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Unit 29b: ESP


This unit considers English for Special Purposes (ESP).

So far on the course there has been an examination of how to teach General English (GE).
However, English is also often taught for Special Purposes. For example, a student wishing to
improve his/her English in order to do business with other English speakers can choose to
take a course in Business English (BE). Likewise, students who need to improve their
language skills in order to enter higher education in an English speaking country can do
English for Academic Purposes (EAP). This unit will explore these more specialised areas of

Learning Objectives

By the end of this unit, you will have:

•re-examined different types of motivation in the context of teaching ESP

•examined the importance of needs analyses in ESP

•analysed what is taught in the ESP classroom

•considered how to approach teaching ESP, in both group and one-to-one classes.

ESP and Motivation

Student motivation is often one of the key differences between teaching GE and ESP. With the
former, students are sometimes more intrinsically motivated; they have chosen to study
English in order to gain a new skill or experience life in another country and meet new people.
However, in ESP classes students are sometimes studying because they are required to as part
of their job, for example, or because they need to in order to secure a place at a university
(extrinsic motivation). When this happens, it is important to relate everything which happens
in class very closely to the student’s needs (e.g. their job, their degree) in order to exploit their
extrinsic motivation to the full.

Task 1: Student Profiles

Examples of extrinsic motivation Examples of intrinsic motivation

Hamad He needs to take part in meetings, negotiations and give presentations. To get to the
next level in his career, his employers will test his English. For his life. He wants to be able to
deal with other nationalities.
Task 2: Needs Analysis
Participating in meetings and
Writing an academic essay

Develop listening for specific

information e.g. for statistics.
Listening n/a Develop listening for detailed
information, e.g. details of business

Reading n/a n/a

Practice writing academic

Writing n/a

How to agree/disagree politely, e.g. I

understand where you’re coming from
Speaking n/a but we need to take into account….
How to interrupt/take a turn, e.g. If I
could just say something here….

How to use a range of verb tenses, e.g.

at the moment sales are increasing, so
How to make impersonal
far this year sales have reached.
Grammar statements, e.g. passive voice It
How to use nouns and verbs in the
is believed that….
same word family, e.g. last year saw a
rise in…/ last year sales rose by….

Be familiar with general

Be familiar with business lexis and
academic language, e.g. conduct
metaphors, e.g. frozen assets, float on
research, hypothesis, evaluate.
Lexis the stock market, sink.
Be familiar with academic
Be familiar with lexis relevant to the
language relevant to learner’s
learner’s area of business.
field of study.

How to organise an essay e.g.

using linking words. How to organise points in a speech, e.g.
How to use referencing e.g. the Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly.
former, the latter, as such.
Where to put stress over long
Pronunciation n/a
Practice at intonation, e.g. where voice
falls at the end of a sentence.


Nahal She wants to improve her writing skills as she will be writing academic essays at
university. She also needs to score 6.0 in her IELTS exam. She loves London having been to
summer school there as a child.

Write an academic essay Participate in meetings and teleconferences

 Listening to
meetings and
focusing on
useful phrases,
deciding if the
Listening n/a meeting was
successful or

 Listening and
a range of

 Not mentioned
 Reading research papers and but scripts of
looking at samples of other meetings can be
student work to work out what useful for
they need to do noticing useful

Writing  Practice writing academic essays  Note-taking


 Writing

 Follow up
or reports

 Role plays and

Speaking n/a

 Grammatical features of a formal

academic texts, e.g. the passive
Grammar n/a
voice and using noun rather than
verb phrases

 Professional
lexis related to
the particular
 Academic/topic specific lexis
field of topic of
related to the particular field of
the conference
Lexis study
 noticing useful
 Using reporting verbs such as
phrases for
state and assert
suggesting etc.

 Sequencing
linkers: Firstly,
 Using tentative language
Discourse secondly, and
(hedging) and nominalisation
then I’ll move

 Putting stress
on main points
Pronunciation n/a
 Drills to
intonation for
tentatively etc.

