English for Specific Purposes: A Challenge

AbstractIndian students for their diversity are a challenge for the teachers involved in teaching English for Specific Purpose (ESP), as it lacks the very specificity of content included in it. ESP in India involves the ‘specific content’ as well as grammar and language structuring, quite unlike its course content which distinguishes it from ESL (English as Second Language). At the same time it is essential that a teacher involved in teaching ESP should maintain its ‘focal point’, that is not to teach it as a subject separated from the world the student is acquainted with, rather the study should be an integrated study in the area of their specialization.   
IntroductionOf late teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has acquired a place of eminence amongst its sisters like ESL, linguistics, stylistics and other streams concerned with language study. Keeping in view the existence of ESP in most of the universities, it won’t be awry to state that time is coming when it will acquire the centre, rather than existing at the periphery. The reason is its ability to solve the purpose for which English is mostly used in India. Most of the education systems in India have adopted English language as a medium of their instruction and it is quite evident that there is a random shift in the notion of the masses that prefer sending their wards to these institutes rather than to a system which prefers regional language as a medium of instruction. Therefore, most of the learners, to be dealt with, are acquainted to English and need not be taught about all the four language skills that are: listening, reading, speaking and writing. It is the need analysis that determines which language skills are needed by the students. ESP provides a proper solution to this problem,   as it concentrates more on language in context than on teaching grammar and language structure. On the other hand, ESL is considered both monotonous and of no use by a student pursuing professional studies, as he is learning the language in order to communicate a set of professional skills and to perform job-related functions. So, ESP is more amicably popular amongst such students who find this subject near to the real world of their wishes.  This means that they are able to use what they learn in the ESP classroom right in their works and studies. The ESP enhances the relevance of what the students are learning and enables them to use the English they know to learn more English.This popular subject amongst the student of professional studies is unpopular amongst the teaching fraternity, because of more than one reason. Firstly, the curriculum is rigid and the content specialists who can make the ESP curriculum integrated with area of specialization of the students are not always available, so designing of the syllabus takes the back seat. Secondly, the students’ level of proficiency of English is not equal. In a country, of hundreds of languages and dialects, and of the haves and the have-nots, when the learners assemble under one roof they carry a touch of their mother-tongue and different levels of linguistic competence with them. So it becomes a challenge for a teacher to address to the needs of diversified students. Unlike English Literature, English Language or ESL, ESP is not a core subject for its learners; it is, to them, something that may add to their soft-skills. So, it is more likely that if a student is not able to connect to what is being taught may loose interest. This levies another set of responsibilities on the teachers that they must play diversified roles to establish a positive learning environment in the classroom and evaluate students’ progress. Variations in the discourse based on ESP lesson plan and to make it a comprehensive study beneficial to all is a challenge for a teacher. He yearns to boost the confidence level of the learners, as ESP requires from the learners to be self-confident.
Taking up the Challenge The needs of all the learners can be fulfilled by designing the lesson plan in a way that is nearest to the perception level of all. Most of the universities follow a well structured curriculum to be followed by ESP teachers. So it is now the job of the concerned teacher to adopt the subject matter according to their need. Suppose, a class requires to be taught about report writing so a teacher can first ask somebody from the class to read a news paper report to make them familiar with the style and tone of language used. Because, when a student tries his hands in report writing he ends up writing a story. Reading of a news paper report loudly in front of the class will familiarize them with the style of report, asking them to write one can also be a very good exercise since everyone at least know what newspaper report is. What has to be emphasized upon is the style, so the teacher can be ready with some interesting topics before going to the class, and ask the learners to write a report. He can pick up some students randomly and ask them to read their reports to check them appreciate them and encourage them. After this, he must relate the exercise to formal report writing. This particular exercise makes them ready for writing more formal reports.The teacher’s skill to communicate and mediate creates the classroom atmospheres. Students acquire the language when they have opportunities to use the language in interaction with other speakers. This opportunity is scarce in North-Indian students’ context as they seldom use English outside the ESP classroom. In order to encourage them to use more and more English; picture-narration exercises can be included in the class. Such as,  picture of a boy kneeling before a girl can be used to teach them the art of proposal writing; this will arouse the interest of the learners and encourage interaction. Since the teacher is the only English speaking (resource) person available to the learners in the classroom it is for him to identify the language learning problems and find solutions to them. Students become more open to interacting when the teacher takes up the participative role rather than dictating them to do so.
Creating a learning EnvironmentLearning becomes easier and begets effective results when the environment corresponds to what is being taught. Ambience helps the learners develop confidence that they carry with them to the place where they can actually use. A teacher of ESP can change the venue of group discussion from a classroom to a conference hall (if not available, a class room can be converted to a conference hall by relocating the chairs). This ambience will help them participate in a more organized manner. Once the learners get to sit in such a position in which they can see each other, they start responding automatically in a manner fit for a proper group-discussion. This change of ambience develops interest and eagerness amongst students. Likewise, public speaking class can be conducted in an open space rather than in a closed classroom. The free movement of the masses around the venue becomes a challenge for the learners. In most of the cases, a learner first starts loosing his confidence but gradually regains more than what he initially lost. A type of catharsis in which learner is exposed to circumstances prone to losing confidence, but gradually he gains the same. While the students deliver their respective speech, the teacher must try to listen carefully to what they say and give his understanding and misunderstanding back at them. These are few innovative ways by which ESP class can be made more interactive. The more learners pay attention to the meaning of language they hear, read or speak, 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.
Summing upESP comes with immense responsibilities for teachers, so much so that a teacher becomes more of a performer than just being a person giving dictation from his notes. In ESP, English is not a mechanical skill. On the contrary, it is to be presented in authentic contexts to make the learners acquainted with the particular ways in which the language is used in functions that they will need to perform.

About the Author:
Sumangal Haldar is a Lecturer in Professional Communication at Shri Ramswaroop Memorial College of Engineering and Management.

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