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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

The learner group comes from the same factory. They work in different units of the factory such
as the cold mill, the hot mill, electronics section, and the power station. They were sent on the
course by their employer to learn Technical English to enable them to understand handbooks,
machine instructions and to be able to communicate to managers.
The building they were trained was outside the factory in order to increase the motivation. Had
the training been on site, work duties may have conflicted with the training. The classroom was
designed for learners comfort and has comfortable chairs, a projector, TV, DVD, and a separate
language laboratory. There were breaks between lessons and some refreshment at breaks.


AGE: 27-43


Hutchinson and Waters (1987) state that there are two types of needs analysis: a) target needs
(what the learner needs to do in the target situation) and b) learning needs (what the learner needs
to do in order to learn) When I was first asked to design an English course for specific purpose
for people who work in this factory I had to look into two issues: candidates needs and
companys needs.
To set out the course, each department in the organization chose and sent staff whom the
company thought could benefit from this in the future to the training centre. They were fifty
candidates in total, but only twelve would be chosen for the course. They all took a written test in
English to measure their level of English in reading comprehension, writing an essay and
answering general questions. They were also interviewed one to one to find out their needs. This
group was a homogenous group from the same company and similar professions. However; they

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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

were of different ages with different needs. After the written test and interview their needs were
stated as:

To communicate with foreign colleagues overseas

To follow developments in their field via the internet or technical journals.
To be able to understand manuals, leaflets and handbooks.

When I talked to the companys representatives I realized that their needs matched with
candidates needs but, in addition, company requirements were stated us:

That the staff should be able to correspond in English.

That the staff would be able to represent the company abroad.
That the staff would be able to understand the terms of commercial contracts written in

There were certain rules set out by the company. Staff had to follow the course without missing
any lessons except if busy at work or due to health problems because the company had provided
this training in working hours.
Needs analysis has an important role in the process of designing and implementing ESP courses.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) say what distinguishes ESP from General English is not the
existence of a need as such but rather an awareness of the need. Needs analysis is done to find
out what language skills a learner needs in order to perform a particular role, to identify a gap
between what learners are able to do and what they need to be able to do, to find out their
previous experience in learning English. To collect data about learners needs analysis, I used

the questionnaire (at appendix i)

Observation (at appendix ii)
Informal consultations with the company and the learners
Record keeping

Robinson (1991) comments that repeated needs analysis can be built into the formative
evaluation process. Needs analysis will vary especially in a heterogeneous group in ESP.
Pre course questionnaire:
This questionnaire provided me some information about candidates background in studying
English. Some of them were committed students of the English and still following some methods
to keep their English level high. A few of them had studied English at college but they could still
remember lots of things. The class level was intermediate.
During the course they were encouraged to read a graded reader, which they started reading at
stage four, intermediate level. There was no obligation as to how many books they should read
each week; however, they said they would like to read as many as they could. The graded reader

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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

would help their vocabulary improve in many areas. Each students name was recorded with
what they were reading with a date:
Students name

Books name

Start date

Finish date


At the end of each book, to check comprehension, each student summarized in writing the story
they read. We had a classroom diary as well. During the course, candidates wrote down their
feelings, stories, jokes, messages or just one sentence in the classroom to see how they were
I had a one to one interview with each candidate in the middle of the course. I found the answers
to the following questions:
a) Had their needs changed since they attended the course?
b) Did the course match their needs?
c) What were their expectations now?
Richards (2001) say that different types of learners have different language needs and what they
are taught should be limited to what they need. These needs are fairly specific.
I found that their needs had changed. All wanted to learn more. A need was identified to
concentrate more on verbal communication. Each week a native English speaker was brought
into the course for conversation classes. To meet this need, I also introduced more Englishlanguage videos, concentrating on technical subjects relevant to engineers.
During the course, we visited one department each week and one of candidates explained in
English what they were doing in that department to produce iron, their responsibilities, and how
the machines were operated. To check whether they properly understood this in English I asked
them some questions during their explanations.
Towards the end of the course, each candidate prepared presentations for managers of the
company to show them how effectively they could use English and had benefited from the
After course questionnaire:
I found out that the learners felt more confident than when they had started the course and their
needs had changed during the course as follows:

They expected to get rises in their salaries.

They wanted to get promoted.

