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European Journal of Scientific Research

ISSN 1450-216X / 1450-202X Vol. 112 No 1 October, 2013, pp.138-151


English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics,
Scope and Purpose

Choudhary Zahid Javid
Department of Foreign Languages, Taif University, P-O-Box 888
Taif University, At-Taif, KSA
E-mail: chzahidj@hotmail.com
Tel: +966-502312949


The present study is an attempt to understand English for Specific Purposes (ESP):
an extremely significant branch of ELT by encompassing various linguists efforts to define
it, tracing its historical growth, discussing its characteristics, and trying to find out its scope
and purpose to address the specific needs of EFL/ESL learners. Though lots of
contradicting views have been reported in defining ESP but there seems an agreement
finally that it is confined to the teaching of English to the learners who have specific goals
and purposes: these goals might be professional, academic or scientific. Thus it is not the
specific discipline that is primary in ESP but the specific goal of specific learners. The
same has been reinforced by the discussion related to its absolute and variable
characteristics. Historical growth of ESP has also been traced and it has been reported that
though it is considered a modern approach ESP textbooks existed even in the sixteenth
century. It is found out that the purpose of an ESP course is to enable learners to function
adequately in the target situation. Thus an ESP program should be aim-directed, learner-
directed and situation-directed. An ESP course should have the following three features a)
authentic material, b) purpose-related orientation and c) self-direction.

Keywords: English for specific purposes, characteristics, specific needs, authentic

From the early 1960s ESP has grown to become one of the most prominent areas of ELT. This
development has been reflected in an increasing number of publications, conferences and journals
dedicated to ESP discussions(Tratnik, 2008, p. 5). Cristine (1993, p. 17) has proved the validity of
ESP in the modern world from an unusual angle of competitive business world norms and has
concluded that in ESP design and implementation are basic concepts and practices that fit in with ISO
9000 QA requirementsbecause central requirements of an ESP program are tailor-made courses,
specific objectives, needs analysis of target learning situation, continuous feedback and formative
and summative evaluations(ibid.: 17). Talking about the reasons of its growing acceptability,
Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, p. 19) have mentioned that ESP has developed a balance between
research and practice and called it "essentially a materials and teaching-led movement".

English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 139

2. Definition of ESP
ESP seems quite flexible discipline and different people have defined it differently. We can count as
many definitions as the number of linguists who have defined it. All these definitions appear to cover
various characteristics of this approach (Sifakis, 2003 cf. Rogers, 1989; Rogers, 1996). Anthony (1997,
p. 1) mentioned the clear differences in how people interpreted the meaning of ESPat "The Japan
Conference on ESPheld on November 8
, 1997 at Aizu University in Aizuwakamatsu. He pointed out
that the participants were divided into two groups. One group held the view that ESP was teaching of
English for any purpose that could be specified whereas the other group of participants ascribed to it as
the teaching of English used in academic studies or the teaching of English for vocational or
professional purposes(ibid., p. 1). This particular example of differing views regarding its definition
offers clear insights about the general truth in relation to this controversy. Hutchinson and Waters (1987)
have defined ESP as an approachrather than a product meaning that ESP does not necessarily
involve any particular kind of language, teaching material or methodology. The fundamental function of
ESP is: Why does this learner need to learn a foreign language(Milavic, 2006 cf. Hutchinson and
Waters, 1987)? The rationale of learning English, thus, became the crux of ESP.
Robinson (1980) has defined it as the teaching of English to the learners who have specific
goals and purposes. According to him, these goals might be professional, academic, scientific etc.
Mackay and Mountford (1978, p. 2) have referred to it as the teaching of English for clearly utilitarian
purposes. These specific purposes are the above-mentioned academic, professional or scientific ones
that clearly depend on the learners needs. Both these definitions do not confine ESP to any specific
field, discipline or profession and recognize its broader area of action. A rather comprehensive
approach to define ESP has been tried
By identifying its absolute and variable characteristics. Strevens' (1988) definition makes a
distinction between four absolute and two variable characteristics:
I. Absolute Characteristics:
ESP consists of English language teaching which is:
designed to meet specified needs of the learner;
related in content (i.e. in its themes and topics) to particular disciplines, occupations and
centred on the language appropriate to those activities in syntax, lexis, discourse,
semantics, etc., and analysis of this discourse;
in contrast with General English.
II. Variable characteristics:
ESP may be, but is not necessarily:
restricted as to the language skills to be learned (e.g. reading only);
taught according to any pre-ordained methodology (Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Strevens, 1998,
pp. 1-2).
This definition tries to identify ESP in contrast with General English. Therefore, the emphasis
is on Specific Englishthat belongs to some particular discipline, occupation or activity. This
definition makes it mandatory that ESP courses should concentrate on the language, i.e. syntax, lexis,
discourse, semantics etc., which is appropriate for some particular discipline, occupation or activity.
Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, p. 4-5) have presented a modified definition of ESP which is also
comprised of absolute and variable characteristics of ESP that are as follows:
I. I. Absolute Characteristics
ESP is defined to meet specific needs of the learner;
ESP makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves;
ESP is centered on the language (grammar, lexis, register), skills, discourse and genres
appropriate to these activities.
II. Variable Characteristics
ESP may be related to or designed for specific disciplines;
140 Choudhary Zahid Javid

ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that of
general English;
ESP is likely to be designed for adult learners, either at a tertiary level institution or in a
professional work situation. It could, however, be for learners at secondary school level;
ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students;
Most ESP courses assume some basic knowledge of the language system, but it can be
used with beginners.
This definition also acknowledges that ESP is meant to meet learners specific needs but it has
removed the characteristic mentioned in Strevens definition that ESP is in contrast with General
English. This modified definition has extended the horizon of ESP by allowing it to encompass the
specific needs of the students who do not necessarily belong to any specific occupation or discipline.
Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998) have also enhanced the list of variable characteristics as well. They
have contended that ESP is not necessarily but may be related to or designed for specific
disciplinesand different methodologies from that of General Englishmay be employed to cater for
the needs of the specific teaching situations for specific disciplines (ibid.). Contrary to the idea of
restricting ESP courses for adult learners (Abbot, 1981; Widdowson, 1983; Robinson, 1991; McKay
and Tom, 1999), Dudley-Evans and St. John have asserted that ESP courses are likely to be designed
for adult learnersbut may be organized for learners at secondary school level. Likewise they have
pointed out that ESP courses may be planned for the beginners along with intermediate or advanced
It comes out from the above discussion that Sfor specific is central to this approach as was
stated by Hadley (2006: 3) that the key to teaching ESP is to focus on the Sfor specific. ESP can be
differentiated from general ELT by its concern with specialized language and practice. But this word
specialmight apply to special language or special needs / aim. This confusion over these two notions
was reported during 1980s (Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Perren, 1974). Mackay and Mountford (1978, p. 4)
defined the idea of special language as follows:
The only practical way in which we can understand the notion of special
language is as a restricted repertoire of words and expressions selected from the whole
language because that restricted repertoire covers every requirement within a well-
defined context, task or vocation.
The second notion, special aim, was interpreted as the learners special purpose of learning of
English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL) instead of the nature of the
language they intended to learn (ibid.). Barron (1994, p. 3) supported the first notion and confined ESP
to specific disciplines and insisted to place ESP firmly within the multidimensional space that
constitutes the students chosen disciplinary culture. It was further explained that the
multidimensional space included social, cultural and political factors as well as functional ones(ibid.,
p. 3). Strevens (1998) supported the same notion because one of the absolute characteristics of his
definition identified ESP as being "in contrast to General English". Resultantly, ESP should
concentrate on the learners special needs in particular occupations and activities. Fiorito (2005, p. 1)
supported the same belief and declared that the ESP focal point is that English is not taught as a
subject separated from the students' real world (or wishes); instead, it is integrated into a subject matter
area important to the learners.
Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998) contradicted this restricted view regarding the scope of ESP
by including English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the realm of ESP in their revised definition.
They further clarified their contention when they proclaimed that it is our contention that all courses
in specialized language and practice fall under the English for specific purposes rubrics(Hadley, 2006
cf. Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998, p. 3). This specialized (language and practice) mean business,
academic, occupational etc. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) also favored the broader notion of ESP and
did not restrict it to any specific discipline. They theorized that "ESP is an approach to language
teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner's reason for
English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 141

