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Historical Course Materials

iCUSU used to host a series of weekly classes aimed at helping international students improve their academic English. However, this has been terminated since 2012 due to diminishing interest; please let us know by email if you are keen to have it revived! For the benefit of students, the content used for these classes can be found below:

Michaelmas Term 2011

Class Materials

When Where Handouts
Wednesday 12/10/2011 19.30-21.00 Keynes Hall, King's College here
Wednesday 19/10/2011 17.45-19.30 Munby room, King's College here
Wednesday 26/10/2011 17.45-19.30 Munby room, King's College here
Wednesday 02/11/2011 17.30-19.30 Munby room, King's College here
Wednesday 09/11/2011 17.30-19.30 Munby room, King's College
Wednesday 16/11/2011 17.30-19.30 Munby room, King's College
Wednesday 23/11/2011 17.30-19.30 Munby room, King's College
Wednesday 30/11/2011 17.30-19.30 Munby room, King's College

Provisional timetable

Week 1 Introductory talk: 'Learning English Independently' Listening exercise: 'Five Minutes with Prof. Brian Cox

Week 2 Writing exercise: Introducing Yourself to a Supervisor

Week 3 Writing exercise: Requesting Feedback from an Academic Reader

Week 4 Speaking exercise: Making Professional Contacts at Conferences

Week 5 Writing exercise: Writing a Proposal for a Conference Paper

Week 6 Listening exercise: The Today Programme

Week 7 Speaking and listening exercise: a presentation from a class member

Week 8 Writing exercise: Summary of research carried out for a funding body

Class rationale:

In this term's series of Academic English sessions, we will be closely simulating tasks students will have to face in studying at Cambridge. We will especially be practising para-academic communication—that is, writing of a kind that would not usually form part of polished, published academic work but which is necessary to take a student through to the publishing stage. In this category we can place, for example, communicating with a supervisor and other academic mentors, applying for funding and organizing or offering to contribute at scholarly conferences.

Every week, participants in the sessions will be asked to complete a brief exercise beforehand (most usually writing an email or text of not more than 400 words). Sometimes preparation will take the form of working out a rough script for participation in a roleplay exercise, and sometimes it will involve listening. Students should not spend more than thirty minutes on this task. Further, they are encouraged to be exploratory with their language, rather than safely correct, when writing. As the teacher, I will make a commitment to look at a maximum of twenty persons' work (on the set exercise) every week.

Participation in the class will thus be capped at twenty. In previous years, more people than this have come at the start of Michaelmas Term and fewer towards the end. If the class's initial enrolment exceeds twenty, the overflow will be placed on a reserve list and take up places once original participants drop out by virtue of failing to produce a piece of work for the week. Anyone completing a full year of the course will receive a certificate and the offer of a reference.

However, the classes are informal and bear no relation to any form of certification offered by the University. Participants will quickly see, if they are not already aware, that two hours' instruction a week cannot offer any panacea for the whole range of problems they have with English; and that the best-placed persons to overcome such problems are themselves. At most, I can serve as a friendly sounding-board and a port of call when students need to know, on some specific issue, whether or not a certain English usage is right.

These classes assume a high level of English (though the exercises are designed to be accessible to people at different stages of learning the language) whilst being dependent on the likelihood that participants cannot match the social and linguistic fluency of native speakers. The people who stand to benefit most from the sessions will likely be in their first or second year of postgraduate work, perhaps having taken their first degrees in a language other than English. Anyone, however, is welcome, including undergraduates; and it should be in the class's favour that it brings together a wide range of participants of different nationalities, academic subjects and goals in life.

I would also like to invite last year's best attenders to this year's course, for which the material is new and the structure of my reading students' work slightly more formalized.

