TESOL EVONLINE 2005 - Jan 17-Feb 26

Making the Transition from ESL to ESP

Weekly Threads

Week 1| Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Weblog | Yahoo!Group

Every week we’ll summarize some of the themes that came up, and ask for your comments. Thank you for your participation!

Here are some issues participants raised during Week One, in addition to the specific topics of definition and needs assessment. If you have any thoughts or practical suggestions to answer these questions now or during the coming weeks, please share your ideas. Margaret van Naerssen, the "guest lecturer" this week.
Margaret van Naerssen

I've looked over the 4-5 postings so far. I have a few thoughts.
I think Irina's suggestion of of having learners themselves do self-assesments of proficiency, having them consider what they want to do with English in the future,are important strategies in terms of getting learners to become a partof focussing the course and of recognizing "where" they are. We need to recognize what the learners bring, who they are, what they want. We need to distinguish, however, between "wants" and "needs". We also realize that if they do not immediately need English in real life situations, it may be hard for them to be very precise in identifying needs.

--Are they taking an academic course in English in their area of specialization? If so, an ESP instructor could work with the content instructor to support the learners' English needs in that course.

--If they are trying to improve their English proficiency so they can study abroad, this may represent needs that are too broad to be captured under the principles of ESP.

I also strongly believe that in designing ALL courses we should be looking at needs. Courses should be needs driven, not book driven.
--The needs may be general, diffuse.
--They may be defined by the language policies of an institution or province or country.
--The needs may be for personal enrichment.
--The needs may reflect a general perceived future need.

But these types of needs differ from what is strictly intepreted as ESP.

--Needs assessment is a core feature of ESP.
--In ESP language is a tool for real, actual, usual concurrent needs or needs that are very near in time.
--In ESP language is a tool needed to specifically help do one's work or for specific professional/vocational preparation.
--In ESP language is NOT studied as a general subject, but rather as a tool.

I think this is long enough for the moment.


Narghiskern in Germany brought up the problems of student level and expertise:
“Especially with pre-intermediate students I have the feeling doing ESP (using Business English coursebooks) hinders them from learning rather than helping them…
My personal problem with ESP is that most of the time I don't know anything or much about the area of my students. And it seems an impossible task to read/learn enough about all those areas to be able help the student with special/technical vocabulary they need…
Basically the question is: How can I help my students learn something that I don't know???”

Here there are two problems.
- At what level can we, or should we, start using ESP/EAP? How can we decide if students who have limited mastery of the basics are ready for it?
- How can we develop enough expertise to teach ESP in a useful way? Debby Lee will address this next week- but what to do in a class where students are in the same general field but not the same sub-specialty?

Lalita Deb

Lalita Deb in Mozambique said,

“Classes usually have between thirty and forty students, with, unfortunately, only two or three females…Students are anything between 22 and 55 years old! If we're lucky, we might have 10 to 15 in a class of 30 that are serious about becoming teachers…

There is also a serious shortage of resources available to us here. [In one setting] the only material available to us are what we, the teachers, have collected over the years and whatever donors might have sent in, which is not always what we need. There are no computers for the students and the one for the teachers in the department doesn't have internet access…”

Not all programs have equal or even adequate resources.

-How can teachers compensate for large, heterogeneous classes and lack of computer access, materials, etc. ?

-How can we remember, when we discuss methods and policy, to keep in mind the different conditions in which people teach?


Irina in Ukraine asks,

“The only question is HOW to teach students? Personally I am using task-based learning centred approach in teaching/learning promoting learners autonomy, but many teachers think that topic/ notion-oriented approach is the only appropriate one. Any comments?

She also asks, “Is it possible for non-native teacher of English teach specific topics not being an expert in the field? What approaches do you use while teaching ESP/EAP?
What levels are your students? Are they native speakers? I am interested in teaching EFL non-native students by non-native teacher.”

Here too there are two questions:

- How can we decide on what teaching methods to use?
- How can we take into consideration the needs of non-native teachers and students? Do we need to adapt our methodology, and if so, how?


Evan in Singapore has a very specific question relating to Business English:

“One area of interest for me at the moment is the issue of ethics in BE / ESP teaching. For example, we spend lot of time gathering information about our students and their environments, but I'm not sure that all of us are particularly ethical about how we handle the data. Do we tell our students exactly how the data will be used, for example? Do we have procedures in place to ensure confidentiality and privacy?”

- Do people have suggestions for dealing with data gathered from students?
- What ethical guidelines should we adhere to about using this data (other than for research, where the guidelines are already established?)


Anrisa in the U.S. writes,

“Through one of my students, I got involved in tutoring nuns at a Taiwanese Buddhist Monastery. I am using the same books that I do at [an Intensive English Program], but, obviously, there are considerable differences in goals and needs. I hope that this workshop can help me learn how to adapt/develop materials to really serve the needs of the nuns.”

Some student populations are so specialized that it’s unlikely there are materials already developed for them.

- How can we do needs assessment and materials development for very specialized populations?
- Does anyone have experience teaching similar students of any religion, and do they have suggestions?


Parisa in Iran said,

“ The most demanding skill in Iranian universities is reading comprehension ability. I always wonder what might differentiate between ESP and GE and whether ESP is the extreme end of GE or not…”

When students begin to read texts written for a specialized professional audience in English, they encounter the same problems native speaker undergraduates do, plus the added problems of reading in L2.

- How can we help future professionals learn to read proficiently in their field?
- Should we start by improving reading skills (GE) or is the best way to do this is by helping them read specialized texts (EAP?)
- What do reading specialists have to say?


Belen Vazquez Conde said,

“ As a colleague said, students sometimes don't feel interested or don't notice the importance of the [ESP] subject. For this problem I try to do games, or give them a lot of interesting websites so they can acquire the specific purpose.”

- What else can we do to spark students’ interest in ESP: suggestions?


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