A corpus-based analysis of academic lectures across disciplines

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This study was undertaken in response to a survey of the listening needs and lacks of international students, conducted as part of the process of creating materials to help non-native speakers develop academic listening skills (Kelly, Nesi and Revell 2000). One hundred and thirty international students representing twenty-eight different countries took part in the survey and were questioned about the problems they had experienced listening to British university lectures. It emerged that by far the greatest area of concern, attracting more than 50% more comments than the next most frequently mentioned problem area, was ‘taking notes at speed’. The students’ response led me to examine the interrelationship between speed of lecture delivery and the ‘noteworthiness’ of lecture content. How fast do lecturers typically speak? How much of what lecturers say are students intended to write down? Does a fast-paced lecture necessarily pose a greater challenge to the student note-taker? Clearly these are broad questions that cannot be satisfactorily answered in a single research paper. Yet they are also questions that have received very little attention from researchers. A body of research has now built up concerning the patterns of argumentation prevalent in lectures across disciplines, and the strategies lecturers employ to mark structure, present ideas, and indicate the relative importance of propositions within the lecture. There are, for example, the corpus-based studies of DeCarrico and Nattinger (1988), Strodt-Lopez (1991), Thompson (1994, 1998), and Young (1994), and some more detailed analyses of just one or two lectures typical of specific disciplines (Dudley Evans and Johns 1981, Olsen and Huckin 1990, Dudley-Evans 1994). Studies have also been undertaken to examine the note-taking strategies and behaviour of the students themselves (for example Clerehan 1995, McKnight 1999, and White, Badger, Higgins and McDonald 2000). Speed and density of delivery, however, have only previously been examined with reference to a broader range of spoken discourse, and no conclusions have been drawn as to the significance and effect of variation between these two factors. The present study examines current research findings concerning the density and speed of spoken discourse generally, in the light of evidence from the BASE corpus of authentic academic speech1. A sample of lectures from this corpus is compared with texts used for lecture comprehension practice in EAP textbooks, and tentative conclusions are reached regarding the relationship between lecturing purpose and delivery style.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2001
EventAnnual meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics - Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Sept 20009 Sept 2000


ConferenceAnnual meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Bibliographical note

The conference was held in September 2000, and the book publication date is 2001.
This copy is not the final print version and is not to be cited.


  • international students
  • academic lectures
  • corpus linguistics


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