 Research techniques and study  Needs analysis

skills is important

From the profiles and interviews it is clear that Hamad has both extrinsic and intrinsic
motivation. Therefore, in order to exploit his extrinsic motivation to the full, a student like
Hamad can practise giving presentations or attending meetings and participating in
teleconferences. Similarly, for an EAP student like Nahal, not only will she need to develop
strategies to improve her writing and have exam preparation, but it would also be useful if
lessons reflected university life. For example, she and her fellow students could listen to
lectures or participate in seminars.


All of the statements are true in a one-to-one class.

1.Before or at the start of the course it is very important to evaluate the student’s needs
carefully. If the student needs to participate in meetings, what nationality are the people they
need to speak to? If they need to write reports, who do they need to write them for, and what
format are they usually in?

2.One way of targeting the student’s needs, particularly in terms of lexis and reading skills, is
to base activities around the student’s own documents in English. The teacher will need to
read these and prepare lessons around them in advance of the lessons.

3.Technical documents will often include esoteric lexis. If the teacher does not know this,
questioning the student about them, and asking for examples and explanations will help the
teacher understand more about the students’ area of expertise. It is the teacher’s job to
develop the students’ English. That, after all, is the teachers’ area of expertise.

4.Scaffolding can be very effective in one-to-one classes.

5.Using the board can be very distancing in a one-to-one class. Sitting next to the student and
using A4 paper or a flip chart to, for example, draw time lines, or record the form of some
language can be more effective. The student can then take it away with them at the end of the

6.When the teacher makes up the pair it is important that they ‘take off their teaching hat’, and
concentrate on acting as a partner. In one-to-one classes it is important that students get
fluency development as well as accuracy work. Therefore, the teacher also needs to consider
when and how to correct.

7.The teacher needs to provide a variety of activities, focus and pace, as well as adequate
breaks to help maintain the student’s concentration. It can also be very intensive for the
teacher, and the student can become very teacher dependent. Not having peers in the
classroom can also make it hard for the student to measure their progress and feel a sense of
achievement, as they are always comparing themselves to the proficient model of English the
teacher provides. It is therefore very useful to regularly record the student so they can listen
to themselves and measure their progress against earlier models.

End Notes

Here are some key points to remember from the unit:

•A General English class is not always able to cater for all students, who sometimes have very
specific needs. Most commonly, they need English for specific business or academic purposes.
As a result of the specific needs, a detailed needs analysis is central to effective ESP teaching.

•The general approach and many of the techniques used in GE teaching can be transferred
into the ESP classroom. However, some activities can take a more central role in ESP learning,
for example, the use of role play and simulations.

•Some ESP teaching is one–to-one, which requires a slightly different approach to teaching
groups. Differences include basing the classes around the student’s own knowledge, technical
documents, the student explaining the meaning of technical lexis and the use of scaffolding.

Reading List

If you are interested in learning more about ESP teaching, here is a reading list:

There is a wide range of general business English coursebooks, as well as self-study and
teacher resource books for both academic and business English, which it would be useful and
interesting to look at.

Harding, K, (2007) English for Specific Purposes, Oxford: OUP

McCarthy, M, McCarten, J, Clark, D & Clark, R (2009) Grammar for Business, Cambridge: CUP
Frendo, E (2005) How to Teach Business English, London: Longman

Wilberg, P (1988) One to one A Teacher’s Handbook, Boston: Heinle

Osbourne, P (2007) Teaching English One to One, Teddington: Keyways Publishing

Oshima, A, & Hogue, A (2006) Writing Academic English, London: Pearson Longman

Cox, K, & Hill, D (2004) EAP Now, London: Longman

McCormack, J, Slaght, J, (2005) Extended Writing & Research Skills, Rading: Garnet Publishing

Swales, J, & Feak, C (2004) Academic Writing for Graduate Students, Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press

Gillett, A, Hammond, A, Martala, M (2009) Inside Track to Successful Academic Writing,

London: Longman

Porter, D (2003) Check your Vocabulary for Academic English, Oxford: Macmillan

Northhedge, A (2005) The Good Study Guide, Milton Keynes: The Open University.