English for Specific Purposes: 9 Things You Must Ask Yourself

English for Specific Purposes: 9 Things You Must Ask Yourself

Every now and then we are faced with the arduous task of teaching ESP.

No, not extrasensory perception (ESL teachers are gifted at many things but mind reading is not one of them). ESP stands for English for Specific Purposes, namely English for business, English for medical professionals, English for lawyers, etc…

Is it really an arduous task? It doesn’t have to be. Personally, I have taught English for lawyers, for doctors and for marketing professionals, among others. Teaching English for lawyers, for example, may be a little trickier than teaching general business English, because each country has its own particular legal system and laws. But in any case, preparation is key. If you want to expand your job opportunities by teaching ESP, here are a few points to consider.

9 Things to Consider before You Teach ESP

  1. 1

    Will you be comfortable teaching this topic?

    So the opportunity arises, and you accept to teach English for the oil and gas industry. But think about it. Even if you have a great book, lots of extra material and students who are very knowledgeable about the field, is this something you are prepared to talk about for the duration of the course? You might be. Or you might not. Be honest with yourself.

  2. 2

    What material will you use?

    The textbook you choose will make or break your ESP course. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press have a good assortment of ESP books on a wide range of topics from Nursing to Accounting. Try to familiarize yourself with the material and make sure you choose one that will help you teach a topic you may not be an expert in.

  3. 3

    Will you teach students who are experienced in the field?

    What if your students know even less about the oil and gas industry than you do? Again, a good book should solve this problem.

    On the other hand, what if your students know a lot more than you do? Students who are expert in a certain field should understand your role is to teach English, not teach them something new in their field. You should understand this most of all. Be prepared to use their expertise to your advantage and don’t feel bad about not being the expert in oil and gas. You’re the expert in English!

  4. 4

    What will your students be doing?

    Are they studying ESL for their current job or future job? Will they be communicating with a boss in English? Will they be needing general business English, although they are actually engineers? It is essential to find out as much as you can about their needs so that you can make the necessary adjustments to the material.

  5. 5

    Will you need extra material?

    Say your engineers need English for engineering, but they also need to write good business English emails. You’ll need to find/provide this extra material from elsewhere as the ESP book probably won’t cover that. In any case, it is recommended that you try to teach them everything they need to know, and not just stick to the book. Variety is good, and lots of ESL students get bored with talking about their area of expertise all day.

  6. 6

    What will you give them for homework?

    What else could they do for homework aside from the exercises in the book? They can search the Internet for the latest articles in their field. They can listen to podcasts or watch interviews. Once again the Internet comes to the rescue!

  7. 7

    What if they have no experiences to share?

    When you teach ESP, quite often students contribute, genuine facts and real experiences, things they do at their job, clients they have, services they provide. What happens if the students you’re teaching don’t have this experience to share? Give them a hypothetical situation and ask them how they would handle it. Tell them to use their imagination.

  8. 8

    What reference material will you consult?

    What if they ask you about something that is not in the book? What if they ask you about a word or concept you are unsure of? Try to choose books or websites that might get you out of a bind, and have them ready in case of doubt.

  9. 9

    Will you have to teach general English as well?

    Chances are your students will need a little extra help with some structures and grammar. Don’t be afraid to add activities that will complement their ESP needs and provide a much-needed grammar boost.

Teaching ESP may not be as easy or as simple as teaching regular ol’ ESL. But the potential for learning is tremendous. You might not become an expert in engineering, or nursing or accounting, but you’ll certainly learn a lot.

Have you taught any ESP courses?

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