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English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is based on designing courses/activities to meet learners’ specific needs. It involves teaching English with particular attention to a certain area; e.g. business, tourism, medicine, law, engineering, art, or science.
ESP combines subject matter and English language teaching. Such a combination is highly motivating because students are able to apply what they learn in their English classes to their main field of study or work. Being able to use what they learn in a meaningful context reinforces what is taught and increases their motivation.
The demand for ESP has grown considerably in recent years, particularly in the area of in-company language training.
On his book Developments in English for Specific Purposes: A multi-disciplinary approach (1998), Tony Dudley-Evans describes ESP in terms of absolute and variable characteristics:
1. ESP is defined to meet specific needs of the learners,
2. ESP makes use of underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves,
3. ESP is centred on the language appropriate to these activities in terms of grammar, lexis, register, study skills, discourse and genre.
1. ESP may be related to or designed for specific disciplines,
2. ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that of General English,
3. ESP is likely to be designed for adult learners, either at a tertiary level institution or in a professional work situation. It could, however, be for learners at secondary school level,
4. ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students,
5. Most ESP courses assume some basic knowledge of the language systems.
From the definition, we can see that ESP is not necessarily concerned with a specific discipline, nor does it have to be aimed at a certain age group or ability range. As Hutchinson and Waters (English for Specific Purposes: A learner-centered approach, 1987) put it “ESP is an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner’s reason for learning”.
When it comes to ESP, there’s a differentiation between English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP), even though when most people say ESP they normally refer to the latter.
English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs are designed for students and professionals at all levels who:
Programs may be divided into pre-session courses and courses taken alongside students’ other subjects. EAP courses running alongside other degree courses may employ Content-based instruction, either using material from the students’ degree subjects or as an independent, elective-like course.
In common with most language teaching, EAP instruction teaches vocabulary, grammar, and the four skills (Redding, writing, speaking -including pronunciation- and listening), but usually tries to tie these to the specific study needs of students. E.g. a writing lesson would focus on writing essays rather than business letters. Similarly, the vocabulary chosen for study tends to be based on academic texts. In addition, EAP teachers often find that, either directly or indirectly, they are teaching study skills and often having to tackle differences in educational culture, such as differing attitudes to plagiarism.
English for occupational purposes (EOP) refers to the specific ways English is used in different work and professional situations. Learners learn English according to their professional needs, which are sometimes before starting their profession as a pre-experience or mid their work as a simultaneous or after starting their work as a post-experience.
There is a wide range of possibilities within this field: Business English, English in Law, Medicine, Administration, Hospitality, etc.
Even though most of the EOP courses are thought for higher level students, reality shows us that many professionals need to acquire basic communication skills in English within their specific professional area without having previous English knowledge. Thus, from our practice, we’ve come across a collective of technicians needing to learn technical English as they deal with it in international fairs. In this case the course has to be very carefully prepared and should include both technical vocabulary along with general linguistic functions.
Actually, there is always an area of common English that takes part in any ESP syllabus. For instance, making an appointment is a general function any L2 student acquires but it is also present in English for Medicine, English in Law, English for Tourism, etc.
An ESP teacher does not need to be an expert on the ESP topic to begin with. What is desirable is an interest in, and at times a passion for, a particular subject or discipline, and then the hands-on knowledge will be picked up as you go along.
A lot of specialist guidance can also be found on the Internet:
It’s bi-annual Journal called ‘Professional and Academic English’ contains topical ESP articles, and its three books deal with selected aspects of ESP.
It’s e-mail discussion list can be useful for ESP teachers involved in teaching Business English-related courses
In any case, what you definitely need to consider when creating an ESP course are the answers to the following:
The general characteristics of ESP activities are more or less the same as the other activities that we have looked at. The main difference is that the ESP activities will appear in the particular context of the specific field they refer to.
It is important to understand that the language, the structures and the main part of the vocabulary belongs to the so called common English as sometimes students fail to understand that the basis for any activity for specific purposes is the same English that they use in any other context.
When preparing ESP activities consider the following aspects:
The following examples are taken from a business presentation activity used at Oxbridge.
The activity has to correspond to the issue and sub-issue and describe the learning goals, the expected learning outcomes and the means to achieve them.
11 – The world of work
12 – Business skills: meetings, making your point, inviting people to speak, follow-up, types of meeting.
For students to use vocabulary usually employed in meetings while taking different roles as chairpersons or staff members.
Introduce the context in which the ESP vocabulary will be present. You can select scenarios that the learners will identify easily from their work environment.
Make the introduction as engaging as possible.
Include some questions to set the scenario and check the students’ knowledge about the subject you are about to discuss.
- Who normally runs meetings in your company?
- How do you normally start a meeting? And end it?
Many ESP activities are based on case studies. It is a good way of activating the related TL. Case studies can be used for all possible varieties of ESP areas: Medicine, Law, Accountancy, Finance, Business, Hospitality industry, Academic purposes, etc.
Very often activities for business related subjects can include a SWOT analysis, where the students are encouraged to analyse the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a sample company or product and relate them to their own experience.
A key for the teacher is even more necessary due to the specific information that is included in the activity.
