General characteristics of teaching esp

International relations in the spheres of business, industry, economy and culture, which have grown in the last decades, make great demands of modern specialists. One of the most important elements of success and demand for specialists is their foreign language proficiency. Under modern conditions, speaking foreign language becomes a very essential component of specialist’s future professional activity, for this reason such discipline as English for specific purposes (ESP) becomes more and more needed. Professional specificity, aiming at realization of objectives of future professional activity must be taken into consideration while teaching English for Specific Purposes. Professionally oriented approach in teaching English among adult people, which assists them in forming ability to use English in concrete professional business spheres and situations, taking into account peculiarities of professional thinking, gains currency.

Professionally oriented teaching should be considered as teaching based on people’s needs in study the foreign language which are dictated by the peculiarities of a future profession and specialty. It plans to combine professional-oriented language acquisition with the development of learners’ personal characteristics based on professional and linguistic knowledge.

According to the educational sample program nowadays the goal of teaching ESP consists in further improvement the communication-intercultural and forming the professional competence of students. Teaching ESP presupposes taking into account learners’ needs in the studied language, which are determined by the special features of a future profession.

The communication-intercultural competence consists in further forming of communication skills, more profound picture of the world’s perception, understanding its sense key-points, and the ability to observe similarities and differences between communicating cultures and use it in the context of intercultural communication. Language material is enriched by means of rising idiomaticity of learners’ speech, further intensification of background knowledge and specialty’s metalanguage, and in whole, broadening general philological, culturological, and pedagogical learners’ outlook within the cultural and professionally oriented component of educational content and forming communication skills.

According to sample program learners’ professional competence is ensured with the help of:

  • Subject content of speech, which is defined within general professional and special professional spheres of communication, providing learners’ with professionally oriented knowledge and metalanguage;
  • Forming professionally oriented skills by solving pragmatic-professional problems in profession-based situation of communication [1;21].

For effective realization of educational goals unconventional forms and methods of planning the lessons of ESP, such as talk shows, press-conferences, and discussions, and dialogue technologies of teaching (business and role games, project work) must find application in the classroom [1; p. 21].

Studies of the English language take place on different levels, in various settings and contexts, and there is the link between two types of English – General and Specific. In spite of the fact that teaching English is al ways based on the language skills acquired at a secondary school there is the necessity to make the language a professional oriented subject, it should help the learners to build their professional skills as well as to contribute to their education as persons maturing active members of society [2; p. 21].

It is an unquestionable fact that today foreign language proficiency has great importance. However, teaching ESP should not be considered as teaching of English with the help of special material and content. Development of linguistic skills and the acquisition of specific information are the main components of ESP. Even planning home assignment these skills and professionally oriented direction should not be omitted.

The division of English language studies into two types requires carefully investigation of learners’ interests and needs. Even a college student does not think a lot about how the acquired skills and foreign language knowledge will be used in his future professional activity. Thanks to general English teaching, within which fundamentals of grammar, expressions as well as of phonetics are presented, all these components become a necessary basis for later language studies.

Different professional or occupational, social and other needs of the learner determine teaching Language for Specific Purposes. As a result ESP consists in specialized programs which goal is to develop the communicative use of English in a specialized field of science, work or technology. To know just general vocabulary is not enough in order to be able to speak on a professional subject. However, a great part of professional vocabulary consists of general words, which acquire new meaning or become compound words or word combinations.

With the help of ESP the language becomes the means of teaching profession and appears to be significant in the context of the professional world [2; p. 21]. Today in the age of information learners have access to the Internet where the knowledge of the English language gives them an opportunity to get global information and exchange information in the sphere they are interested in.

Therefore, teaching or learning ESP is said to be professionally oriented as it takes into consideration professional needs of learners. Specific skills are acquired from the selected texts where special vocabulary and the richness of the meanings are presented. To be able to use the English language for professional purposes undoubtedly the knowledge of general English should be taken as a basis and then it should be revised and developed for many different everyday uses of English. The student is expected to use all the acquired knowledge in his professional environment as well as in the everyday situations, by taking part in different conversations, asking and answering questions.

V. Cook asks “What does another language do?” and the answer is: “Learning another language makes people think more flexibly, increases language awareness and leads to better understanding of other cultures” [6; p. 197]. For effective communication linguistic and cultural norms set by English native speakers must be used. Here we again approach teaching the two types of English – the General and the Specific. In both cases the development of learners’ ability to communicate in oral and written forms takes place, linguistic knowledge is presented by correctness of grammatical structures, proper choice of words and precision of their meaning.

The primary goal in teaching ESP is to provide the student with practical use of English revising the knowledge built earlier. ESP concentrates not only on the recognition of particular structures of sentences or word combinations, but also on the choice of terms and meanings of words in different kinds of contexts. Grammatical competence is the domain of linguistic studies proper, while specific competence includes interdisciplinary field together with the understanding of the particular context the language is used in [2; p. 21].

For effective teacher’s work in ESP learners’ needs should be understood and carefully examined. In spite of the fact that it is difficult to achieve, it is necessary to plan the work in the classroom in such a way that it will not just be the presenting of a piece of new material but it must be a very interesting and pleasant occupation. The main teacher’s goal is to make learners active participants by all possible means (giving some interesting or more complex material for studies, assigning special tasks, etc.).

Specific language should include general language with additional spices inherent to a professional language (new meanings of already known words, unknown terms, some grammar structures which are used in the chosen field of study). General English should not be opposed to ESP or vice versa. ESP is always based on the knowledge of general English. ‘ESP is aimed at consolidating grammar, pronunciation and other skills and at acquisition of a specialized meaning of words in specific professional contexts’ [2; p. 21]. The goal of teaching general English is devoted to grammar structures and general vocabulary.