Michaelmas Term 2010

Class Materials

When Where Handouts
Thursday 14/10/2009 18.30-20.00 Queens' Building Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College -
Wednesday 20/10/2010 18.30-20.00 Camden House Drawing Room, Emmanuel College here
Wednesday 27/10/2010 18.30-20.00 Camden House Drawing Room, Emmanuel College here
Wednesday 03/11/2010 18.30-20.00 CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site here
Wednesday 10/11/2010 18.30-20.00 CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site here
Friday 19/11/2010 19.00-20.30 CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site -
Wednesday 24/11/2010 18.30-20.00 CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site here
Wednesday 01/12/2010 18.30-20.00 CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site here

Provisional timetable

Week 1 Introductory lecture: diagnostic listening and writing exercises

Week 2 Listening exercise: an artefact from Confucian China

Week 3 Correctness and politeness in para-academic language: writing exercise asking an inattentive supervisor for help

Week 4 Article usage in English: grammar session on this difficult topic

Week 5 Debating methods in econometrics: speaking exercise in teams

Week 6 Chance and inevitability in evolution: reading and writing exercise on summarising authentic English

Week 7 The Today Programme: listening exercise on the morning's news

Week 8 Taking pleasure in writing English: writing exercise on popular misconceptions

Class Ethos

The idea behind this class is to allow a small group of people to come together to receive guidance on English academic writing. The atmosphere is relaxed, offering students the opportunity to raise their own language and other issues and (if they want) to go off for a drink afterwards. The people most likely to get something out of the class will be those able to get on with their classmates and with the teacher and to make a long-term commitment to their English.

In the class, the primary focus will be less on students' own writing than on three distinct areas:

  • 1) the relatively informal but still academic writing students have to do in communicating with their supervisors and academic authorities;
  • 2) long-standing areas of difficulty in English, which students must get right for the sake of their English interlocutors; and
  • 3) general themes of interest mostly taken from popularisations of academic science, sociology and psychology and from current affairs, which tend to lead to writing exercises. Much more of what we will be doing will concern writing and listening than the other skills.

All intending students are please asked to bring along a wireless computer (or computer with an airport card) and samples of their own work each week.

Time, Place, and Other Information

You can express interest in the course by signing up for the English class mailing list (you may subscribe by simply sending a blank email to cusu-international-course-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk).

Anyone turning up for the first session will get the chance to sense whether the course is for them. This will take place onThursday 14th October and last from 18.30 to 20.00. The venue will be the Queens' Building Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College.

The remaining classes of the term will take place once a week on Wednesday, and will last from 18.30 to 20.00. The venue will be Camden House Drawing Room, Emmanuel College in Weeks 2 & 3 and CUSU Conference Room, New Museums Site in Weeks 4 to 8.

There will be a limit of 20 students (except the first session), with the class filling up on a 'first come-first serve' basis. However, it is highly likely that students will drop out as term progresses, meaning that those on the reserve list who are genuinely willing to come every week stand an excellent chance of becoming permanent members of the group.

Class material will generally be posted up on the iCUSU website one or two days before each class. Below you can find samples of previous class material, which should give you an idea of our typical material and subjects of discussion.

Reading

Writing

Speaking

Listening

NB: The course requires real commitment on the part of the students. Initially the course will be run as a self-contained 8-week program, though after the Michaelmas Term has ended the teacher will be receptive to students' input on future themes and activities. Students dropping out will be replaced by new members if the course is over-subscribed. It should be also be emphasized that this class is not a forum where you only bring your own personal work for correction. The direction of the course beyond what is advertised, however, will be flexible, and students can bring in proposals on what to study to class as well as specific concerns.

About the teacher

James Griffiths studied at the Universities of Cambridge, Yale and California, Berkeley and has worked for many years with international students on their English-language academic writing. He has qualifications in Teaching English as a Second Language and Linguistics, though his initial area of study was literature.

Please contact the teacher James Griffiths at jag1004@cam.ac.uk for further information.