This course was successful at the end of 8 month hard work on both sides. Learners changed
their attitude about the way to learn English and enjoyed it. Their vocabulary expanded by
reading the graded reader and when they completed the course they were able to read
abbreviated versions of English language novels.
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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

Syllabus design to role of materials in ESP
English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a broad diverse field of English language teaching with
several subtitles including technology and science, medical, legal English and business English.
In the 1960s, it was particularly associated with the notion of a special language or register.
Through the growth of economy, technological developments and global mobility, there has been
a need for learning and teaching English in these specific disciplines.
Later developments have included a communicative view of language as applied to ESP,
recognition of the importance of needs analysis procedures and an increasing focus on
appropriate perspectives on language learning and language skills.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) see ESP is an approach rather than a product. They state that ESP
is an approach to language learning which is based on learner need. It is true that ESP is
specifically based on learner need or English in specific professional areas which comes from the
demand of the learner.
It is clear that the teacher should have knowledge of the relevant technical field. It can be argued
that ESP really needs a language structure of its own to be taught properly and the teacher,
therefore, requires some knowledge of the specific subject area as well. The learner has
knowledge of the field in his own language; however, the learner wishes to learn English in the
context of this field because of some needs. Those needs are varied according to the purpose of
the learner. For instance, a graduate whose first language is not English may need to study
Academic English to follow further education. A migrant may need to study both Academic
English and ESP English (depends on the subject) to work in an English-speaking country.
Hutchinson and Waters define a syllabus is a document which says what will (or at least what
should) be learnt. A syllabus consists of several stages, which at each stage lead the learner and
the teacher. Each stage on its route imposes a further layer of interpretation.

the evaluation syllabus

the organizational syllabus
the material syllabus
the classroom syllabus
the classroom syllabus
the learner syllabus

Stevens (1988) defines the absolute characteristics of ESP as designed to meet the specified need
of learners in a related content to particular disciplines. Dudley-Evans and St John (1998), ten
years later, defined the absolute characteristics of ESP as designed to meet specific needs of the
learner and makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the disciplines it serves. It
is clear that ESP is designed according to learner needs in each specific discipline. In the variable
characteristics of ESP, there are some key points of Dudley-Evans and St John, which are that;

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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

ESP may be related to or designed for specific disciplines.

ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that of general
ESP is likely to be designed for adult learners, either at tertiary level institution or in a
professional work situation;
ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students. Most ESP courses
assume basic knowledge of the language system, but it can be used with beginners.

It is clear that the learner of ESP has already knowledge of English or experience with English.
However, courses can be designed at beginner level to enable the learner improve English in his
specified discipline without learning general English. Therefore, there will be needs analysis of
language. Richards (2004) states the focus of needs analysis was to determine the specific
characteristics of a language when it is used for specific rather than general purposes. Such
differences might include:

Differences in vocabulary choice

Difference in grammar
Differences in the kinds of texts commonly occurring
Differences in function
Differences in the need for particular skills

Swales (1990) examines the concept of a discourse community and points out that with the
exception of advanced students already familiar with the subject material, most academic classes
do not represent a discourse community. Thus one aim of a course is to enable the learners to
form a discourse community and the role of the course developer is to identify the processes and
input that will help the learners achieve their goals. A course for engineers was designed to help
the engineers, technicians who were familiar with the academic discourse of engineering but
needed to be able to transfer and use that knowledge in the professional context of the
The ESP syllabus is derived from a detailed analysis of the language features of the target
situation. Detailed needs analysis influence on the methodology. Hutchinson and Waters (1997)
say a general outlining of the topic areas and the communicative tasks of the target situation is
all that is required at the beginnings. For example: a general syllabus for engineers and
technician learners might look like this:
Safety rules
Blast furnace

expressing and purpose
describing a system
reporting faults

These topics and tasks sound very mechanical but learners can add or delete statements in these
disciplines as he specialises in some of these topics. However, the teacher has to pre-prepare the

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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

task by researching, adapting from other books or looking into the original manuals before the
course starts.
For Mackay et al (1978), when needs are clear, learning can be defined in terms of the specific
purposes to which the language will be put whether it be reading scientific papers or
communicating with technicians in industrial factory.
In figure 1 below, I have attempted to illustrate a syllabus for ESP is based on needs analysis
including learner needs/interests/expectations, companys needs/interests/expectations and
analysis of language set in a limited time with target-oriented. In my homogeneous group, the
syllabus for the ESP course was designed according to job needs-not learner needs because such
need came from the company. As Swan (1985) says when reviewing the structural/functional
The real issue is not which syllabus to put first: It is how to integrate eight or so syllabuses
(functional, notional, situational, topic, phonological, lexical, structural, skills) into a sensible
teaching programme


