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Chapter 4 on ESP (in Motteram, Gary ed (2013) Innovations in learning technology for English language teaching)

on Sat, 04/22/2017 - 13:16

Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons:

real-life language, tasks, and tools for professionals

Nergiz Kern

English for Specific Purposes (ESP), including Business English (BE), has a long history and has become increasingly popular since the 1960s (Anthony, 1997). Universities now offer MAs in ESP courses; there are ESP and BE journals; and special interest groups like the IATEFL or TESOL ESP SIGs (Anthony, 1997) and BE SIGs.
Many language schools offer ESP and BE courses, and increasing numbers of more and more specialised ESP coursebooks, for subjects such as aviation, medicine, and legal English, or BE books such as English for email, are published. There are also conferences dedicated to teaching BE and ESP ( Before describing how technology is used in ESP, I am going to spend some time talking about ESP in general terms.

What is ESP?

If we leave compulsory education aside, people have always learned a language out

of a special need and for a special purpose. This could be the need to communicate

with someone who does not speak a shared language about something ‘specific’, for

example, a tourist who needs to ask someone for directions, a hobbyist who wants

to find out more about his favourite subject on the internet, a business person who

needs to attend meetings with international partners, or a technician who needs to

order parts from a catalogue that is only available in one specific language.

So, what do we mean exactly when we say English for Specific Purposes then? What

is the difference between a general English course and an ESP course? Interestingly,

despite being long established, this has always been debated, even in a recent

IATEFL-TESOL discussion, held in February 2012, and the definitions of ESP have not

only changed over time but different definitions have existed side by side (Smoak,

2003). In the beginning, teachers often thought that in ESP courses, teaching specific

vocabulary was their task. However, in many situations adult professionals know the

technical terms related to their field much better than the teacher, who often does

not know the field-specific terminology (Smoak, 2003). What learners need is to learn

how to use those words in sentences, how to understand authentic texts with

certain field-specific expressions, or how to communicate effectively in typical

situations that arise in their jobs. This is why the analysis of needs, discourse genre,

and linguistic corpora has become so important (Dudley-Evans and Johns, 1991;

Hewings, 2002) in ESP.

However, it is still the case that a lot of the language adult ESP learners need will not

be much different from general English, and indeed, the line between both is often

blurred (Anthony, 1997). First, it was emphasised that in ESP needs analysis was of

paramount importance. However, being influenced by ESP, even in general English

courses, a needs analysis is carried out now more and more, especially with the shift

to a more learner-centred approach in teaching.

Despite this fact and the ongoing discussions, it is generally understood and

accepted that there is a difference between the two. Anthony (1997: online) mentions

that ‘some people described ESP as simply being the teaching of English for any

purpose that could be specified. Others, however, were more precise, describing it

as the teaching of English used in academic studies or the teaching of English for

vocational or professional purposes.’ In 1991, Dudley-Evans and Johns said ‘ESP

requires the careful research and design of pedagogical materials and activities for

an identifiable group of adult learners within a specific learning context’ (1991: 298).

Context, situational practice, cross-cultural issues, authenticity of communication

and materials, and needs analysis are terms that come up in various definitions of

ESP (Grosse and Voigt, 1991; Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998).

Dudley-Evans and St John (1998) offer an extended and flexible definition based

on Streven’s (1988 in Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998: 3):

Absolute characteristics

■■ ESP is defined to meet specific needs of the learners

■■ ESP makes use of underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves

■■ ESP is centred on the language (grammar, lexis, register), study skills, discourse

and genre appropriate for these activities.

Variable characteristics

■■ ESP may be related to, or designed for, specific disciplines

■■ ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that

of general English

■■ 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

■■ ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students; most ESP

courses assume some basic knowledge of the language systems.

(Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998: 4–5)

Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons | 91

This definition can serve as a framework that can encompass various ESP contexts

(Arnó, Soler and Rueda, 2006a).

Variations in definitions have also to do with the different needs of learners in their

workplace. A large airline company, for example, offers English lessons to their

technicians. However, after looking more closely at what they needed, it turned

out that most of the technicians only needed to know the English words for the

parts of an airplane. In fact, the internal training material for new technicians was

a mix of the L1 for the grammar and all the non-technical words, and only the

technical words were in English, for example: Carriers shaft’ın üzerinde iki tane

planet gear vardir. In another department, however, technicians need to understand

more complex English texts when reading original manuals supplied by various

aircraft components producers. These employees need to learn English grammar,

sentence structure, etc., as well as the technical terms. This also shows why needs

analysis is so essential in ESP.

Over time, some areas of ESP have come to be seen as separate, such as EAP

and Business English. In fact, this manifests itself even in this book, where there

is a separate chapter for EAP and even these areas have split up further. There is,

for instance, ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) such as English for

Medical Students, English for Science and Technology, and English for Law. Also,

Busness English has split into more specific areas such as English for Human

Resources, English for Banking, English for Secretaries. So, it seems that the ‘S’

in ESP has become more and more specific over time (Hewings, 2002), which

leads Dudley-Evans and Johns (1991: 336) to remark that ‘there is a dilemma

about how specific the business and vocational English courses should be…’.

Having discussed what ESP means, we can now look at how technology is used in
ESP and BE classes, and how this relates to the definitions of ESP set out above.