Lent Term 2011

This term's class will be a continuation of the sessions in the Michaelmas Term, although there is space for a few (say 4-6) participants who can make the commitment to following the series up to its conclusion. This will involve participants standing up in the front of the class and giving a presentation of a topic connected with their work. The sessions thus aim to offer a supportive learning environment in which students can progress to speaking in English with greater confidence and correctness.

To describe those parts of the class concerned with spoken English in more detail, the class will build up to students giving a 15 min. oral presentation on a topic (possibly their own work) in their field. Class participants will make the first move in terms of nominating an established book or article in their discipline to which they can post an interesting response (they might, for example, think it in some way incomplete, misleading or suggestive). The teacher, James Griffiths, will ask them a series of basic questions on this work, which will be followed up by the questions of other session participants. Over successive sessions and through having to field more and more difficult and specific questions and taking down notes in correct English, participants will progress to the point where they can structure, write and present their own talk.

Second, the class will use examples deriving both from works proposed by students and classic academic and popularising texts of my selection to illustrate certain maxims of English style. We will look at these 'rules' fairly strictly in terms of grammar.

Timetable

Week 1 Speaking exercise: themes and arguments of your texts

Week 2 Maxims of style (1): Subject-Verb-Object

Week 3 Speaking exercise: identifying problems and voicing objections

Week 4 Maxims of style (2): Adverbs and Adverb Clauses

Week 5 Speaking exercise: notes and visual cues

Week 6 Maxims of style (3): Object complements

Week 7 Maxims of style (4): Simplicity and pleasure

Week 8 Student presentations

Suggested texts

Joseph Raz, 'Can There Be a Theory of Law?', in Between Authority and Interpretation (Oxford, 2009)

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, intro. (London, 2010)

Richard Fortey, Fossils: The History of Life (London, 1982)

Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, Birds Britannica (London, 2005)

Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (London, 2002)

Noam Chomsky, 'Form and Meaning in Natural Languages', in Language and Mind (Cambridge, 2006 ed.)

Michaelmas Term 2009

Provisional Timetable

Week 1 Journalistic vs. academic prose: reading and writing exercise on the Yerkes-Dodson effect on rural Indian subjects

Week 2 Correctness and politeness in para-academic language: writing exercise on asking an inattentive supervisor for help

Week 3 Article usage in English: grammar session on this difficult topic

Week 4 An Irving Berlin cabaret song: listening session with a literary text and difficult vocabulary

Week 5 Negotiating an industrial purchase: speaking exercise in teams

Week 6 Chance and inevitability in evolution: reading and writing exercise on summarising authentic English

Week 7 Strong and weak claims: writing exercise

Week 8 The Today Programme: listening exercise on the morning's news

Week 9 Taking pleasure in writing English: writing exercise on popular misconceptions

Lent Term 2010

Week 2: Writing exercise. Statement of a development project and business letter requesting funds

We will look at some of the language of development and go over a task in which you assume the persona of a development worker writing to representatives of a multinational

Week 3: Writing exercise. Summary of a statement of a scientific theory

We will try to produce a relatively complex statement of how evolution proceeds

Week 4: Speaking exercise. Negotiation task

We will go over various versions of a role-play exercise in which you take on the personae of purchasers of a raw material from a supplier

Week 5: Listening Comprehension.

We will focus on the British news treatment of a significant international news story

When Where Handouts
Friday 16/10/2009 1830-2000 Coach House at New Hall College
Thursday 22/10/2009 1830-2000 New Hall College Video Room here
Thursday 29/10/2009 1945-2110 New Hall College Video Room
Wednesday 4/11/2009 1830-2000 New Hall College Video Room here
Wednesday 11/11/2009 1800-1930 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices, in New Museums Site here
Wednesday 25/11/2009 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices, in New Museums Site here
Wednesday 2/12/2009 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices, in New Museums Site here
Wednesday 20/1/2010 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices
Wednesday 27/1/2010 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices
Wednesday 3/2/2010 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices
Wednesday 10/2/2010 1830-2000 Conference Room in the CUSU Offices