Teaching English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) Teaching English for a Specific Purpose

Teaching English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) or Why not just teach'em Shakespeare'

TEFL teaching in the classroom has maninly been focused on leaning General English skills with more specific English, needed for a specific profession for example, being taught only as and when it is needed. Some people argue that specific English should be introduced earlier and this will help motivate pupils and also keep the English taught within a professional and cultural environment that is relevant to the people learning it.

English for a specific purpose was developed to meet the needs of individual learners and their specific needs, and is designed for specific disciplines. It makes some, but not exclusive use of the underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves, namely Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). It is centred on the language appropriate to these activities in terms of grammar, lexis, register, study skills, discourse and genre (Anthony 2005) ESP is designed for adult learners in a professional work situation. It could, however, be for learners at a secondary school level, but is generally with intermediate or advanced students (Steinhausen, 1993). However, it seems that more and more secondary schools are trying to meet the needs of their students' future professions these days. Also, 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, meaning 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.

ESP is a style of teaching, as they all are, that has positive and negative aspects. Coming from a background unrelated to the discipline in which they are asked to teach, ESP teachers are usually unable to rely on personal experiences when evaluating materials and considering course goals. They are also unable to rely on the views of learners who tend not to know what English abilities are required by the profession they hope to enter. The result is that many ESP teachers become slaves to the published textbooks available, even when the textbook they are using aren't perfectly suited for the needs of the student. There are many resources available on the net and websites that offer information but how much background reading does the ESP teacher need' In order to meet the specific needs of the learners and adopt the methodology and activities of the target discipline, the ESP Practitioner must first work closely with field specialists (Korotkina, 2005). An ESP teacher is should remember that they are not specialists in the field, but in teaching English. Every time that person enters the classroom they should understand that our subject is English for the profession, and not the profession in English. They should help the students, who generally know their subject much better, 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.

The ESP teacher ends up performing five different roles including teacher, collaborator, course designer and materials provider, researcher, and evaluator. The first role as 'teacher' is synonymous with that of the general English teacher. It is in the performing of the other four roles that differences begin to emerge (Anthony, 2005).

Overall, ESP is an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner's reason for learning.


Anthony, l (2005) Defining English for Specific Purposes and the Role of the ESP Practitioner b/80/25/bb/57.pdf

Dudley-Evans, 1997 in Anthony, l (2005) Defining English for Specific Purposes and the Role of the ESP Practitioner.

Korotkina, I (2005) ESP: What's That and What's Up'

Steinhausen, P (1993) From General English to ESP ' Bridging the Gap