Tuesday, June 30, 2009

English for Specific Purposes


ESP is understood to be about preparing learners to use English within Academic, professional, or workplace environments, and a key feature of ESP course design is that syllabus is based on an analysis of the needs of the students. Thus, in ESP, language is learnt not for its own sake or for the sake of gaining a general education but to smooth the path to entry or greater linguistic efficiency in these environments. As the syllabus is based on needs, it is likely to be motivating for learners, who see the obvious relevance of what they are studying. Moreover, most ESP courses are to time constraints and time must be effectively utilized (West, 1994). As students in ESP classes often have restricted time to learn English, it makes sense to teach them only the bits of English they need. Thus the task of the ESP course developer is to identify the needs of the learner and design a course around them.

A number of need analysis studies are reported in the ESP literature. Chia, Johnson, Chia, and Olive (1999) report their investigation of the English language needs of medical students in Taiwan. Sakr (2001) reports a study into the English language needs of textile and clothing industry workers in Cairo. Evangelou (1994) reports a project to explore the English language needs of nurses.

Need analysis studies have investigated the perception of language needs of different parties and have often revealed differing perception. Ferris (1998) investigated the differing perceptions of students and faculty of students’ academic aural/oral needs for university study in number of colleges in the United States. Basturkmen (1998a) investigated students and faculty perception of the English language needs of students in the faculty of Engineering and Petroleum at Kuwait University. Jasso-Aguilar (1990) investigated the perspective of maids and the institutional representatives of the hotel in Waikiki in which the maids worked.

Li So-mui and Mead (2000) report the needs analysis they conducted to help them prepare an ESP course for students of textile and clothing merchandising in Hongkong. Their project set out to obtain information on the types of communication required in the Industry. They used a range of research methods to collect data including questionnaire surveys, telephone interviews, analysis of authentic correspondence, and visits to the workplaces of the merchandisers. The study revealed that the merchandisers used written English far more than spoken English in their work; that fax and telephone calls were more common channels of communication than e-mails and letters, and that there was a high use of abbreviations in written communications

Some needs analyses follow ethnographic principles and aim for a ‘thick description’ of the target environments (John & Dudley-Evans, 1991). This approach to needs analysis involves in-depth ethnographic data collection methods such as observations and exploratory interviews. Example of this type of needs analysis are Jasso-Aguilar’s study (1999) of the language needs of maids in a hotel in Waikiki, Ibrahim’s study (1993) of language needs in the manufacturing industry in Japan, and Kurtoglu’s study (1992) of seminar speaking needs in a Turkish University.

Your supervisor has decided that you will initiate a VESL class (an ESP program) at your school. What are some of the questions you need to ask and things you need to do to prepare for that class?

If you were conducting a need analysis in preparation for developing an ESP course, what practical steps would you take to ensure that you gather the perspective of all the different parties ( such as the learners, institutions, and teachers)? What would you do if there were significant differences in the perspective of the parties?

Dudley-Evans, T., and M.J. St.John. 1998. Developments in English for Specific Purposes: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johns, A. M., & Price-Machada, D. (2001). English for specific purposes (ESP): Tailoring courses to students' needs-and to the outside world. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed., pp. 43-54). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Rewritten by:
Melvina, M.Ed
Teachers’ Training and education Faculty
University of Lancang Kuning

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