Guess the meaning
Show Students definitions and TL then get them to guess what the words mean. Once they have done that get them to give positive and negative sentences or a question.
address- deal with; speak on
show of hands- raised hands to express an opinion in a vote
opening remarks- chairperson or leader’s first words at a meeting (i.e. welcome, introductions)
allocate- assign roles/tasks to certain people
adjourn- close a meeting
AOB- Any Other Business (unspecified item on agenda)
closing remarks- last thoughts spoken in a meeting (i.e. reminders, thank yous)
show of hands – raised hands to express an opinion in a vote
Concept check questions
Conduct it as in the general English activities, containing the TL specifically selected for the ESP activity.
Summarise and conclude as in the general English activities.
- What is another word for ‘assign’?
- Use ‘assign’ as part of something you would say during a meeting.
- What is a synonym of ‘deal with’?
- What do you have to ‘deal with’ this afternoon/evening?
- What is AOB?
- When would you use ‘adjourn’ during a meeting?
Bear in mind that TL will be very focused on specific terminology and common vocabulary used in a different way according to the specific field. Don’t forget interesting idioms as in business, sports, medicine, law, etc. that have acquired broader usage.
Target language -
Definition: to deal with
Example: I hope we do not have to address this matter again in the future.
Definition: close a meeting
Example: If there are no further comments, we will adjourn the meeting now.
Definition: To set apart for a particular purpose
Example: He allocated a specific time for the meeting.
Attachments of ESP activities follow the same format as the general English activities but normally include more graphs, tables, data analysis and charts.
The header should have a name: e.g. Coca Cola SWOT analysis.
Running a meeting
ROLE PLAY SCENARIOS
The meeting will be a fictional company called Paris Tours. The owner of the small tour company is Pierre. He has ten employees, including four supervisors, Kana and Thomas (guides), Nolan (driver), and Jane (receptionist). These four supervisors will be called to a meeting to discuss the upcoming tourist season.
PIERRE – OPENING REMARKS
PIERRE – CLOSING REMARKS
People who study English in a Business context also like having fun while learning a language. Here are some games you can use, bearing in mind that they would be used depending on the purpose of the activity:
Students send short “emails” written on scraps of paper to each other to try to make new arrangements, e.g. going for a drink after work or having a meeting. The person who has made the most new arrangements in 3-5 minutes is the winner of the game.
One student tries to explain a business word or expression without saying it, any part of it, or any variations on it. For example, if they are trying to explain “marketing executive”, they can say “The first word is like sales and the second word is like director”, but they can’t say “market” or “execute”. When someone guesses what they are trying to define, give points either by how quickly they explained it or just one point to the person who explained and the person who guessed.
Another fun way to make the language of trends and describing graphs fun is to get students to describe some real data about themselves, e.g. the number of CDs in their collection. Their partner listens, draws the graph and tries to guess what it represents. Other fun graph topics are height, English level, amount of hair on head, number of hours sleep etc.
Presentations is another Business English activity that is motivating but can finish without any clear conclusion. The best general tactic is to get students to vote at the end of all the presentations on which of the ideas from the other teams (they cannot vote for themselves) they preferred. This activity works best when students are presenting their own ideas with a little help from the teacher, e.g. being given the photo of a real or imaginary invention and being asked to imagine what it can be used for and present their ideas.
English language teaching is commonly related to a teaching process in which teachers select and suggest a textbook as a reference and follow its syllabus as a guide. Teachers often complement textbooks in order to personalize their classes. However they realize that relying on a textbook only is not enough and they have to include more and more external resources for more dynamic and engaging classes.
Here are some considerations on why course books are useful and what is the alternative of the traditional textbook.
The amount of different textbooks you can find in the market is huge, but how do we know what type of a textbook we have in our hands? What are the requisites of good textbooks? What makes them different from one another?
Here are some questions for your consideration:
Jeremy Harmer in his book How to teach English mentions the following issues to consider when choosing a course book:
- Price: can the students afford it?
- Availability: is the course and all its components available?
- Layout and design: is the book attractive? User-friendly design?
- Methodology: what kind of teaching and learning does the book promote?
- Skills: does it cover the four skills? Is there a balance between skills?
- Syllabus: is it appropriate for your students?
- Topic: does it contain variety of topics?
- Stereotyping: does it represent people and situations in a fair and equal way?
- Teachers guide: is there a good teacher’s guide? Is it easy to use?
Example of a checklist used for textbook selection:
According to Neville Grant in Making the Most of Your Textbook there are 4 approaches:
How can we overcome potential problems when using textbooks in class?
Ways of Overcoming Problem
|The textbook is designed as the sole source of information.||Students only see one perspective on a concept or issue.||Provide students with lots of information sources such as trade books, CD-ROMS, websites, encyclopaedias, etc.|
|Textbook is old or outdated.||Information shared with students is not current or relevant.||Use textbook sparingly or supplement with other materials.|
|Textbook questions tend to be low level or fact-based.||Students assume that learning is simply a collection of facts and figures.||Ask higher-level questions and provide creative thinking and problem-solving activities.|
|Textbook doesn’t take students’ background knowledge into account.||Teacher does not tailor lessons to the specific attributes and interests of students.||Discover what students know about a topic prior to teaching. Design the lesson based on that knowledge.|
|Reading level of the textbook is too difficult.||Students cannot read or understand important concepts.||Use lots of supplemental materials such as library books, Internet, CD-ROMs, etc.|
|The textbook has all the answer to all the questions.||Students tend to see learning as an accumulation of correct answers.||Involve students in problem-solving activities, higher-level thinking questions, and extending activities.|