Friday, November 29, 2013

A helpful link for ESP teachers

It goes without saying that, if you're teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes), you'll see the need to understand your students' profession, especially the job skills that involve oral and written communication. 

And that is where this wondrous website comes in: 

From what I gather, the Canadian government listed the essential skills for a myriad of careers. Granted, this resource won't be all you need to fully apprehend your students' needs and aims, but it seems to be a great springboard for a needs analysis.

For instance, if you are teaching hairdressers, you'll see there that their main focus regarding language should be oral communication, so they can talk to their clients. However, there's also a need for reading manuals and labels. And the website doesn't stop there. It'll even list you the subskills and some of the typical tasks! 

Sweet as maple syrup, right?


(Update: It seems I'm not the only ESP practitioner to like this resource! Take a look at this and other tips by Kristin Ekken.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the brink

We teachers never rest our minds, do we? Just seen one of those "pics you can't miss" articles on Facebook, and here I am, thinking of classrooms applications. Granted, this would fit better in a more traditional PPP sort of lesson, but heck if it may help students in some way, who's judging?

So here it is: if you're teaching "going to" and "might/may" for predictions (based on evidence or speculation), these pics might help you illustrate/elicit/practice it. They were all taken from this article called "The 50 pictures in perfect timing." A general "What do you think is going to happen next?" should suffice, but I've added a couple of questions in case more guidance is needed. 

Photo Jörn Kessels

What is the man going to do? 
What is going to happen to the bird?

Photo RedditorJoker

What is going to happen to the lady in white?
What is the blond man going to do?

Photo Sindri Skúlason

What is going to happen to the bird?
Is its stomach big enough for that fruit?

Photo Frode Sandbech

What is going to happen to that man in the picture?
What about the photographer?

Photo Bored Panda

What is going to happen to the soldier who yawned?
What about the other soldiers?

Photo Kathy Keatley Garvey

What is going to happen to the man? How about the bee?


Photo Bored Panda

What is going to happen to the cyclist?
What is the man in jeans going to do? 
How about the photographer?

Photo Michael Swaine @

Speaking of the devil, I have a bee in my bonnet about how ESOL textbooks usually explain the future, that neat tripartite view I am partly reproducing here. But that's a topic for another post, when I have mulled over this a little bit more. For now, I'll leave you with this: could it be that this is one more of those language myths we teachers are helping to perpetuate?

Friday, November 15, 2013

ESP: English through, English for, or English with?

What's your take on ESP: are you teaching English through, for or with your students' field of work?
Cambridge English teacher, one of the communities for ESOL teachers, has recently uploaded quite a few free resources on ESP. I was especially drawn to a document called "Approaches to ESP" by Jeremy Day.

To me, ESP is an approach, but let's not quibble over terminology. In this very interesting piece, the author lists 3 views of ESP, which he cleverly labels "English through", "English for" and "English with". 

Put simply, "English through" is teaching your regular General English syllabus, which Day reminds us is often a grammatical syllabus, with the specialized field acting as nothing more than a context. As a colleague of mine once said, you change the infamous "The book is on the table" into "The plane is on the apron" and voilá you have an ESP lesson (or so you think).

"English for" targets students' present and future professional needs, and by doing so may turn the traditional curriculum on its head or more commonly get rid of it completely.

"English with" is often called content-based instruction. You teach content, and English tags along as the medium. That is to say your main aim will be that students learn something in their field such as "fixing XYZ equipment" or "using ABC software". You may spare a few moments for language work, or perhaps you won't, and (modified) input alone will be all you do regarding language.

The author doesn't pass judgment on those views, but this is a personal blog, and it'd make very little sense if I were to keep my opinion to myself. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the "English through" view. Mutatis mutanti, changing the terms whilst keeping the backbone of a General English course, is no approach to ESP course design. But it's a very pervasive view, ubiquitous even, as I've come to realize

And I'm not saying it won't be effective. It probably won't be an efficient use of resources, yet for some professions it might well do the trick (in the long run... with a motivated student... on a clear day...). Nonetheless, it's not ESP but for a lot of marketing spin. ESP has to stem from the professional needs of the students. It's English FOR Specific Purposes, is it not?

It may be harder to see it when you think of Business English, because that's where a lot of the big bucks of marketing lie. Several textbooks in this field seem to be in fact General English in disguise. But no amount of sales pitches will convince me that the linguistic needs of a nurse, an air traffic controller or a mechanic are nearly identical to the point that I can refer all three to the same "English".