Fiona Aish and Jo Tomlinson are the authors of Collins Academic Skills Series: Lectures. Read the mini interview below to find out why and how Lectures will help international students at English-medium universities.
Jo and Fiona are directors of Target English Ltd, a company specialising in teaching English for Academic Purposes and English for exams. Apart from Lectures, they have co-authored three books in the Collins English for Exams series: Listening for IELTS, Grammar for IELTS and Get Ready for IELTS: Writing.
Who did you write Lectures for and what is the book all about?
The book was written with the many international students we’ve taught in mind. There is a huge difference between listening to a conversation on the street and trying to make sense of a lecture, and we wanted to help students make the jump.
To do this, we looked at the many aspects of lectures students can find difficult and we outlined strategies so that students are ready when they are in the actual lecture room.
The book focuses on real-life lectures, which was especially important to us, as so many books on listening use pre-prepared lectures which aren’t always similar to what’s actually happening in the real-life lecture room. We also wanted to show how lectures fit into university life as a whole and relate to the assessments that students will have to do.
Why do international students struggle when attending lectures?
We often keep in touch with our international students who go on to university, and they generally comment that listening to lectures is really difficult to get used to. They struggle for many reasons; perhaps the lecturer is not used to speaking to people from other countries, perhaps the lecturer speaks in an unusual accent, perhaps the student is not used to listening for an hour while taking notes, or perhaps the student is not familiar with the quite distinctive features of ‘lecturing speech’.
In your opinion, what’s the most difficult thing when attending a lecture?
It entirely depends on the student; for some it can be the very problem of understanding, while for others it‘s the identification of main points that should be noted down. The dual skill of being able to listen while writing is a difficult one to master in a first language, and in a second language needs a lot of practice. There are also quite a lot of cultural norms which students may not be familiar with, such as digressions, the use of humour and whether or not students are allowed to ask questions during a lecture. All lecturers have different styles and this in itself can be confusing for students. Fortunately, there is lots of material on the Internet for students to practise from – such as the additional, free online recordings and transcripts accompanying our book Lectures, and they’ll also get a lot of practice at university. Plus, of course, there’s also our new book itself!
How does your book Lectures help international students?
The most important thing about our book is that it focuses on authentic lectures. It includes explanations of why lectures are like they are and it provides scaffolded exercises in listening skills, language and pronunciation. Students may find some lectures in the book more difficult than others, and that is just like real-life. Lectures highlights all of these real-life difficulties, as well as outlining the language and pronunciation features involved in listening. And it gives lots of practice in dealing with them.
How did you go about writing this book and why?
We wanted the book to reflect what actually happens inside the lecture theatre. To do this, we recorded a series of lectures at universities. We were lucky enough to record lectures at some really prestigious universities and are grateful to the lecturers involved. Then we analysed the features of speech and language being used. We also talked to many international students at university about their experiences with lectures, and the difficulties they face.
This gave us really useful real-life data to work from. We set about providing language analysis and study strategies for all these issues. Our main aim was to create a useful hands-on tool for students who are about to go and study at an English-medium university.