Needs Analysis

Language analysis

Target oriented

Limited time


Figure 1 parts of a syllabus

Each learner will have different needs to learn English even though they come from the same
specified discipline. It could be to read manuals and handbooks or to communicate with foreign
dealers. Each learner may have weakness or strength of different skills in learning English. For
those reasons, there may be different needs in a homogeneous group such as that one may need
to improve reading but another may need to improve his writing.
Based on the findings from needs analysis during the course compared to the belief that ESP is
not a separate discipline from general EFL or ESOL (Holme 1996). ESP could be considered
either a separate discipline or alternatively subtitle of ELT. From my experience of several years
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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

in teaching such courses, I believe that teaching ESP is not as same as general English. ESP
courses require that each learners needs are carefully considered and planned for in advance. It
is necessary for teachers to prepare more for such classes and develop technical knowledge about
the subject matter quickly. These are not features of general English courses.

In my homogeneous group, the goal was set up for the learners who already had some
knowledge of and some experience in English in the past. It was to improve comprehension in
reading texts.
To give a more precise focus to program goals, aims are often accompanied by statements of
more specific purposes. These are known as objectives. Richards (2001) states that objectives
generally have the following characteristics:

They describe what the aim seeks to achieve in terms of smaller units of learning
They provide a basis for the organisation of teaching activities.
They describe learning in terms of observable behaviour or performance.

A statement of objectives should have the following characteristics:

Objectives describe a learning outcome.

Objectives should be consistent with the curriculum aim
Objectives should be precise
Objectives should be feasible

Methodology and approaches

Robinson (1991) argues that methodology in English language teaching (ELT) and ESP differ
little and that it is not possible to say whether general ELT has borrowed ideas for methodology
from ESP or whether ESP has borrowed ideas from general ELT. Robinson identifies two
characteristic features of ESP methodology:

ESP can base activities on students specialism (but need not do so)
ESP activities can (but may not) have truly authentic purpose derived from learners
target needs.
These two characteristic Robinson identified can be applied in a homogeneous group to meet
target needs which is set up before the course starts. I believe that it would be difficult to
implement activities on learners specialism in a heterogeneous group as each learner would have
a different target and different needs. We should try to answer those questions.
How can we implement activities in a heterogeneous group? and
What are the disadvantages?

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Syllabus Design and Material Development 2008

To implement activities in a heterogeneous group it will not be as easy as those in a

homogeneous group. The first thing which should be done to apply the activities is to find out
what all specific fields have in common.
Barnard and Zemach (2003) say that ESP is not an approach, a method or a technique. The only
feature common to all types of ESP course is the selection of the content and teaching approach
according to
the perceived needs of the learners. The important role here is the methodology and approach
used in the classroom. This may be related to or designed for specific disciplines with a different
methodology from general English.
Prahbu (1990) says that there is no best method because it all depends on the teaching context.
There are important variations in the teaching context that influence what is best. Prahbu
categorise these variations as follows:

Social situation (language policy, language environment, linguistic and cultural attitudes,
economic and ideological factors etc.)
Educational organisation (instructional objectives, constraints of time and resources,
administrative efficiency, class-size, classroom ethos etc)
Teacher-related factors (status, training, belief, autonomy, skill etc)
Learner-related factors (age, aspirations, previous learning experience, attitude to
learning etc)

In my homogeneous group, I used content- based approach (CBA) as they were all from different
department and different branches of engineering such as civil engineer, mechanical engineer,
electronics engineer, and electrical engineer. In most content-based approach courses, the
syllabus is derived from the content area, and these obviously vary widely in detail and format.
Richards and Rodgers (1996) say that it is typically only CBA following the theme-based model
in which content and instructional sequence is chosen according to language learning goals. In
CBA there are many activities. Stroller (1997) lists the activities as follows:

Language skills improvement

Vocabulary building
Discourse organisation
Communicative interaction
Study skills
Synthesis of content materials grammar

It is the teaching of content with little or no direct effort to teach the language separately from
the content being taught (Krahnke 1987:65).
There are some claims made for the advantages of courses based on content-based syllabus are:

They facilitate comprehension

Content makes linguistic form more meaningful
Content serves on the best basis for teaching the skill areas.
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They address learners needs

They allow for integration of the four skills
They allow for use of authentic materials
(Brinton, snow and Wesche 1989; Mohan 1986)

