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".

1 comment:

  1. About your last paragraph: yep. However, there is a lot of common ground in the very basic patterns and perhaps unconscious mechanisms going on in the brains of the nurse, the air traffic controller and the mechanic. If a student doesn’t learn how to tap into those patterns and mechanisms, there’s no amount of vocabulary or relevant context that will fix their second language. (Of course, in many cases it’s too late to fix that, and the only way forward is to add to the student’s vocabulary toolkit and hope for the best.)


Please put your two cents in!