functions of sentences, course participants can thus discover the typical schema and patterning such as Swales’ CaRS model (Creating a Research Space 1990) for introductions. From their extensive reading of articles, they are often familiar with the various “moves” and “steps” in an introduction but the rhetorical strategies and word clusters involved have rarely been made explicit to them. Analysis of research articles in their disciplines can therefore be seen as “starting points in the process of disciplinary acculturation” (Lin & Evans 2012, p. 158). Similarly, any variation across sub-disciplines can lead to discussion and provide further input, thereby avoiding an over-prescriptive approach. The focus is thus on the author’s intention and the linguistic choices he/she makes, the degree of generality given to statements (verb forms), the construction of the literature review to establish a “mutual frame of reference” with the reader (Hyland 2005, p. 35), and the degree of authorial presence (personal pronouns and indications of stance). Typical expressions and collocations that can be reused in the student’s own writing and that can identify them as expert members of the community (Hyland, 2007) can be highlighted. The participants can then continue this type of analysis by examining other texts autonomously and then gradually build up a stock of re-usable linguistic resources. The students can also explore the TYOS corpus21 where the same methodology is applied to a small, local corpus of articles (highlighting and annotation of discourse moves, typical expressions, verb forms, links, grammatical and lexical items) and other genres. Of course, a further aspect of the course is the writing process as students draft, reformulate and improve texts with the help of peer feedback. Once again, specialist informants can help with their knowledge of the reviewing process and the negotiation that takes place between author and editor.

Implications for Higher Education Institutions

21This course description highlights the role of the ESP practitioner and thereby underlines the implications for language teaching in higher education institutions and the need for language teacher training within the domain of ESP. To be able to teach such courses, teachers need to be familiar with the genres, the discourse and the procedural issues involved in ESP, and to have conceptual knowledge of how a research community functions. Yet, as we have also seen, few directives are available for this. Language teachers need to be able to analyze student needs, design courses, create materials by didactizing authentic documents and integrating the use of new technologies and distance learning. However, in her analysis of the recruitment of lecturers within the LANSAD domain in 2008, Taillefer pointed to the discrepancy between the low number of students undertaking research in the area of LANSAD and the needs for such teachers. This also raises the issue of teacher training. Taillefer adds that the majority of teachers move up to higher education from secondary level and that, apart from research, there is no formal further education or professional development to train them in this domain. Indeed, the LANSAD sector has traditionally suffered from a lack of consideration, as Taillefer underlines: “In language education, language training for non-language majors has been required since 1973, but such university courses have traditionally suffered from poor integration into curricula, low status and limited human and material resources” (Taillefer 2007, p. 137).

22With regard to the specific needs of doctoral students and in order to share approaches and facilitate course development for colleagues relatively new to ESP, the special interest group “Science and Academia” of the GERAS is currently compiling a white paper focusing on the best practices for teaching courses on research article writing in English and outlining the approach, materials and resources used for such courses within France. Indeed, John Swales, perhaps the most renowned thinker in the area of ESP and the didactic approaches to it, recently had this to say about the 50 years of existence of ESP: “It could well be argued that we have had, over the 50-year history of ESP, all too little careful research in what actually happens in our classrooms. (Swales 2011, p. 273)


23The teaching of ESP/EAP has clearly made great strides in France over the past 40 years and a rich tradition of both fundamental and applied research has developed. The positive impact of this movement is tangible in the quality of the level of expression in scientific English of most young researchers, far surpassing that of many of their senior colleagues. This apparent success story should, however, be mitigated. There are still too many backwaters in French higher education where students do not receive adequate training in this field, mostly for the institutional reasons we have seen. Indeed, unless a proper needs analysis is conducted at the beginning of a training program, there is no way for the end-users, i.e. the students, to know whether what they are receiving in terms of instruction is fully appropriate or not, even though their intuition may tell them so. Consequently, there may be wide variation in the quality of language instruction that learners following ostensibly the same level of course (e.g. Masters in Physics) and with the same objectives are actually receiving. Since not all language departments in France that teach – or purport to teach – LANSAD are involved in the activities of GERAS, APLIUT or UPLEGESS, the result is a patchwork lacking overall harmony.

24This inadequate situation could be offset if appropriate language-learning policies were to be adopted at university level. A paradox in France is that, while primary and secondary education often seems to undergo global policy change capable of triggering public protests in the street, the issue of language teaching at university level receives little attention. A cost-effective way of drawing up a set of recommendations for teaching LANSAD in France would be to create a group of recognized experts in the domain such as the abovementioned special interest group of the GERAS, who could establish clear attainable objectives for masters and doctoral students to achieve. These could be based on existing guidelines such as the CEFRL descriptors and on the curriculum guidelines resulting from evidence-based research. It would then be simple to issue these recommendations to universities. Colleagues requiring further pedagogical training could be encouraged to participate in dedicated courses to allow them to gain the pedagogical skills and know-how required at this level. Further impetus for this might be provided by the recent creation of the Ecoles Supérieures du Professorat et de l’Education (ESPE). One of their missions will be to provide further pedagogical training for university teachers, an issue that has received little attention until now since excellence in French universities has been measured more in terms of research achievements than pedagogical achievements.

25In conclusion, the know-how needed to improve the present situation is already at hand. What is required now is a concerted effort from the top in order to capitalize on the capabilities already existing at grassroots level. If the latter were allowed full expression and were to receive the support to do so, the overall picture of LANSAD teaching in France would become brighter.

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Barrault-Méthy, A-M, (2012). Institutional Language Policy regarding Universities: the contribution of positioning theory. European Journal of Language Policy, 4(2), 191-216.

Basturkmen, H. (2010). Developing Courses in English for Specific Purposes. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Birch-Becaas, S. & Cooke, R. (2012). Raising collective awareness of rhetorical strategies: Using an online writing tool to demonstrate discourse moves in the ESP classroom. In A. Boulton, S. Carter-Thomas & E. Rowley-Jolivet (Eds). Corpus-Informed Research and Learning in ESP. (pp. 239-260). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

CLES web site accessed 21 March 2013.

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Scientific English Course for LANSAD Doctoral Students

Module 1: From Research to Publication (6 hr)
The first part of this module will focus on the writing up of research by studying discourse models and familiarizing participants with typical structures and rhetorical functions of scientific writing. Examples of “introduction” sections will be studied to highlight the language forms and functions and to assist students in the drafting of their own introductions that conform to the norms of their discourse community.

The second part of this module will focus on (1) the publication process (how to choose the best journal for your paper, definition of Impact Factor, DOI, order of the authors, aims and scope of the journal, editorial and publishing policies) and (2) the reviewing process (from both the reviewer’s and author’s point of view).

Module 2: From Text to Talk (6 hr)
This module guides students from the written word to the spoken word. The first day will be devoted principally to working on specialized texts and developing strategies for extracting the most pertinent information from them, before preparing that information for oral presentation. Students will work collaboratively in pairs. Some work will be done on common pronunciation problems. The second day will be spent presenting the information to the rest of the class, identifying useful terms and phrases for oral communication and reflecting on what makes a good presentation from both a linguistic and paralinguistic point of view. Each mini-presentation will be followed by a question and answer session providing students with the opportunity to work on the skills necessary for navigating this sometimes perilous phase of the scientific oral presentation.

Module 3: From Observation to Extrapolation (6 hr)
Written scientific discourse can be broken down into sub-components or sub-genres. Module 1 will already have opened up perspectives by examining the introduction sub-genre. The focus in Module 3 is the discussion, i.e. how laboratory or field observations can be transposed into confirmation or not of initial hypotheses, and how such confirmation can in turn be used to formulate fresh hypotheses. Participants will be brought to reflect on the discourse strategies used in discussions, how they may differ across the specialties, and on the typical language clusters that may serve to express such ideas.

Module 4: From Research to Communication (6 hr)
This module gets participants thinking about what skills are involved in effective scientific communication in situations ranging from delivering a talk to an audience to presenting a poster or taking part in a debate. The emphasis will be laid on the phonological, verbal and non-verbal features of oral communication. A primary objective will be to make the participants autonomous and give them some tools to help them improve their oral skills.

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1 For example, the University of Bordeaux broke up into four separate universities, each with its own governance.

2 The DEUG (Diplôme d’Etudes Universitaires Générales) after two years, the Licence after three years, the Maîtrise after four years and the DEA (Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies) after five.

3 Three of the four universities in Bordeaux have now decided to merge into a single establishment. See accessed 28 January 2014.

4 Figuring in good position on the Shanghai Index has become of paramount importance for universities.

5 It is widely admitted that the first reference to this emerging domain was made by Barber in 1962. See Swales, 1988, for Barber’s original article reproduced in extenso.

6 Our translation.

7 Profession Infirmier: 2009.

8 For a discussion of these recommendations and how they are worded, see Barrault-Methy, 2012.

9 accessed 21 March 2013.

10 JORF n° 99 du 27 avril 2002 page 7630 texte n° 51.

11 The article describes the requirement as “ the aptitude to master at least one foreign language” (our translation).

12 Jolion Report, p 19, our translation.

13 For a discussion of these requirements, see Fries (2009).

14 JORF n° 195, 24 August 2006, page 12468, text n° 22.

15 Our translation.

16 For further discussion of this procedure, see Birch & Cooke, 2012.

17 For an overview of CLIL in higher education, see Taillefer 2013.

18 See Whyte (2013) for description of an oral presentation course for doctoral students.

19 See annex for description of modules offered.

20 See Flowerdew (1999) and Swales (1990) for discussion of these difficulties. For example, writing a discussion requires mastery of structures expressing hypothesis and personal opinion, so the writer needs to understand how to use modal verbs and hedging strategies.

21 TYOS, an online scientific writing tool. accessed 28 January 2014.

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Référence papier

Susan Birch-Becaas et Ray Cooke, « From policy to practice: optimizing resources for teaching scientific writing acceptable to international discourse community norms  », Les dossiers des sciences de l’éducation, 32 | 2014, 49-64.

Référence électronique

Susan Birch-Becaas et Ray Cooke, « From policy to practice: optimizing resources for teaching scientific writing acceptable to international discourse community norms  », Les dossiers des sciences de l’éducation [En ligne], 32 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2014, consulté le 16 octobre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/dse.662

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Susan Birch-Becaas

Maître de conférences à l’université de Bordeaux, membre du laboratoire Laboratoire Cultures – Éducation – Sociétés (LACES).

Ray Cooke

Maître de conférences à l’université de Bordeaux, membre du Laboratoire Cultures – Éducation – Sociétés (LACES).

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Les dossiers des sciences de l’éducation est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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