Reader Response Journal

English for Specific Purposes: Negotiating Needs, Possibilities and Promises by Salas, Mercado, Ouedraogo and Musetti

This article draws on the four authors’ varied experiences teaching English for Specific Purposes,  to provide a basic overview of the types of things instructors need to take into consideration when designing and teaching an ESP course. They stress that there are many different types of ESP, which they see as being on a spectrum, with individually tailored courses that are designed to meet the students’ specific communicative needs in line with their professional objectives on one end, and courses that offer basic communication instruction with a bit of specific vocabulary or thematically chosen readings on the other. In designing ESP courses, they encourage instructors to do research into the exact types of communicative tasks their students will be expected to perform in their professional environments, and to tailor the course to those objectives. The suggest the RAFT framework, to analyze the role, audience, format and topic for these interactions. Identifying these, in the context of the students’ needed language tasks and probable interactions, is the first step to ESP course design. Next, they explore methods of instruction, arguing that ESP teachers should mix and match the methods that best fit their contexts and that these methods should be chosen strategically and purposefully to help their students achieve the identified goals. They stress the importance of having concrete goals and deliverables so that students feel they are making progress. They also encourage teachers to adapt materials and utilize the internet, especially for self-study resources and practice. Next, they explore needs analysis in more depth, encouraging teachers to ensure that they have enough time to proper assess students’ needs before undertaking a course, although they acknowledge that there are often logistical limitations on the amount and depth of needs analysis a teacher can realistically do. They encourage teachers to work in teams and stages to collect and analyze the material they need to design a new course, and they encourage teachers to be upfront with their employers about how long this takes to do well. They also focus on the importance of authentic assessments, in line with the students’ actual professional tasks, and encourage backward planning off of the types of final assessments that show students abilities to communicate realistically in their workplaces. They conclude by encouraging student participation in the needs analysis process and by encouraging teachers to be upfront with their students about the level of individual tailoring and specificity they can expect from the course.

I enjoyed this article as a basic refresher/overview of ESP. I’ve taught ESP in the past, in a context where the expectations of the school were, for the most part, more on the English for Basic Communicative Purposes side of things. Next fall, I’ll be teaching ESP again, and I’m hoping in this new context I’ll be in a better position to carry out a full needs analysis, and to focus on more authentic tasks in my classes. This article served as a good reminder of the type of things to think about when starting out in ESP.

Salas, S., Mercado, L. A., Ouedraogo, L. H. & Musetti, B. (2013). English for specific purposes: Negotiating needs, possibilities and promises. English Teaching Forum, 51(4), 12-19.

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