The learners were involved in activities that linked the skills to the language learning because
this is how the skills are generally used in the workplace. They participated in a presentation and
did a tour of their department in the factory by explaining what was happening to the iron in that
unit. After the middle of the course, their expectations changed. Not only did they want to read
machine instruction and manuals, but also they wanted to learn how to communicate in a formal
environment such as introducing themselves, making conversations about the job, meeting
people, inviting people out etc. For that reason, I used a communicative approach which is one of
the most popular approaches during the course, too in order to make them speak and understand
what was being said (appendix 6).Yalden (1987) describes the goal of syllabus designers.
This means that if we are now wish to make up the deficit in earlier syllabus types and ensure
that our learners acquire the ability to communicate in a more appropriate and efficient way, we
have to inject a larger number of components into the make-up of the syllabus.
Harmer (2001) states that learner should have a desire to communicate something and they
should have a purpose for communicating. During my course, the learners practised such
activities as booking a hotel and meeting a manager of the factory overseas. Each activity was
recorded so that they could see the progress during the learning period.
Littlewood (1981) distinguishes four main kinds of activities:
Pre-communicative activities
Structural activities
Quasi-communicative activities

Communicative activities
Functional communicative activities
Social-interactional activities

Pre-communicative activities are the controlled practice of formal aspects of conversation and
include drills, dialogues, role-plays and other exercises. Paltridge (1996) suggests a variety of
practical activities that help learners to explore the relationship between text type and genre in
the classroom.
As Hutchinson and Waters (1987) say there is nothing specific about ESP methodology. The
principles which underlie good ESP methodology are the same as those that underlie sound ELT
methodology in general. It can be arguable whether there is a specific methodology for ESP; my
experience is that knowing general English methodology does not make a teacher successful in
the ESP classroom. Methodology comes with the content of the course which change the
techniques that the teacher implements in the classroom. For example; if the teacher is not
familiar with such specific subject matter as the blast furnace or power stations, he wont be able
to prepare his own material for this matter. It is not always possible to find what material you
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want to use during the course in the coursebook. In ESP courses, the teacher has to put more
effort that general English courses.
The role of materials in ESP
The core materials are usually paper-based, however; teachers use videos related to learning
goals and learners needs, overhead transparencies, computer/internet and real objects. DudleyEvans and St John (1998) say that there are four reasons for using materials.

as a source of language
as a learning support
for motivation and stimulation
for reference

In ESP, the teacher is mainly a provider of materials from selecting that which is available to
adapting it as necessary and supplementing it where it does not quite meet the learners needs. In
some situations, using authentic materials is more appropriate that learners can provide
Offord-Gray and Aldred (1998) suggest that the course materials need to go beyond making the
language explicit but provide a means by which learners can engage in a process of
reconstruction. I used English for the Energy Industries1. Some of the texts didnt match with
the learners specialised field. This coursebook was only used as a guide during the course. Much
adaption was done from other books, manuals or other authentic materials (appendix5)2.
McDonough and Shaw frame how the considerations on which the principle of adaptation is
based fit together in figure 2. They say that learners with whom they are in day-today contact.
Teachers adapt the materials by deleting, adding, modifying, reordering, simplifying because
they identify such areas as:

Reading passages which contain too much unknown vocabulary

Material not related to the learner needs
Reading comprehension questions which are too easy
Subject matter inappropriate for learners of this age and intellectual level
Material needs too much time
Activities are not suitable for ESP
Grammar is not clear in the text

Materials are important in teaching. I chose a reading text from another book (appendix3)3 to
meet learner comprehension needs with a language structure. In this extract, learners are
1 Peter Levrai and Fiona McGarry, (2006) English for the Energy industries, Garnet
Education, Reading
2 Ian Badger, (2003), English for Work, Longman, Harlow
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supposed to read the text and complete the picture. I added an extra exercise for them to do as
homework which was to write a similar text using the language structure.

Match or congruence
external criteria

internal criteria

need to







deleting modifying simplifying reordering

content areas

language practice texts skills classroom management etc

Figure 2: A framework for adaptation

3 Martin Webber and Johnattan Seath, (1984), Elementary Technical English,

Nelson, Edinburgh
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To engage learners with the language, they were asked to prepare a presentation about the unit
they were working or what happened to raw material in their unit. Such activities enabled them
to speak better by using technical vocabulary and feel more confident, and use their writing
Offord-Gray and Aldred (1998) say that the methodology and the content of the teaching and
learning materials need to be sensitive to learners previous learning experience. For many of the
learners, the methodology of the course materials represented a shift from an essentially productfocused approach to a more process orientation.
In ESP, the syllabus outlines the content of what the learners will be taught, goals, objectives,
materials to be used during teaching and learning, structure of grammar and skills. The syllabus
enables the teacher and the learner to see progress. Especially in ESP, it is a needs analysis which
determines which language skills are most needed by the learner and the syllabus is designed

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