learning(ibid., p. 19). According to them, ESP programs insisted on the learners reason for
learningand not on any occupation or profession. Gatehouse (2001, p. 3) reported that consequently,
the focus of the word 'special' in ESP ought to be on the purpose for which learners learn and not on
the specific jargon or registers they learn.
Although the above-mentioned controversy about the definition and scope of ESP is likely to
exist to some extent but a vast majority of ESP proponents seems to agree that ESP is a very flexible
approach of teaching of English as a second language (TESL) / teaching of English as a foreign
language (TEFL) that is integrally linked not only with special disciplines and occupations but also
caters for the special needs in the realm of EAP as well. It transpires that ESP is not limited to any
specific discipline but meant for the specific needs of the learners because
ESP is (or ought logically to be) integrally linked with areas of activity
(academic, vocational, professional) which have already been defined and which
represent the learners aspiration. The learning of ESP is in consequence an essentially
dependent activity, a parasitic process, and it follows that the pedagogy of ESP must be
dependent too. It has no purpose of its own; it exists only to serve those that have been
specified elsewhere(Barron, 1994, cf. Widdowson, 1983, pp. 108-109).

3. Types of ESP
Dudley-Evans and St. John, (1998) have divided EAP into two divisions: English for General
Academic Purposes (EGAP) and ESAP. EGAP is related to the teaching of language skills that are
common in different disciplines but ESAP refers to the teaching of language features that are specific
for various disciplines. Research has offered insights into the mutual relationship of EGAP and ESAP.
Skills and language functions learnt in EGAP programs may be transferred to specific disciplines in
ESAP programs (ibid.). Many researchers have discussed about the types of ESP and most of them
have grouped ESP into two main categories: English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) and EAP
(Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Robinson, 1991) whereas Carter (1983) has identified the following
three types of ESP:
1. English as a restricted language
2. English for Academic and Occupational Purposes (EAOP)
3. English with specific topics.
Mackey and Mountford (1978) clearly defined the concept of restricted languagein their
following statement:
... the language of international air-traffic control could be regarded as 'special',
in the sense that the repertoire required by the controller is strictly limited and can be
accurately determined situationally, as might be the linguistic needs of a dining-room
waiter or air-hostess. However, such restricted repertoires are not languages, just as a
tourist phrase book is not grammar. Knowing a restricted 'language' would not allow the
speaker to communicate effectively in novel situation, or in contexts outside the
vocational environment(Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Mackey and Mountford, 1978, pp. 4-5).
The scope and canvas of this first type of ESP is extremely limited which allows the learners
learn English language for very restricted purposes and it trains the learners to handle specific
situations in extremely limited linguistic settings. This kind of ESP teaching restricts itself to "limited
number of phrases and expressions and these learners remain unable to use English in any setting other
than the one they have been trained for.
EAOP has been recognized as the second kind by Carter (1983) whereas majority of other
researchers have confined their classification of ESP to EAP and EOP. Robinson (1991) has also
included these two types in his classification of ESP. Kennedy and Bolitho (1985) have added English
for Science and Technology (EST) in their list of types of ESP. It seems to transpire that ESP has been
separated from EOP and EAP because of the fact that it was basically scientific and technological
142 Choudhary Zahid Javid

knowledge that this new approach of ELT was supposed to transfer to non-native speakers of English
(Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Gatehouse, 2001; Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998; Strevens, 1977).
Tree of ELT(Hutchinson and Waters, 1987, p. 6) describes the classification of ESP in detail which
offers significant insights into the broad scope of ESP:

English for Specific Purposes

English for Academic Purposes English for Occupational Purposes

English (Academic) English for professional
for Science and purposes
English for
English (Academic)
For Legal Purposes
English for English for
Medical Business
Purposes Purposes
English (Academic)
for Medical
Purposes Pre-vocational Vocational
Purposes Purposes
English (Academic)
For Management, Finance
and Economics

Hutchinson and Waters (1987) seem to agree with Carter (1983) in his belief that EOP and EAP
are not entirely separate phenomena. They have argued that people can work and study
simultaneously; it is also likely that in many cases the language learnt for immediate use in a study
environment will be used later when the student takes up, or returns to, a job(ibid., p. 16). What
transpires from the above discussion is that EOP and EAP have approximately common goals but their
dynamics and means to achieve the ultimate goals are indeed different. Dudley-Evans and St. John
(1998, p. 5) have also included only EAP and EOP in their division of ESP. Their suggested
classification is as under:

English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 143



Pre-experience As a school subject

English for

Independent Integrated

Simultaneous /
Pre-study post-study


English with specific topicsis the third type of ESP according to Carter (1983). He has
mentioned activities like post-graduate reading studies, working in foreign institutions and attending
conferences as future needs for scientists. This third category of ESP requires that the linguistic needs
of the learners should be properly determined before any ESP material is designed. It confines itself to
the target future (linguistic) needs (TFN) of the learners to prepare them for their future needs. It seems
that this category of ESP is not very distinguishable because all ESP courses have a proper NA
procedure as an integral component of developing ESP teaching material which targets situational
language, including topics mentioned by Carter (1983) and others, in present and target workplace
settings (Gatehouse, 2001).

4. Historical Growth of ESP
There does not seem complete agreement about the historical growth of ESP, though several research
studies have been undertaken by different researchers in this regard. Most of the studies have
concluded that 1960s was the dawn of this ELT approach but several studies mentioned the traces of
ESP much before the above-mentioned period (Romo, 2006). Hutchinson and Waters (1987) traced
back an ESP book in the sixteenth century. This book was written for tourists and it was published in
1576. German for Science Studentswas another example of ancient ESP material (Tickoo, 1976 cf.
Romo, 2006).
This early phase of ESP lasted roughly till the start of 1960 and whatever ESP material was
produced during this period, it mainly consisted of authentic material related to different fields of
specialization (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987). Most of the linguists declared that the real beginning of
ESP set in about in the sixties of twentieth century (Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998; Hutchinson and
Waters, 1987; Anthony, 1997; Gatehouse, 2001; Mackay and Mountford, 1978). Dudley-Evans and St.
John (1998: 19) mentioned that "it was undoubtedly in the mid- to late 1960's, however, that various
influences came together to generate the need and enthusiasm for developing ESP as a discipline".
144 Choudhary Zahid Javid

There were certain factors that contributed to the rise and rapid growth of ESP. The arrival of
Huguenot and Protestant refugees in 16
century in England started the era of "business English in
ELTfrom the 19
century (Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998 cf. Howett, 1984). Hutchinson and
Waters (1987) enumerated three main reasons for this rapid growth. They were the demands of a
Brave New World, a revolution in linguisticsand focus on the learner. Hymes (1972) identified
the rapid expansion in scientific, technical and economic activities in English speaking countries and
the linguistic trends as the main contributing factors in this regard. Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998,
p. 19) also reported that growth of science, technology and business played an important role in the
development of ESP and "an enormous numberof students came to the UK, USA and Australia and
this factor initiated "a new era of teaching English for different scientific and business disciplinesand
English was given the status of the "international language of science, technology and business".
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) specified two important historical factors that were largely instrumental
in the rapid expansion of the scope and range of ESP. According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987, p.
6), the end of the Second World War (SWW) initiated an
age of enormous and unprecedented expansion in scientific, technical and
economic activity on an international scale for various reasons, most notably the
economic power of the United States in the post-war world, the role fell to English.
In the post SWW era, the USA became the hub of scientific, technical and economic activities
and, consequently, English was assigned the role of an international language to facilitate all these
activities. According to them, the Oil Crises of 1970s was the second factor in this regard. Oil-rich
countries opened their doors to the Western knowledge and wealth and naturally a new era of ELT
commenced in the gulf region. As it was mainly scientific and technical knowledge that was needed to
be transferred, ESP emerged as the most appropriate discipline to accept the challenge. This new ELT
approach had to address the specific needs of the learners and whereas English had previously decided
its own destiny, it now became subject to the wishes, needs and demands of people other than language
teachers(ibid., p. 7). Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998) pointed out that late 1970's and early 1980's
was the period that consolidated ESP.
The Revolution in Linguisticswas another major factor that paved way for the emergence and
rapid growth of ESP during the 1960s and early 1970s: the second stage in the growth of ESP
(Hutchinson and Waters, 1987). This period witnessed a transformation of traditional linguistics of
merely describing the features of language into the study of Register Analysis (RA) which focused on
the ways language was used in real communication. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) highlighted the
difference between written and spoken language as an example of RA. Mainly scientific and technical
English was focused more in this second phase of ESP. RA was carried out on the assumption that
certain grammatical and lexical forms were more frequently used in scientific and technical language
as compared to General English (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998).
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) elaborated the process of RA in identifying these specified forms and
developing teaching materials based on these forms. The main objective of those ESP books was to
acquaint the learners with the language forms that were relevant to their various fields of
specializations. Those register analysis-based ESP textbooks relieved the learners of the unnecessary
burden of irrelevant grammatical and lexical items. As a result, materials produced under the banner of
RA focused on a restricted range of grammar and vocabulary instead of language use and
communication (Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998).This stage was the initial phase of NA where the
general needs of specific subjects were considered for the development of ESP course contents
(Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Perren, 1974).
But there were certain voices of disagreement and some linguists advocated that instead of
merely following RA, the emphasis should have been on learners communicative competence in
various linguistic situations (Widdowson, 1979). The ESP material produced during that period mainly
concentrated on specific grammatical and lexical items instead of real communication (Dudley-Evans
and St. John, 1998). Widdowson, (1979) declared that realization of this deficiency laid the foundation
English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 145

