Susan Conrad

Making sense of disciplinary knowledge, academic contexts, and non-academic contexts in language for specific purposes: Lessons from corpus linguistics and beyond

In this presentation I will discuss a problem that often occurs in teaching and research in language for specific purposes: proficiency in the language of a discipline is equated with academic language proficiency while most students hope to work in non-academic contexts. Using evidence from my own project in civil engineering as well as other projects, I will show why it is misleading to base our understanding of a discipline solely on the academic context and why this can cause problems for students’ language learning. I will demonstrate the need for research to differentiate the values of the discipline generally, the values more specific to academia, and the values more specific to industry contexts, and to see how each of these is reflected in language use. I will then discuss the implications from three perspectives. First, what do these results mean for teaching, especially given that LSP teachers cannot be expected to know all disciplines and all contexts? Second, what are the implications for research design when disciplines are studied? Third, particularly for corpus-based studies, what additional perspectives beyond text analysis are needed for understanding languages for specific purposes?

Susan Conrad is a Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, USA. Her work has focused on using corpus linguistics to describe and teach English grammar and discourse so that people can investigate language for themselves and understand how to make effective language choices in their own communication.  She is co-author and co-editor of numerous books including The Cambridge Introduction to Applied Linguistics (2020), Register, Genre, and Style (2019/2009), Real Grammar (2009), and the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (1999). With grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, she started the Civil Engineering Writing Project, a multi-university project in which corpus linguists, engineering faculty, and engineers in industry collaborate to improve writing instruction for civil engineering students. The work has won two awards from the American Society for Engineering Education. Susan started her career teaching English in Africa and Asia.

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