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On deciding What to Teach?

The question that requires answering is what types of communication


are required in a certain industry.
If a needs analysis reveals that merchandisers use written English far
more English in their work; that fax and telephone calls are more
common channels of communication than e-mails and letters, and
that there is a high use of abbreviations in written communication (Li
So-mui & Mead, 2000), then this is what should be taught.
Traps not to fall into

The learners are often asked for their perceptions of needs but they
may not be reliable sources of information about their own needs,
especially if they are relatively unfamiliar with the job they are to
perform or subject they are to study (Long, 1996).
Objective needs are not necessarily the same as subjective needs
or wants. For example, engineering students may objectively need
to deal with written texts concerned with technical matter but may
want to read topics in English on other general interest subjects.
Using technical texts, topics, or tasks may turn out to be
demotivating.

Language needs are not learning needs. Although learners will need
to use certain language structures or features in their target
environments, this does not mean that they are ready to acquire
them (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987).

ESP has sometimes produced a rigid view of language needs and


failed to take account of the variation of language use that exists in
any target situation. A striking example of a rigid approach to
analysis of language needs is seen in Munbys Communicative
Needs Processor (1978). This approach involved the attempt to
identify not only the English language functions that would be
needed (for example, by a waiter working in a Spanish tourist
resort) but also the actual linguistic formula for realizing these
functions.

Basing course designs on needs analysis may lead to language


training rather than language education. Learners are trained to
perform a restricted repertoire of the language rather than develop
underlying linguistic competence of the language because they are
deprived of the generative basis of language (Widdowson, 1983).

It has been taken for granted that ESP teaching should focus on
hard language functions rather than soft social functions.
Halliday (1973) uses the terms the referential and instrumental
functions of language. However, recent applied linguistic research
investigated the social functions language is usedfor in workplace
environments and showed their importance (Holmes, 1999).

In analyzing needs, ESP curriculum designers identify important


microskills from a general pool of skills used across a range of
environments. However, if a course aims to develop language skills,
instruction needs to offer more than practice opportunities.

Two approaches to ESP syllabus design


Synthetic
Language is segmented into
discrete linguistic items for
presentation one at a time.
learning occurs when learners
acquire individual items of
language one by one and later
combine them
Its items refer to speech acts
and/or genres. Example: knowing
how to request factual
information and responding to
requests.

Analytic
language is presented whole
chunks at a time without
linguistic control; Long & Crookes,
1992)
learning occurs when learners
perceive patterns in language
samples and induce rules

Its items do not refer to


language units but to some other
sort of unit, such as task,
situation, or
topic.

Long and Crookes (1992) argue that task-based syllabuses in ESP


specify real world tasks. Whereas in general English language
teaching tasks are chosen for the pedagogical value, in ESP they may
be chosen for their relevance to real world events in the target
environments.
Reading - Patterns of Text Organization
Early interest by linguists in how people interpreted and dealt with
external ambiguity in texts led to the notions of schemata and scripts.
These are described by Hoey (2001). A schema is the knowledge
people have about certain types of event such as eating out at a
restaurant. A script is the knowledge people have about how these
events typically unfold. In the case of eating out at a restaurant, the

sequence of events would include being seated, getting the menu,


and giving an order. This knowledge is formed from peoples
experiences in life.
A second explanation of how people decode a text is that they deal
with its internal ambiguity. It is argued that there exists a generic set
of patterns of text organization. Various terms have been used in the
literature to denote these patterns, such as macro structures
(McCarthy & Carter, 1994), clause relations and basic text structures
(Winter, 1994), and culturally popular patterns (Hoey, 2001). An
example would be cues showing cause and effect.
According to Hoey (1994), the pattern situationproblem solution
evaluation is very common in English expository-type texts. Other
pervasive patterns identified by Hoey (2001) are
-

goalachievement,
desire arousalfulfillment, and
gap in knowledge-filling.

Texts reporting scientific experiments may illustrate the latter pattern.


They describe, first, what was known about the phenomenon in
question and what remained unknown. They describe, second, the
test or experiment conducted to try to fill the gap and the results
obtained.
Vocabulary
Coxhead and Nation (2001) categorize vocabulary for teaching and
learning into four groups of words:
-

high frequency words,


academic vocabulary,
technical vocabulary, and
low frequency vocabulary.

They argue: When learners have mastered control of the 2,000 words
of general usefulness in English, it is wise to direct vocabulary
learning to more specialized areas depending on the aims of the
learners (pp. 252253).
Nurweni & Read (1998) estimated that the 2,800 words from lists 1 to
3 combined (200 from the first two and 800 from the third)
constituted an essential reading vocabulary as these words cover
around 92% of the words in specific academic type texts.
English (ESP) can start at any level including beginners. Moreover,
learning from the specific variety of English (for example, English for

doctors, English for hospitality), is highly effective as learners acquire


structures in relation to the range of meanings in which they are used
in their academic, workplace, or professional environments. Figure 3.2
represents this second perspective.