of rectifying efforts that led to Discourse Analysis (DA) and Hutchinson and Waters (1987) called it
the third stage of ESP growth which was marked by the shift from RA to the study of discourse and
rhetorical analysis. This phase addressed the learners difficulties that were caused by the
unfamiliarity with the use of English. It was stated that consequently, their needs could only be met
by a course that developed the knowledge of how sentences were combined in discourse to make
meanings(Mo, 2005 cf. Allan and Widdowson, 1974: 3). Hutchinson and Waters (1987, p. 20)
suggested that the main aim of discourse and rhetorical analysis was to identify organizational patterns
in texts that formed the basis of ESP syllabus that included rhetorical functions for communicative
Mackey and Mountford (1978) recognized defining, identifying, comparing, classifying etc. as
important rhetorical functions. The assumption of this stage was that underlying all language use there
were common reasoning and interpreting processes, which, regardless of the surface form, enabled us
to extract meaning from discourse(Mo, 2005 cf. Hutchinson and Waters, 1987, p. 4). Mo (2005)
reported that this stage did not confine itself to the teaching of language but rather addressed to the
thought processes as well. Teaching of language skills was focused by the ESP teachers in this phase of
ESP teaching (Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998).
The fourth stage of ESP growth heralded with further precision of its focus on the target
situation. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) defined the target situationas the one in which learners
would use the specific language they were learning. Learning-centered(Hutchinson and Waters,
1987) and learner-centered(West, 1984) were the key terms during this phase of ESP growth and a
lot of emphasis was given to NA. The main objective of ESP course contents was thus to make the
learners achieve linguistic competence by enabling them to acquire the ability to use language
accurately and efficiently in different situations. It was stated that linguistic competence included
grammatical, cultural, pragmatic, strategic and communicative sub-competencies. This emphasis on
linguistic competence broadened the horizon of ELT and various other dynamics of learning situations
and learners situations were considered to make the learners acquire the required linguistic
competence. It involves considering the process of learning and motivation, working out what is
needed to enable students to reach the target, ----- and taking into account the fact that students learn in
different ways(Mo, 2005 cf. Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998, p. 4). This discussion offered useful
insights into the reasons that why learner and his specific social and psychological situations were also
given due importance to achieve the target learning outcomes. Similarly, it was recognized that not
only different specializations (medicine, humanities, physics, geology, business etc.) but also different
sub-fields of a main specialization needed different communicative functions in terms of syntax,
morphology, semantics, phonology, vocabulary and discourse (Douglas, 2002). The linguistic needs of
a lab assistant in a hospital would be different from the needs of a nurse, a receptionist, a ward boy and
an X-ray technician. These precise linguistic needs were the key factors in determining the type of
curriculum necessary for ESP courses.
According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987), fifth stage of ESP growth was marked with the
mental processes which implied the use of language and ESP curricula focused on developing the skills
and strategies learners needed to acquire a second language instead of depending upon the surface form
of the language. The focus shifted to the underlying strategies that would help the learner extract
meaning from the external forms. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) quoted the ability to guess meaning
of a word from the context as an example of applying underlying strategies to the external form of the
lexical items. They suggested that all ESP curricula should involve the learners from the beginning to
determine their learning needs and LS so that they might be able to effectively apply underlying
strategies to achieve their learning objectives.
Discussing the question whether ESP courses were more successful than General English
courses in preparing students for working or studying in English, "war stories and romances(Dudley-
Evans and St. John, 1998 cf. Bowyers, 1980) presented various reports about the success of different
ESP courses during 1970's and 1980's. Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, p. 25) mentioned Foley
146 Choudhary Zahid Javid

