What is English for Specific Purposes (ESP)?
9th August 2020
ESP is a branch of English language teaching that prioritises people’s individual learning targets. Examples of business ESP courses include “English for Hotel Receptionists”, “English for Flight Attendants”, “English for Nursing”, among many others. The focus is on the situations, skills and specific language needed to best manage work tasks. These could be, English for sales presentations, participating in international (video) conferences, managing customer telephone complaints, negotiating contracts, writing CVs, succeeding in job interviews, leading multi-cultural teams, and so on.
I taught many ESP courses when I lived in Munich and Milan. These classes were usually in the students’ company, in their office or in a quiet company meeting room, and normally, once or twice-a-week for 90 minutes. The first class always started with ‘Needs Analysis’, where the students described their work tasks, what they would need to do in English in the future, and in what kinds of situations. Then, in every lesson we would learn specific vocabulary and practice English speaking, listening, reading and writing to master those situations.
As a teacher I seldom found two identical ESP courses; in one company a group of engineers needed English for socialising and building good communication and trust with their clients, while in another company, the engineers needed to develop coaching and teaching skills to train colleagues in a new branch. Whatever the specific needs, success was always measured on how well people succeeded in achieving their goals in the time available.
ESP courses are very motivating for students because the end results are always clear, reachable and practical, and most importantly the rewards can be promotion at work and professional success.
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