TeachingEnglish
      Difficulties of teaching English for Specific Purposes

      One of the most challenging experiences in my career was teaching English for Specific Purposes. I was teaching business English at the French University in Armenia to 1st and 2nd year majors in management and business studies. It was exactly then that I started reading ESP literature, since the courses I was teaching posed so many new questions. For instance, this was the first time I felt what it meant to challenge the teacher authority. Before this course I had felt quite competent teaching general English, because I was familiar with the most topics covered in GE textbooks. However, business and management were alien territories for me, and I had a hard time preparing for the lessons. Of course, I remembered very well that many authors writing about ESP recommended relying on students' knowledge of the specific discipline and thus yielding the domain of expertise to them. However, I was quite hesitant to follow this recommendation, because a part of teaching undergraduates in Armenia (well,  this is true perhaps anywhere) is to make sure your students do not doubt your knowledge. Otherwise, except the de-motivation and the disrespect, you end up with a hell of a classroom: girls chatting non-stop or texting on their mobiles, boys becoming as unruly as walking in the classroom, commenting everything and everybody except their studies and what not (of course, this is an extreme scenario, but unfortunately, not very unrealistic). There still can be some classroom management and behaviour issues, but this is increasingly less so, if the students trust the expertise of their teacher.

      So, to prepare for my first lessons meant at least four hours of painstaking reading of economics textbooks and occasional phone calls to my friends who had studied economics:-) I believed that the mastery of the content was essential for the ESP teacher to conduct a meaningful lesson (and I still do, though my opinion has changed considerably). Once I felt that I had established a good rapport with my students I felt less embarrassed to confess my ignorance of the content they knew quite well:-) Though I still prepared a lot for each lesson, I felt more comfortable to engage in a learning process myself with the help of the students. I think part of the reason why we both benefited from this process was my open statement that I needed their help. I still can remember the smile on the faces of some of them. They obviously could not hide their happiness for being appreciated and being treated as knowledgeable adults who are trusted by someone who they thought should have all the available expertise:-)

      This was a difficult shift for me, but one I never regretted. What helped us to make the change was our openness and the negotiation over the change of the practice in the classroom. Had we been unable to negotiate, to make certain concessions, (e.g. both of us had to challenge our stereotypes about teaching and learning; I had to learn their content, they had to learn mine, etc.) we would have failed the learning process. I wouldn't have been able to teach the language, because I couldn't understand the content and thus couldn't design meaningful activities, and they wouldn't have learnt much, because such restricted instruction would not have addressed their learning needs.

      However, I understood that this cannot always be the case. Sometimes, as in real life, some parties refuse to negotiate and then all end up in the least effective process of learning. I still think though that giving it a try is worth the effort. My experience of teaching ESP has shaped my own approach to it which I can summarize as the following:

      • I think at least some essential knowledge of the content is necessary. I don't agree with those who put the whole responsibility on students (what if some students don't know the content enough to help you? When you do know the content, you provide them with another chance to master their major as well) So, when you decide to teach ESP, you should be clear that your workload will double.

      • Negotiation over the learning process is a key to effective learning. Don't consider this a waste of time and effort, it definitely pays off!

      • Your students can be facilitators in the learning process, but you are the one who guides it. You are the one still responsible for designing learning activities. This may seem a truism redundant to be repeated, but unfortunately, some teachers fall into the trap of false student autonomy in the result of which not much learning takes place. Yes, students may remember such teachers as quite nice people, the lessons as quite entertaining and fun, but when it comes to what they have learnt, they 'forget' to mention anything!

      Now, I anticipate quite emotional disagreements with this:-)

      Average: 3.5 (16 votes)

      Comments

      RF's picture
      RF
      Submitted on 1 May, 2009 - 19:05

      I am Roza Zhusupova an English Teacher from Kazakhstan, and have been teaching for 17 years at a university level. I have got a scientific degree on speciality - methodology of foreign languages teaching. Nevertheless I am a continuous learner.


      I guess that Christine's work experience is quite close to me, because we had the same problems in English teaching at high schools for non-linguistic students at that "post-sovetscky" time, when English as subject and as international communication had become a topical necessity. My thesis was devoted to the forming of communicative competence for agro-engineering students.
      But now there is the urgent necessity for English language learning specifically designed for non-linguistic students, which would combine theoretical background with new techniques and materials. I work out the syllabus of Professionally-oriented English for students, who knows Elementary English and has some professional skills.

      The main objective of the course is to develop the students’ abilities to use English for communicative purposes and their future professional needs. The course is aimed at the overall development of speaking, writing, reading and listening skills; at the development of professional communication skills in terms of oral and written communication and listening skills.

      I’d like to submit for your consideration a new educational supply “Professionally-oriented English”, which is worked out by me. It’s absolutely convinced that to teach anything successfully, you have to find out what the student knows and is interested in finding out. The learning process is structured through a series of units:

      Unit 1. SHAPING THE FUTURE

      Unit 2. FIRST IMPRESSIONS LAST.

      Therefore, this “Professionally-oriented English” always follow the learning cycle of:

      1) activity can be finding what the students know. This allows finding out what the students think about a topic. Pre-reading exercises, which fulfill the function of warming-up the students and concentrating their attention on the text that follows.
      Predicting vocabulary exercises, which follow the text and are aimed at learning and practicing new vocabulary. Here the students will work with lexical models, with the help of which lexical units are integrated into long-term memory.

      2) debrief involves eliciting what they know and correcting misconceptions.
      Specialist reading. Long authentic texts in bounds of professionally oriented topics will create motivation for learning new vocabulary.
      Writing tasks will mostly include general business English writing and professionally-oriented writing. Students have a great need in mastering the skills of writing resumes, CV, Letters of application, faxes, email messages, as well as writing different descriptions, explanations and instructions for their future partners abroad.

      Speaking tasks will provide the students an opportunity to exchange information and their viewpoints in bounds of the topic presented in the text. They will work in pairs and in small groups, which will develop their communicative skills. They will also learn how to conduct meetings and presentations. Special attention will be paid to preparation of reports on professionally oriented topics and to participation in conferences.

      3) implementation phase involves asking the class how what they have learned has changed their image and what they might do differently as a result.
      Problem-solving tasks and projects will help to include the newly learned vocabulary into the process of exchanging opinions, discussing the problem. These tasks are based on professionally oriented situations, which create motivation in mastering the vocabulary.

      Role-play. This task will be fulfilled as the last stage in mastering the topic and will crown up this process. Students will need to use all the knowledge and skills accepted while working at the topic.

      The qualitative changes in the course design of professionally-oriented English for non-linguistic students definitely affect the students’ standard of the English language knowledge.

      Christina_Sargsyan's picture
      Christina_Sargsyan
      Submitted on 5 May, 2009 - 18:05

      Dear Roza,

      Thanks for sharing with us your thoughts on ESP through the resource you have developed! How do your students respond to the various cycles you have described? Is one more challenging than the other, or is there no such difference between them?

      RF's picture
      RF
      Submitted on 14 December, 2009 - 17:11

      Academic year begins as usual, I have done so many works and have checked every time my various cycles in teaching. My students don't even observe any differences between mastering various cycles. It depends only upon students' productivity and level of English. No doubt that every student/group is more challenging than the other. But constantly I try to motivate students with low level. Best regards - Roza