(1979) who also discussed "the ESP Program at the University of Patroleum and Minerals in Saudi
Arabiaand provided "concrete evidence for the validity of the ESP approach".
It has been stated that early stages of ESP were strongly linked with "Register Analysis,
Discourse and Rhetorical analysis, Skills-Based Approaches and the Learning-Centered
Approach(Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998, p. 30) but after achieving maturity, no dominating
movement has existed in ESP and many different approaches and a willingness to mix different types
of material and methodologies have been accepted in the realm of this flexible approach: ESP. They
have mentioned that ESP has been transformed
From grammatical, functional and notional syllabuses to a more eclectic and
task-based approach --- ESP today is much broader activity in which English for
Business Purposes (EBP) has become increasingly important (ibid., p. 32)

5. Purpose of ESP Courses
There has been a lot of research on the issue of the rationale and purpose that an ideal ESP course
should serve. Hutchinson and Waters (1987, p. 12) stated that the purpose of an ESP course is to
enable learners to function adequately in a target situation. ESP course contents should be goal-
directed(Hadley, 2006 cf. Robinson, 1991) and centered on the language (grammar, lexis, register
etc.), skills, discourse and genres appropriate to (the activities of the discipline it serves)(Hadley, 2006
cf. Dudley-Evans and St. John, 1998, p. 5). Much research has suggested that ESP program should be
aim-directed, learner-directed and situation-directed. Therefore, the principle of one size fits alldoes
not apply to ESP courses and ready-made ESP textbooks are not suitable for specific teaching settings
(Robinson, 1991; Dudley-Evans, 1997; Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Gatehouse, 2001). Goonetilleke
(1989, p. 43) presented his findings that appreciated the value of standard ESP textbooksproduced in
Britain and the USA but reiterated that though no foreign textbook will be wholly adequate in the
local situation. It has been strongly suggested that the universities should evolve common ESP
courses through cooperating endeavors . at least until such time as the core ESP courses are
produced(ibid., p. 46). Chantrupanth (1993, p. 9) offered deep insights into designing a short
courseand reported that the teaching material should be prepared specifically to meet the needs of the
students either for their academic purposes or their careers. ESP practitioners have been advised to
modify the ready-made textbooks because adapted materials are more suitable to ESP learners than
textbooks since no textbooks could fully satisfy the particular needs of any ESP learners(Chen, 2006
cf. Chen, 2005, p. 40).Chen (2000: 395) has also proposed that ESP practitioners need to develop their
own ESP courses considering their specific teaching environment and the learners specific needs
because there is no espoused ESP curriculum that corresponds to the particular teaching setting that
many a prospective ESP teacher may encounter. He further elaborated his point of view and rejected
conventional theory-into-practice ESP training model and suggested a more flexible model of
context-specific principles of ESP curriculum development(ibid., p. 398). Johns (1989) advocated an
urgent need to address the specific ESP needs of millions of Chinese students of Sciencebecause the
great number of ESP textbooks which were compiled abroad are not suitable for them. There is a
pressing need to train ESP teachers to evaluate their teaching contextand the specific needs of their
specific learners as the main criterion for ESP curriculum development (Chen, 2000). Chen (2006: cf.
Robinson, 1991, p. 41) has recommended that in-house materialsare much more valid and useful as
compared to ready-made published textbooks because they are tailored according to the specific needs
of the learners and the indigenous teaching settings. However, they are also more expensive and time
consuming to produce(ibid., p. 41). It has been reported that ESP practitioners have to carry out action
research alongside teaching practice because the English teaching units have to develop and to
administer courses in keeping with the requirements of the institutions. These requirements vary from
university to university, and very often they vary from faculty to faculty within individual
universities(Gunawardena and Knight, 1989, p. 111).
English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 147

