English for Specific
English for Specific Purposes is probably the most challenging branch
in language teaching, especially in our country, where it has only recently started to
develop as such. ESP teachers often feel isolated both from professionals in their
students’ specialism and their colleagues in other institutions. They also have
difficulty in getting or exchanging information in the field. MELTA ESP Section has been
organized with the aim of providing university, college, and vocational school teachers of
Moscow with an opportunity to share their experience and knowledge, obtain new ideas and
information on methods and techniques in teaching ESP, and actually get together and form
their own professional community.
ESP Section Coordinator Irina Korotkina, e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
ESP: What’s That and What’s Up?
English for Specific Purposes is probably the most challenging
branch in language teaching, especially in our country, where it has only recently started
to develop as such. Many teachers still have a rather vague idea of what it is, though it
might concern them directly. Therefore, one of the MELTA ESP Section’s paramount
concerns is to inform ESP teachers about who they actually are, what they
actually teach, and where they actually belong. The first session of the ESP
Section held on October 27 tried to throw light on the matter and answer these questions.
First of all, we have to realize what purposes of ELT are really
specific, which implies defining specificity. This, however, might lead us too far
because the logical end of specificity is the particular language one particular person is
using in one particular situation at one particular moment in time. If we agree to this,
ESP will fall into thousands of diverse little fields that no one will ever be able to
collect together. Therefore, we have to define it more carefully according to the purposes,
which is another key word in ESP.
In fact, the term ESP has been in use for a quarter of a century
now, and its definition can be found in many issues on the subject that followed the
first, classic, edition by T. Hutchinson and A. Waters (English for Specific Purposes,
CUP, 1987). The authors illustrated their idea by the picture of a tree. In the
picture, ESP is opposed to General English, usually taught for exam purposes. Thus,
the first conclusion we can draw is that ESP is teaching English for any other purposes,
e.g. work or study. These two are usually called professional (also occupational,
or vocational) purposes and academic purposes. According to the
division, most secondary schools teach General English simply because their purpose is a
particular exam (a GE exam, of course, such as the FCE or the standard Russian school
exam). If a student intends to use English in their future profession or wants to continue
their academic studies, they need another sort of English that ought to meet some
particular needs. Therefore, all our universities and colleges deal with ESP.
However, this division is rather formal, as more and more secondary
schools are trying to meet the needs of their students’ future professions these days.
Moreover, a lot of effort has been made to build a bridge between secondary and higher
education. Despite many failures, this link has sometimes proved productive, which means
that those involved in the link changed the exam purpose of GE to the more challenging and
particular purpose of ESP. It may be argued though that in some cases the idea has been to
pass a particular exam; then we would have to consider whether the exam itself has really
been a specific purpose English exam.
Climbing further up Hutchinson’s tree, we can find the division into
three branches of relatively general specialism: English for Science and Technology,
English for Business an Economics, and English for Social Sciences, each of which are then
further split into EOP and EAP respectively, and, finally, at the very top, we can see the
examples of particular outcomes. Here some of us might start to become doubtful. Why?
First of all, we return back to professionalism through the opposition of occupational
to academic: for example, the sequence English for Social Sciences – English
for Occupational Purposes – English for Teachers seems a bit strangely opposed to English
for Social Sciences – English for Academic Purposes – English for Psychology. Does
it mean that the profession of a teacher is not academically developed, or that being a
psychologist is not an occupation? Besides, the initial split into three (why not more?)
professional branches seems to be artificial as well. Can’t the job of a psychologist be
connected with doing business, or can’t a teacher teach technicians or economists? The
only thing that still seems obvious is that there has to be a distinction between EAP and
EOP, but where we split them is rather a problem.
We have to remember that the ESP founders wrote their book in the early
1980s, when the opposition between science and technology and the humanities was still
considered natural (remember the debate between physics and lyrics in the
1960s?). The current tendency has brought us to multiple links not only between subjects
and professions, but also between professional and academic careers. Times have changed,
and so has ESP.
It is very difficult to distinguish between what is academic and what
is professional. We may, for instance, design a course of Academic Reading for
Political Science, or Professional Writing for Doctors, or Academic
Vocabulary for Engineering. However, what is important is that there are academic
skills that should be taught for the purpose of professional development,
because most of our students will need English not only to work but also to develop their
careers, which, in turn, implies academic development.
Academic skills, therefore, may well become the basis for professional
development. We could build up a framework of ESP teaching based on methods and techniques
in teaching academic skills to professionals. By the way, the English word academic
is often misunderstood by Russian teachers who think that it belongs to academicians
and theorists. In fact, the word defines any educational subject despite the level.
Children start being taught academic skills literally with their first day at school; for
example, working on writing, reading, organizing their time, presenting their assignments,
etc. Using academic skills as a framework in ESP, we can unite otherwise diverse
professional fields in which English is taught, and provide ESP teachers with the
necessary knowledge and tools to deal with their own students’ specializations.
We should also remember that we are not specialists in the field, but
in teaching English. Every time we enter the classroom we ought to know that our
subject is English for the profession, and not the profession in English! We
help our students, who know their subject much better than we do, develop the skills which
are essential for them in understanding, using, and/or presenting authentic information in
their profession. A professional ESP teacher must be able to easily switch from one
professional field to another without being obliged to spend months on getting started. He
or she simply brings the necessary tools, frameworks, and principles of course design to
apply them to new material.
The material (the content) should be provided by the professors or
experts in the subject. It should always be authentic, as the main purpose of
teaching academic skills is to enable students to deal with authentic information despite
their level of English; up-to-date, as the informational exchange is growing more
and more intense; and relevant for the students’ specializations, as they ought
to be given the information representative for their target language use situation.
Unfortunately, ESP teachers often feel isolated both from professionals
in their students’ specializations as well as their colleagues in other institutions.
They also have difficulty in getting or exchanging information in the field. We can
conclude, therefore, that the main purpose of the ESP Sections throughout Russia should be
providing a necessary network. The RESPONSE project, which has recently been carried out
by the British Council and the RF Ministry of Education, has proved the importance of such
a network. The first groups of ESP teachers have already started a training course in St.
Petersburg. And we have enough experts in Moscow to start a teacher training ESP course
Now we can easily answer the questions we asked in the beginning of
Who are ESP teachers? They are teachers at vocational
schools, colleges and universities, as well as any other teachers who deal with their
students’ professional development. Professional ESP teachers are experts in
teaching English for any profession, able to design teaching materials based on the
content material presented by the professors, or experts in the subject.
What do they teach? ESP teachers teach academic skills
to future (or real) professionals. They teach English for the profession and
encourage their students to use their background knowledge along with the academic skills
in dealing with all sorts of authentic information in their profession. ESP teachers
design courses according to their students’ professional needs, having in mind their target
language use situation.
Where do ESP teachers belong? They belong to their
professional unit, the ESP Section of their regional English Language Teachers’
Association. ESP Sections should unite teachers, help them share their experience and
knowledge, obtain new ideas and information on methods and techniques in teaching ESP, and
actually get together and form their own professional community.
ESP is our cup of tea. What about having it with us?
If you consider yourself an ESP teacher, the MELTA ESP Section is
waiting for you.