Understanding ESP (English for Specific Purposes)

English for Specific Purposes - Introduction

ESP (English for Specific Purposes) has been referred to as "applied ELT" as the content and aims of any course are determined by the needs of a specific group of learners. ESP is often divided into EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and EOP (English for Occupational Purposes). Further sub-divisions of EOP are sometimes made into business English, professional English (e.g. English for doctors, lawyers) and vocational English (e.g. English for tourism, nursing, aviation, bricklaying). You will find special sections for Business English and English for Academic Purposes elsewhere on this website.

According to Dudley-Evans (2001) the absolute characteristics of ESP are:

* ESP is designed to meet the specific needs of the learners.
* ESP makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the specialism it serves.
* It is centred not only on the language (grammar, lexis, register), but also the skills, discourses and genres appropriate to those activities.

ESP practitioners are also becoming increasingly involved in intercultural communication and the development of intercultural competence.

For Dudley-Evans (2001) the defining characteristic of ESP is that teaching and materials are based on the results of a needs analysis. The key questions are:

* What do students need to do with English?
* Which of the skills do they need to master and how well?
* Which genres do they need to master either for comprehension or production purposes?

Traditionally ESP courses were typically designed for intermediate or advanced adult learners. Nowadays many students can start to learn academic or vocational English at an earlier age and at a lower level of proficiency.

ESP has become increasingly important as:

* There has been an increase in vocational training and learning throughout the world.
* With the spread of globalisation has come the increasing use of English as the language of international communication. More and more people are using English in a growing number of occupational contexts.
* Students are starting to learn and therefore master general English at a younger age, and so move on to ESP at an earlier age.

An increasing number of learners are taught in English medium schools using approaches such as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning).

In some English speaking countries governments are launching initiatives to help economic migrants obtain the practical English skills necessary to function in the workplace. For example, the new ESOL for Work Qualifications in the UK are designed to help employers and employees access courses which offer them the functional language skills demanded across a variety of employment sectors. Content includes topics such as customer care and health and safety.

Some teachers are afraid of making the transition from teaching general English to teaching ESP. There is also the danger that the novice ESP teacher will only use materials that they feel comfortable with and will not stretch their learners.

Bell (2002) argues that the depth of knowledge of a subject matter that a teacher requires depends on a number of variables which include:

* How much do the learners know about their specialism?
* Are the students pre-experience or post-experience learners?
* How specific and detailed are the language, skills and genres that the learners need to learn?

Although you perhaps don't need to be an expert in a specialist area, you do need to have some awareness and feel for a particular vocational area. Bell (2002) advocates the three Cs for helping teachers to improve their knowledge and skills in a particular area of ESP.

* Curiosity
The teacher should be interested in the subject area and want to learn more.
* Collaboration
Teachers should seek out subject specialists, show them their work and ask for their feedback.
* Confidence
Confidence will grow as teachers explore the new subject matter, engage with subject specialists and learn from their learners.

Harding (2007) stresses that the general skills that a general English teacher uses e.g. being communicative, using authentic materials and analysing English in a practical way are also applicable to ESP. He also suggests that teachers should:

* Think about what is needed and don't just follow an off-the-shelf course or course book.
* Understand the nature of their students' subject area.
* Work out their language needs in relation to their specialism.
* Use contexts, texts, situations from their subject area.
* Use authentic materials.
* Make the tasks as authentic as possible.
* Motivate the students with variety, relevance and fun.
* Take the classroom into the real world and bring the real world into the classroom.

Like it or not, the days of the EFL generalist teacher may be numbered, so it might just be time to explore the possibility of working in ESP!

Acronyms in ESP
CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning)
EAP (English for Academic Purposes)
EBP (English for Business Purposes)
ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes)
EGAP (English for General Academic Purposes)
EMP (English for Medical Purposes)
EOP (English for Occupational Purposes)
EPP (English for Professional Purposes)
EST (English for Science and Technology)
EVP (English for Vocational Purposes)
EWP (English for/in the Workplace)


References
Bell, D (2002) ‘Help! I've been asked to teach a class on ESP!' in IATEFL Voices, Issue 169, Oct/Nov
Dudley-Evans, T (2001) ‘English for Specific Purposes' in The Cambridge Guide to TESOL, Cambridge University Press
Harding, K (2007) English for Specific Purposes, Oxford University Press

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