6. Characteristics of ESP Courses
The researchers who have discussed the characteristics of ESP do not seem to disagree on this
particular issue and most of them (Strevens, 1988; Bojovic, 2006; Dudley-Evans, 1997; Gatehouse,
2001) have supported the main characteristics proposed by Carter (1983). He identified the following
three features common to ESP courses: a) authentic material, b) purpose-related orientation, and c)
self-direction(Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Carter, 1983, p. 2).
Authentic materialmeans using material, not developed or written for teaching purpose, from
the main area of study of the learners or their occupation. This material may include books, forms,
charts, graphs etc. and these forms of authentic texts may be exploited in modified or unmodified
forms according to the requirement of the teaching circumstances. Authentic material will be an
appropriate choice if ESP courses are offered to advanced or intermediate level as proposed by Dudley-
Evans, (1997). Use of authentic content materials, modified or unmodified in form, are indeed a
feature of ESP, particularly in self-directed study and research tasks(Gatehouse, 2001, p. 4). He
further mentioned that the learners who were taught language for employment in health services were
mainly evaluated through a lot of independent study assignments given to them in their chosen area of
interest. The students were encouraged to utilize various resources to complete their research
Purpose-related orientation (Gatehouse, 2001 cf. Carter, 1983) has been identified as the
simulation of different communicative tasks to prepare the learners for different target situations. The
learners are given practice through simulation to enable them to handle various linguistic roles in the
target situation. Carter (1983) reported student simulation of different tasks which were required for a
conference. These tasks included preparation of papers, reading of papers, note taking etc. EBP courses
at Algonquin College trained the students to design and prepare unique business ventures like market
research, pamphlets and logo creationand the students presented all their final products in the form of
a poster presentation sessions (Gatehouse, 2001). He narrated the proceedings of health science
program at his institute. The students practiced listening skills and then employed their newly
acquired skills during a fieldtrip to a local community centre where they were partnered up with
English-speaking residents(ibid., p. 4). Faculty of Agronomy in Cacak was another example in this
regard where English for Agribusiness Management (EAM) course involved students in the tasks of
presenting a particular agricultural product, logo creation, negotiating with the clients (suppliers and
buyers), telephone conversation(Bojovic, 2006, p. 3).
Self-directionis the third characteristic of ESP courses which means that ESP
is concerned with turning learners into users(Carter, 1983, p. 134). It means that the
students should have certain degree of freedom to decide when, what and how they
will study(Gatehouse, 2001, p. 5).

7. ESP Contents
An extremely important area of discussion among ESP researchers has been the inclusion of
specialized contents in ESP courses. The first phase of ESP that lasted till the beginning of 1960s,
confined itself to the teaching materials consisted of authentic texts in different fields of specialization
(Hutchinson and Waters, 1987). Furthermore Sthat stands for specificsuggests that ESP can be
differentiated from general EFL/ESL by its concern with specialized language and practice(Hadley,
2006, p. 3). Wales (1993, p. 4) presented the following specific factors of pedagogical concernwhile
discussing the reasons of including general English in workplace (ESP) courses. They are:
1. that there are linguistic relationships between general and specific English.
2. that learners perceived needs may include general as well as specific English.
3. that learners L2 proficiency level may require general skill development.
St. Johns and Dudley-Evans (1991, p. 307) contended that ESP includes all courses in
specialized language and practice. It has been stated that if a subject such as medicine or computing
148 Choudhary Zahid Javid

is taught in English, this is not in itself ESP teaching; it is content teaching. ESP has to involve
teaching of the language as well as the skills associated with --- EGAP ---- ESAP(Dudley-Evans,
1997, p. 9). Inclusion of contents of target subjects seems an integral part of any ESP program. The
contents of teaching materials should be relevant to their needs and also convey new information for
students(Chantrupanth, 1993, p. 9). Adamson (1997, p. 65) explained his experience of developing
and teaching ESP course for nurses at Miyagi University and concluded that ESP through content is a
viable and even preferable way to approach language teaching. Special subject contents serve several
purposes that are sometimes to motivate learners, sometimes to ensure learners are able to understand
the underlying conceptual features the language is describing(Cozens, 2006, p. 7). He offered useful
insights into the attitude of several teachers who did not want to include subject contents and believed
that an academic study skill programor a general language programcould fulfill the specific needs
of all learners. Gunawardena and Knight (1989) discussed about the learners negative attitude towards
general English courses at the engineering and medical faculties in Sri Lankan universities. He
presented his findings that the students feel that the study of general Englishis a waste of time, and
they have little or no tolerance for material outside their field of study(ibid., p. 112). The same
attitude has been more candidly defined as follows:
Languages at tertiary level are often treated as second-rate subjects. This situation is
reflected in students attitude towards language as a faculty subject which they consider a
necessary evil, but not linked to what they believe to be their genuine study program (Cozens,
2006 cf. Gvardjancic, 2001, p. 8).
Several research studies were conducted and their findings proved that ELT courses that did not
include subject contents adversely affected learners motivation. Peters and Saxon (1997, p. 108)
provided insights into their experience of creating content-based units for a first-year introductory art
history course at a leading university in Japan and concluded that content-based English classes can
provide a meaningful context for the development of English language skills. Sagliano et al. (1998)
have also interpreted their findings and suggested that specific contents should be included in ESP
teaching materials.
Though the role of an ESP practitioner should not be limited to the content teaching only and
research has suggested that it is not
limited to the students perception but also affects members of other faculties
and administrative personnel, too, who often see the role of ESP teacher simply as a
way to instill relevant lexical items into their students(Cozens, 2006 cf. Smoak, 2004,
p. 8).
An ESP program that is strictly confined to the specialized subject content is also undesirable
and Cozens (2006: 10 cf. Davis, 1979) has warned of the danger that totally content-based course can
have on the health of learners. He gave the example of an anteater that was fed only on protein at an
English zoo which suggested that the language learners needed to have experience beyond the
language learning classroom to provide the roughage necessary to enjoy using English in a natural
context(ibid.: 10). Hutchinson and Waters (1987) have also reported that ESP is not restricted to
teaching only specialized varieties of English.
Relevant lexical itemsconstitute an integral part of an ESP course and Bejan (1989, p. 94)
suggested a practical division of vocabulary words into three classes: technical, sub technical and
nontechnical. This seemed to offer valuable insights into the fact that an ideal ESP course should
strike a balance between these two extremes: general English courses and strictly content-based
language courses. Gatehouse (2001) has proposed that three abilitiesare required by the learners to
handle a professional target communicative situation: ability to use special jargon, ability to use
general academic or business skills and the ability to communicate in any other social setting. This
comprehensive objective can be effectively achieved through an ESP course that includes subject
contents and general English. Fiorito (2005, p. 2) advocated that ESP combines subject matter and
English language teaching. He has concluded that such a combination is highly motivating because it
English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose 149

enables the learners to apply what they have learned in their main field of specialization. Gulzar &
Sutana (2009, p. 123) outline that it is important that the development of ESP Curricula and their
influence should be traced in EFL/ESL classrooms to understand classroom pedagogies and an
interaction between teachers and students in the context of classroom discourse. This practice is
essential for the success of ESP courses. Another added benefit of including subject contents is that the
learners ability in their specialized field enhances their ability to acquire different language functions
taught to them through these semi-subject content-based ESP courses.
How muchand whatsubject contents should be included in an ESP course does not have a
definite answer and only learners needs can determine it. A proper NA is required to decide about the
percentage of specialized contents and general English. Hutchinson and Waters (1987, p. 59) have
contended that
if learners, sponsors and teachers know why the learners need English, that
awareness will have an influence on what will be acceptable as reasonable content in the
language course and, on the positive side, what potential can be exploited.
NA plays a distinguishing role between ELT and ESP. All four language skills are equally
emphasized in ELT as a general rule whereas NA determines, for an ESP course, what language
skill/skills should be given priority on others according to the specific needs of the learners. An ESP
program may target to develop learners reading skills who are studying in a business administration
graduation course or it may concentrate on speaking skills development of the learners who are taking
the course to become tourist guides (Fiorito, 2005). Such a balanced ESP course
can also show the students that their perceived needs are being addressed and
persuade them that the language classes are both important and relevant to their final
goal---------- to sum up, there is no perfect answer to the question, but the inclusion of
content in any ESP course is important (Cozens, 2006, p. 14).
The above discussion seems to suggest that a realistic NA-based combination of specialized
content and general English is necessary to address the learners specific needs and to enhance their
interest and motivation which is and should be the main purpose of an ESL course.

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