It is very important for a teacher to help students to overcome their barrier of fears to make possible mistakes. The students must be taught how to learn the language independently and become independent learners. The profit of such activity is obvious, it makes learners think and express their ideas in English, because without speaking it is impossible to learn the language.

Learners who come to the ESP classroom already have some English knowledge, well-built adult learning strategies and, what is more important, a specific interest for learning. People learn language effectively if they understand and work with the language in the context that they find interesting. Students will acquire English as they work with materials which they find interesting and relevant and which they can use in their professional work or further studies. The more learners pay attention to the meaning of the language they hear or read, the more they are successful: the more they have to focus on the linguistic input or isolated language structures, the less they are motivated to attend their classes.

Learners who have already chosen ESP are generally aware of the purposes for which they will need to use English. When people have already oriented their education toward specific field, English training becomes as complementing to this orientation. Knowledge of the subject gives a student an opportunity to identify a real context of structures within ESP classroom. In such way, learners can take advantages of what they already know about the subject matter to learn English.

To learn a foreign language for adults is more difficult rather that for children, but on the other hand adult learners already have some learning skills which they “bring” to the class and use them in order to learn faster and more efficiently. They developed these skills in their native language that’s why it helps to make the process of learning a foreign language easier. Perhaps the knowledge of learners who will decide to start learning ESP will be limited; however, the language learning abilities of the adult in the ESP classroom are potentially enormous. Educated adults are constantly learning new language behavior in the native languages by expanding vocabulary, becoming more fluent in their fields, and adjusting their linguistic behavior to new roles or new situations.

Developing linguistic skills demanded by professional needs of learners is great educational work done by the language teacher; the learner defines and expresses his attitude towards some questions discussed during a lesson. Language learning is intended for humanization of students’ activities by developing his cognitive and social experience along with their understanding of their own needs and preferences. Learning process develops creative thinking of students by stimulating them to try to find a way how to connect what is written in the book with that what exists in their minds.

In fact one may ask “What is the difference between the ESP and General English approach?” Hutchinson and Waters answer this very simply, “In theory nothing. In practice a great deal”. As to the distinction between these two terms, these authors stated that, ‘what distinguishes ESP from general English is not the existence of a need as such but rather the awareness of the need. 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” [3, p. 53].

Before teachers did not pay much attention to needs analysis to find out what was really necessary to actually achieve it. However, nowadays teachers are much more interested in needs analysis taking into account the learners’ goals at all stages of the learning process. Perhaps it is the demonstration of the influence of ESP on English teaching in general but the line where General English courses stop and ESP courses start has become very vague indeed [4; p. 2].

The main important difference between General English and ESP can be named as learners’ purposes for learning English. Students who are interested in learning ESP are generally adults who already have some English language proficiency and who decide to study the language to be able to communicate a set of professional skills and to perform particular job-related functions. So purposes and needs and the job functions for which English is required compose the foundation of an ESP program.

ESP gives preference language in context rather that is aimed at teaching grammar and language structures. It covers so many different subjects from computer science to aviation and business management. The peculiarity of ESP consists in the following idea: 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 [5; p. 1].

However, the difference between ESP and General English lies not only in the nature of the learner, but the aim of the instructor is very important, too. In fact, while teaching General English, all four language skills (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) have the same importance and are taught equally. In teaching ESP needs analysis takes the first place and according to it language skills the most needed by the learners are defined and only then the syllabus is designed. So an ESP program might be aimed at the development of reading skills in students if, for example, they are going to work in the sphere of business administration; or the development of spoken skills in students who are studying English for work which consists in conducting negotiations or being tourists guides.

ESP combining English language teaching and subject matter gives students the opportunity to apply all the knowledge they are getting in their English classes to their main field of study, whether it is jurisprudence, tourism business or management. They are able to use all the vocabulary and grammar structures which they learn from meaningful contexts and it helps to increase their motivation and reinforce all the knowledge they are taught.

Contrariwise learners’ main filed of study assists them in acquiring English in the classroom. Knowledge which they have got during their professional activity gives them the content they need to understand English of the classroom. The teacher in the ESP class should show and explain how subject-matter content can be expressed in English and use it in order to help students learn English faster.

So if we take the term “ESP”, “specific” here refers to the specific purposes of students for learning English. Learners are taught English within their professional sphere, that’s why they can use all the knowledge from the classroom right away in their work. Thanks to the ESP approach the importance of what students are learning is stressed and their interest in the professional occupation motivates them to interact with speakers and text [5; p. 1].

Although nowadays ESP continues to evolve along several distinct paths, all these branches are closely connected with each other. It focuses not just on learners’ immediate needs and wants but also on their future needs and wants, continues to focus on individual learning, learner centeredness, and learner autonomy. ESP is today more vibrant than ever with a bewildering number of terms created to fit the increasing range of occupations where the use of ESP is indispensable. It seems with increasing globalization and mobility of the world’s workforce that the demand for specific courses will not decrease but only rise. However learners should understand that the English language should not be used only in some narrow target situations but also as a means of self-expression.



  1. Sample program. Foreign language: two foreign languages. The Ministry of education and science, Almaty, 2007
  2. Laimutė Kitkauskienė. General English and English for Specific Purposes, 2006
  3. Hutchinson, Tom &Waters, Alan. English for Specific Purposes: A learner-centered approach. Cambridge University Press, 1987
  4. L. Anthony. English for Specific Purposes: What does it mean? Why is it different?. Department of Information and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering Okayama University of Science, 2005
  5. Lorenzo Fiorito. Teaching English for Specific Purposes, 2005
  6. V. Cook. Second language learning and language teaching. London: Oxford University Press.2001, p. 197
Year: 2011
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology