Devil’s Advocate vs Evan Frendo on Specificity & ESP

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

To celebrate our tenth installment of DA, we have Evan Frendo.

Evan Frendo is a freelance business English trainer, teacher trainer and author based in Berlin. A frequent speaker at conferences, he also travels regularly in Europe and Asia to run courses or to work as a consultant. Evan has published various books over the years, including “How to teach Business English” (Longman, 2005), and most recently, four books in Pearson’s new Vocational English series. To find out more visit his blog, where he discusses topics and issues relevant to anyone involved in business English and ESP.

Chia: I am extremely excited about having you on DA today, Evan!

Evan: Hi Chia – good to be here 🙂

Chia: The expert in how to teach Business English and ESP himself!

Evan: LOL that’s a nice way to start. Shall we stop now so I can quote you?

Chia: Hahaha…I quote you ALL THE TIME!

Evan: I’d prefer if you just tell people to buy my books, to be honest.

Chia: That I do too…

But I’m here in the position of DA today, and so you must forgive me if I am not so cordial for the rest of this conversation.

Evan: Ok.

Chia: So, Evan, aside from books for teacher training, you also write books for ESP, don’t you?

Evan: Yes that’s right. I started off writing ESP materials for corporate clients, and  nowadays I also write for various publishers.

Chia: But isn’t that a contradiction in terms? ESP suggests a needs-analysis-based tailormade English course…So how can you write one-size-fits-all coursebooks for ESP students?

Evan: Haha. That’s a quote from one of my talks, where I discussed this very question. Yes, you’re right, it can appear to be a contradiction, but only if you see the coursebook as setting the syllabus. If you use it as a resource coursebooks can be very useful.

Is the ESP coursebook like these pinafores?
They are specifically for children, but does the one size fit all kids?
ELTpics: Photo by @fionamau

Chia: And what are these books a resource for? Is it not just focusing on the industry-specific lexis and terminology needed?

Evan: Yes, they’re a resource for the teacher and students to use.  ESP is not only about lexis and terminology. It is also about genre and context and getting an insight into the discourse communities that the learner wants to become effective in.

Chia: But that’s just it. Aren’t the discourse community and the genres and contexts specific to that community too specific to be covered in a published-for-everyone-in-that-industry coursebook? Are you sure the book isn’t just a resource for a general industry, and not a specific discourse community?

Very often, we use labels like EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or English for Oil and Gas or English for Business, and we call it ESP. But they are merely generic labels and do not really represent the discursive variation within the specific discourse communities.

Tate sells clothes to the young & trendy and Face Shop sells cosmetics to women.
Having a target market do not make them specialised shops with niche markets.
Photo by Chia Suan Chong

Evan: Yes, absolutely. As in so much in ELT, it really depends on your teaching context. For some courses, such as pre-experience learners in tertiary education, an ESP book / general business English coursebook may be quite a useful window on the world they aim to work in.  For others such coursebooks may be quite irrelevant.

Chia: Are you admitting that such books might be over-generalised and only useful for pre-experience learners who don’t yet know about the discourse community they are about to enter and so we can pull the wool over their eyes and feed them some generic lexical chunks which they might or might not encounter in their discipline/target situation?

Evan: No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner.

So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Windows into different discourse communities?
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: That is all good on paper. But in actual facts, how does one first of all identify the kind of language and the target discourse that is most relevant to the learners? How can we ensure the reliability of the Needs Analysis instrument? And how can we then satisfactorily match a coursebook to the needed language and discourse?

Evan: Yes, that is actually the key point. People in our profession have been talking about needs analysis for years, but I think the reality is that we don’t do it very well. On one hand, the profession is still developing the tools and techniques that will help us really analyse what our learners really need. On the other hand, a lot of teachers pay lip service to needs analysis. There is a lot that can be done which isn’t being done.

Chia: So what do you think a good needs analysis for ESP purposes should contain then? What do you think is often not being done?

Evan: I think there are two main issues:

First of all, we have too many teachers who have never actually done any discourse or corpus analysis, and really don’t know very much about how communication works or how to analyse the language that the learners might need. Performance-based testing is rare. Without these, we cannot really claim to be doing a needs analysis. So we need to train teachers better.

Secondly, we need to become more persuasive at explaining to our clients exactly what can be done if we have proper access to the workplace. Too many clients (and teachers) think of language learning as something which takes place in a classroom, yet there is so much evidence to suggest that learning takes place in the workplace as well.

Learning does not necessarily have to take place in the classroom

Chia: First of all, can you explain what you mean by ‘performance-based testing’?

And second, what exactly can be done if we have proper access to the workplace? Are you suggesting that teachers record and analyse the conversations and communications that go on in our clients’ discourse community, do a discourse/genre analysis on it, in order to train our clients to become better communicators?

Evan: Ok, what I mean by performance-based testing (or task-based assessment) is that we need to be able to test our learners’ ability to do their job, i.e. to perform. Of course as English teachers we would be focussing on the elements of the job which require English.

So, for example, if someone says they need to present in English, we ask them to do a presentation, and then work on areas that can be improved. It might be language related, or it might be skills related. In other words, we need to be able to work out where they are now so that we can compare it to where they need to be.

And to answer your second question…

Yes, I mean that teachers need access to the workplace in order to understand the target discourse, but also to provide feedback in context, as it were. Sitting in the back of a meeting room taking notes, and then later providing specific feedback to the learner will be much more focussed than any role-play in the classroom. What I am talking about is learning on the job.

‘Performance-Based Learning’
Photo by Mike Hogan

Chia: It seems to me like what you are asking the teacher to do is not only extremely time-consuming, but requires a fair bit of expertise in both genre/discourse analysis and the client’s discipline. I mean, to really assess our learners’ ability to perform in their job, we need to know the target situation and target discourse community well. One sitting is not going to give us what we need to know.

Let’s take your example of presentations for instance. A presentation in an Applied Linguistics academic conference is very different from a presentation at a Civil Engineering academic conference (and I am not just talking about lexis and technical jargon here), which is again very different from a presentation at a board of director’s meeting for Siemens, which is again very different from a presentation pitching new solar equipment to clients in Abu Dhabi.

We can reel off the usual ‘What makes a good presentation’ lesson from ‘Presenting in English’ or whatever the latest coursebook on presentations is, but that isn’t really focussing on their discourse community and their ability to do their job, is it? It’s just paying lip service to the needs analysis.

Academic presentations are a different kettle of fish altogether.
Photo by Mike Hogan

Evan: Yes, maybe you’re right. But it’s still a lot better than what is being done now, where teachers really have no idea of the discourse communities that the learners need to operate in. As you say, it requires expertise. And it is already happening in many corporate training contexts, where people are beginning to recognise that staying in the classroom is extremely limiting.

Chia: I must say that is an interesting idea – having the teacher/trainer in the workplace observing and providing feedback. But surely that can only work in one-to-one training? And subject to the clients’ company allowing such an ‘intrusion’?

Evan: Well, it’s quite common if you have an in-house trainer working full-time in a company.  It’s not seen as an intrusion, but as part of the job. In-house trainers can do much more than someone who simply pops in from time to time to run English classes.

Chia: Ah, okay. So if you are an in-house trainer, I suppose you would have sufficient time and exposure to the clients’ field to be able to familiarise yourself with that specific discourse community. But most teachers/trainers don’t have that kind of luxury, Evan. Yet they pay lip service to a needs analysis which they never really use…and if they do, they simply do it in a generic ‘Let’s look at phrases used to ask for opinions in meetings’ sort of way…

Evan: Yes, I think you’re right. Many teachers are handicapped by their teaching context – no chance to do a proper needs analysis, and no requirement to develop the skills either. Maybe this is a consequence of the way the industry has developed over the years, particularly in the private language school sector. People are willing to pay for teachers to do a job which they are not really trained to do. But that’s another topic …

Chia: Many teachers/trainers feel that their area should be English language teaching. Discourse analysis and the specialisation needed to really deliver true ESP is just way outside their scope, and they are simply not paid enough to deliver that sort of content. Let me throw in another argument here. Most teachers would also argue that a grasp of General English should be enough for learners to negotiate meaning and figure out the conventions of their discourse community on their own, that there are really not enough variations in lexico-grammar to justify a ESP approach.

Is the exchange rate just simply not worth our while?
ELTpics: Photo by @acliltoclimb

Evan: Well, maybe that’s where we disagree. For me the whole point of ELT is to help people communicate in the real world. So the more we can find out about that world the more focussed and more effective our teaching will be. There is never enough time to do everything, so we need to compromise and make priorities. Without some sort of needs analysis this is not possible. I think that every teacher does this anyway – all I am saying is that we can get better at it. In answer to your point about General English, this has been a debate in the industry for many years. Is there a core language that we can teach before we move on to the specific contexts people require in their real worlds? I am not convinced. Language only has meaning in context, and if we remove that context we are left with very little.

Chia: I’m definitely not advocating that we remove the contexts, and I do think that sometimes the difference between ESP/BE and General English is just a matter of contexts. e.g. In General English, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting other students in a classroom or a party. In BE, we teach students to introduce themselves in the context of meeting new colleagues at an office. But the linguistic devices for both contexts are not that different from each other…We could therefore conclude that there is a core language and generic skills that cuts across disciplines, wouldn’t you say, Evan?

Isn’t specificity only possible at higher levels?

Is there a core at the heart of it?
ELTpics: Photo by @thornburyscott

Evan: Yes, in those situations the language might be similar. But I am not sure how many of those situations you are going to find. Even a simple task like answering a telephone is quite different as soon as you go into a workplace context – and I would argue that it makes more sense to focus on the workplace conventions if you have business English learners.

Regarding your point about specificity at higher levels, yes, I think this is a good point. But that it is not to say we cannot be specific at low levels as well. For example, low level business English learners often learn lexis to describe departments and responsibilities – this is specific to business English and would not be covered in a General English course of the same level.

Chia: So you are saying that we can teach Business English even to beginners then? :-)

Evan: For sure

Would I dare say otherwise?

Chia: You present an irrefutable argument here, Evan. I hate balanced people like you…they are just so difficult to put up a fight against!

Evan: Heh heh. Does that mean you’re now going to rush out and buy all those low level business English books you don’t already have? 🙂


Time to rush out a get a copy of Evan’s ESP book for the oil industry
Photo from

Chia: Just the other day, someone in my staffroom saw me holding a coursebook and tried to take a photo of me…and now you’re telling me to BUY one? ROFL

Evan: I’ve heard some people just photocopy the bits they need …


But I’m sure Evan would rather you not photocopy his books!
Photo from

Chia: For the sake of great coursebook writers like you (and all those who wrote the coursebooks featured here on today’s DA), I hope everyone buys the books and not just copies them!

…despite the fact that these books clearly aren’t THAT specific to the needs of the students by nature of the fact that they are published coursebooks…of course.

Evan: Heh heh. No, not at all. That is a cynical view of coursebooks. The thing is, teachers and learners need some way to access the target discourse. Often in ESP the reality is that the teacher is not an expert, and nor is the learner. So the course book is simply one way of accessing that target discourse, in other words, of providing ways to work with the sorts of language and contexts that have been identified in a needs analysis as most relevant to the learners. The point is that if we don’t have some way of accessing this target discourse we could end up focussing on things which are not necessarily a priority.

Hang on. I’ve said that already. You just weren’t listening …

Chia: And here was I thinking ‘Deja Vu! I thought he said that already!’

But seriously, there are some arguments for and against specificity that are really worth examining…and I’m really glad we managed to touch on some of the issues today, and hopefully this will propel readers to reflect on their own practice more and explore this area more.

At the end of the day, specificity versus general aren’t two mutually exclusive concepts, and probably exist on a continuum, don’t you think?

Let’s not overgeneralise! Even Essex has 50 Shades…
ELTpics: Photo by @pysproblem81

Evan: Yes, all good things in ELT exist on a continuum. It’s one of the eternal truths about the profession.

Just like the answer to all questions about teaching is “It depends”.

Chia: Wise words, Evan! Thanks for spending time with me today, and for allowing me and the readers to explore the controversies and debates surrounding ESP and specificity.

Evan: I have to say your DA column is great fun. And a great way to think through some of the issues. Thanks for the invite, and keep up the good work. 🙂

Evan’s talks are unmissable!
Photo by Mike Hogan

Epilogue: Evan’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organisations he is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, and truly believes that every teacher should hone their expertise within their field at every opportunity possible. Chia and Evan are still friends, although Evan never fails to remind Chia of the times she failed to come to his talks…but that’s a discourse for another time…and another genre…

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

36 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate vs Evan Frendo on Specificity & ESP”

  1. This 10th installment of your DA is my favorite, probably because the subject is close to my heart. Thank you, Evan, for the frank and oh-so-true analysis of ESP. There’s a lovely collection of quotable quotes from this discussion that I hope ELTers will use in their future articles and conference talks.

    I gave a Charlie Brown sigh when Evan said, “Many teachers are handicapped by their teaching context”. It’s such a shame that so many language establishment employers have no idea how to communicate, sell and deliver proper ESP instruction. They ask trainers to spread themselves too thin among too many different ESP sectors. Employers pair teachers with learners in the oil, finance, IT, medical sectors leaving the teachers to juggle the jargon. No other profession that I know of requires its employees to do this! This could get risky! Ros Wright (my co-author for “English for Nursing 1”) recently wrote an eye-opening article on the dangers of miscommunication during ESP Medical courses.

    When will the industry understand that delivering high-quality instruction indeed requires an enormous amount of time and analysis?! When will return on investment be the norm?

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Evan when he says, “Too many teachers…don’t know very much about how communication works or how to analyse the language that the learners might need…So we need to train teachers better.”

    But how? ESP teacher training can be just as daunting as when a new teacher opens an ESP coursebook that doesn’t have an answer key. But if we look carefully at Evan’s comments, they lead us with a nice little road map for proper ESP teacher training. He mentioned:

    *Discourse or corpus analysis,
    *Context analysis,
    *Comparing learning in the classroom to learning at the workplace,
    *Gaining access to the workplace,
    *Performance-based testing (or task-based assessment),
    *Identifying priorities (especially during short ESP courses),
    *Communicating with clients in order to make compromises and prioritize.

    I would add:
    *Internet search and study skills for specific ESP fields,
    *Using resources provided by the client,
    *Dogme – yes, there is a clear place for it in ESP,
    *Understanding return on investment,
    * and of course – ESP materials analysis and design.

    I’m a firm believer that ESP can boost teaching skills. But there is also a clear need for better training and awareness in this complex and constantly expanding area of ELT.

    1. Thanks so much for your insightful comments and your very useful summary of Evan’s points, Beth.

      There are so many debates to be had regarding this topic, and unfortunately the space and time we had for the DA interview means that we could only give a very brief overview of some of the arguments facing these issues, while some others only managed to get a little more than a mention. ROI is definitely one of those areas that deserve a more thorough explanation, although I believe the ongoing debate was also seen in previous blogposts like ‘Why are Business English Teachers paid so badly’ and ‘Devil’s Advocate vs Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training’.

      Unfortunately, we have one of those jobs where most lay people have an opinion on and think they know what it entails, what we ought to be doing, and how much we should be paid…and their views often are an inaccurate description of best practice. Until there is more understanding and appreciation for best practice in education and ESP (both among the clients and the school owners) can there be a ROI.

      But the crucial question is this: Even without the appropriate remuneration, would teachers be willing to make that extra effort and spend that extra time tailoring their courses to really suit their learners’ needs?

      And those who do do so, are they unfairly raising the bar and spoiling the market for those who treat it like any 9-5 job?


      1. I completely agree with everything you’ve said Bethany and share your and Charlie Brown’s woes. A quick response to your comment about language schools spreading teachers too thinly:
        I guess it depends on the client base of the school (too wide?) and the teacher pool they have (too thin?). Logically, this would result in the situation you’ve outlined. However, if a school has a large teacher pool, they can match those teachers with ESP experience to the clients and department with which they have more expertise. As Evan wrote, teachers may have to dive into ESP at some point and once they’re in they can then play to these strengths. At the school I work for, the teachers with specific ESP experience will naturally get prioritized, when that specific need arises, over those with none. This could be in fields such as finance, sales, legal, HR, production and so on. And if a client pool is big enough, then teachers can also be used a multi-client resources themselves, thus increasing their value….which brings us back to the issue of worth and value as Chia mentioned in comment above, and as we discussed in a previous installment of Devil’s Advocate.

        @Chia – full time teachers can still make that ‘extra effort’ as they’re on a fixed salary which should also allow time for preparation. Freelancers are generally paid an hourly rate which should also include preparing for the service for which they have been hired. So, they can also still treat it like a 9-5 job and allow for preparation and teaching time in the 9-5 slot. OK, I know that there will always be the more passionate ones who do more and the other who does a lot less, or even no preparation (Dogmeticians?)
        Schools can support either type by creating a pool of client (or ESP – as relevant) material available for all types, thus allowing for specificity AND a life after 5pm.

        1. Just to quickly jump in here, Mike, it is an absolute misconception that Dogmeticians do not need to prepare.

          Dogmeticians do not need to write a lesson plan, or cut up bits of paper for some mundane activity, or spend ages in front of the photocopier.

          But Dogmeticians definitely do spend a long time preparing themselves so that they are able to deal with whatever language emerges.

          Because there is no lesson plan, we need to be armed so as to deal with all possible eventualities in the classroom…
          and that means doing lots of research and learning as much as we can about our clients’ needs and interests.

          True specificity and ESP, maybe?


  2. Thank you Chia and Evan for a wonderful conversation.

    I agree with all your points Evan but also think that you’re speaking from the luxury of a wonderful teaching context. You have access to the workplace and also the skills to deliver the discourse/genre analysis you talk about. As Chia says, most trainers don’t have the access/time/knowledge to do what you suggest.

    In my context, my learners visit me from all over the world, the group is mixed ability and context and I never meet the other stakeholders. Therefore, although I’d love to do a proper needs analysis, lack of information makes it a little puerile.

    As a result, I lean very heavily on performance assessment and coaching the communicative issues I see in front of me.

    However, most of my clients are senior managers in multinational companies and want to improve their English to lead international teams and work with clients.

    Therefore, the more experienced I’ve become with my ‘average learner’, the less specific I’ve become. If you’re dealing with a narrow client range over a long period of time, you can read the job description and quite accurately predict what they’re going to request and also what they’re performance assessment will reveal. This becomes even more true if you regularly deal with the same nationalities.

    I’ve actually encountered a different problem. The material that my learners need doesn’t exist and I don’t have the knowledge of/access to their context in order to create it.

    What I would like to see is people like Evan putting their experience of ‘real workplace interaction’ into course books so those of us who are bereft of context can exploit it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Ed. Always great to have you here!

      I think it’s indeed an issue getting trainers to spend their time becoming specialists especially when the S in ESP is going to be on the far end of the specificity spectrum. But it does beg the question: Why are we not training our teachers and helping them be more acquainted with discourse/genre analysis and to become better at picking up on the specialist knowledge and business skill training that we have to give?

      It’s great to hear that you use quite a bit of performance assessment and coaching of communication issues yourself.
      What I’m curious about Ed, is this statement you made – ‘the more experienced I’ve become with my ‘average learner’, the less specific I’ve become’
      I’m interested to hear you expand on this. Are we talking about specificity in terms of language systems and skills, or business skills?

      As for ESP course books that we trainers can exploit, I suppose the more specific the course/classes, the more difficult it is to include it in a coursebook. On top of that, some industries are not as common as others and publishing course books for them would just not be lucrative enough for the publishers. Perhaps there can be some kind of combined internet resource where we can share and store the ESP materials that we have created for our specific learners from specific (and perhaps less common) industries? (I have a friend who teaches English for Poultry Farmers!)


      1. Hi Chia,

        Thanks for asking the question below and for providing an excellent forum again.

        “What I’m curious about Ed, is this statement you made – ‘the more experienced I’ve become with my ‘average learner’, the less specific I’ve become’
        I’m interested to hear you expand on this. Are we talking about specificity in terms of language systems and skills, or business skills?”

        It’s both really. A lot of what I’m doing at the moment echoes Ian McMaster’s comments about ‘generic soft skills’.

        The language and skills that managers in international firms want and need are usually very similar and group around the things that Ian and Bob Dignan talk about in their magazine and books:

        – Influence
        – Feedback
        – Delegation etc

        Once you really engage in the genre of these skills you also find that the language that top performers use is extremely similar. There are high frequency language items that we should be teaching in this area and perfectly fit into the course book model.

        In this band of ESP ‘English for international management’ I feel there’s a lot to be said for standardised course books. I often get asked to recommend self study books working on the language and skills we look at in class but have to tell learners that there aren’t any.

        However, I totally accept that other areas of ESP, such as poultry farmers, fit the course book model less perfectly.

        I’ve actually just written a blog post talking about engaging in soft skills as a genre but won’t plug it here, this is your show.



        1. Thanks for your reply, Ed.
          It’s an interesting point you are making – that the English needed for international management and such basic business skills cut across all industries and all nationalities.

          And do feel free to plug your blogpost here.
          Not my show – this discussion belongs to everyone.


  3. An excellent and interesting DA debate and thanks to Chia and Evan for pushing the boundaries. I also enjoyed Bethany’s and Ed’s comments.

    In our pre-training for groups we offer the option of a needs analysis survey with a performance gap analysis by creating task based simulations to evaluate them before giving training (theory and practice).

    Most HR depts decide that time and budget restraints mean few take up the option of a performance gap analysis.

    I recommend searching for the diagram of Human Performance Technology done by ISPI

    Great job guys!

  4. Excellent and very enjoyable discussion. Thanks Evan and Chia! And clever recycling of language in your answers, Evan. I, too, thought I was going mad for a moment or had accidentally scrolled back up the screen. 😉

    My personal hobby-horse is that ESP coursebooks, like business English coursebooks, need to take on board more thoroughly the kind of underlying generic communication skills — dealing with conflict, building trust, giving feedback, decision-making etc — dealt with by Bob Dignen in his articles in Business Spotlight. Some ESP coursebooks do look at some of these topics, many don’t, concentrating instead on vocabulary and specific communication events (presentations, meetings etc).

    By the way, I have nothing against teaching people generic “phrases to ask for opinions in meetings”. If the phrases get the job done, it seems to me that they are fine. Ironically, the people who often object to these “ELT phrases” — on the ground that they are not what is found in corpora — are exactly the people who often object to modelling real world native-speaker (or non-native speaker) behaviour. But I fear I’m about to wander off topic for a couple of hours, so I’ll stop…

    And I’m pretty sure that if we all try hard enough, we’ll get that photo of Chia reading — and thoroughly enjoying — a coursebook. 😉

    1. Hi Ian,

      I know Business Spotlight well and have Bob Dignen´s latest book “Communicating Across Cultures”.

      I agree and my experience is that BE and ESP books are a little light on Communication Skills and Management Skills. However maybe that´s also due to teachers not feeling 100% comfortable in these areas.

      As the boundaries between disciplines/fields become fuzzier its a little unclear how far we can push BE and ESP away from just General English teaching and how far towards Business Training and still be inside the BE and ESP fields.

      It´s going to be interesting to see which directions BE and ESP decide to take in the future.

      1. Hi Christopher,
        Thanks very much for commenting. Are both Christopher Wrights on this comment thread you? It’s just that they have different email addresses…

        I totally agree with you on the fact that BE and ESP books are not focusing enough on the skills that would make our clients better and more effective communicators, and to be honest, I don’t think this is something that should be restricted to BE and ESP. (I teach both GE and BE in two different departments of my school.)

        Many GE books still have elements of the Grammar Syllabus as their skeleton and focus heavily on lexis and grammar, neglecting the elements of ‘Communicative Competence’ that they have been paying lip service to for the past two decades.
        I do believe it is time GE book also start to consider the communication skills that are needed to make a learner more competent, and this might include ‘accommodative competence’, ‘discourse competence’, ‘adaptive competence’, ‘intercultural competence’, etc.

        Perhaps the term ‘General English’ will soon be a misnomer, as fewer and fewer learners are learning English for no apparent reason.

        After all, if we were to tailor our classes to suit our learners needs, whether it be in BE or GE, it is ESP in a way, isn’t it?


    2. Hi Ian,
      Thanks for commenting!
      I totally agree that ESP course books should really look more towards dealing with communication skills, and building communicative competence, rather than simply be about the vocabulary and jargon related to specific industries (e.g. English for Oil and Gas) or departments of a company (HR, Finance, etc).

      By the way, I have nothing against teaching generic phrases that can help make our learners more easily understood. After all, we know that it has been scientifically proven that the brain uses the same amount of energy to remember one word as it does to remember a whole formulaic chunk. The issue I have is with oversimplifying the matter and treating the linguistic formulae as the be all and end all, as with many course books and BE resource books that claim to follow the lexical approach.

      As for chunks that ‘model NS behaviour’, my issue would be formulae that are slightly more culturally-related or -grounded, and idiomatic to the point of being region-specific. After all, why teach our learners to say ‘I don’t suppose you could close that door, could you?’, when the formulae ‘Could you close the door please’ would suffice? Why teach ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’, when teaching ‘It’s raining heavily’ or ‘It’s pouring down’ would be much more useful?

      BTW, I know it might seem to be the most unbelievable thing but there are indeed course books that I do enjoy reading…some of which have been featured in this instalment of DA. (Have a look at the photos of the course books again if in doubt).

      At the end of the day, I would never dismiss all formulaic phrases/chunks and I would never reject all course books.

      After all, I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      ; )


    1. Thanks for taking time to comment, Richard.
      You have summarised it very well indeed – using the coursebook as a resource and not as the syllabus to ‘turn and burn’.
      I think discourse analysis is a huge area that truly deserves careful examination…and it would be tremendously difficult to suggest one resource for such a huge area. To start off, written and spoken discourse are very very different. And within those areas are a wide variety of genres.
      Try Scott Thornbury’s ‘Beyond the Sentence’ for an easy-to-read starter to discourse…but if you want to get into genre analysis…you have got to get into John Swales.
      Good luck with the exploration…!


  5. I very much agree with Evan’s statement that everything in ELT is on a continuum. Three years ago I bet Nick Robinson that I could focus every conference presentation I did around a continuum slide, and a couple dozen conferences later, I’m still at 100% with this 🙂

    And of course the “it all depends” point Evan makes is spot on. There are so many variables at play in our work that it’s difficult not to over-generalise, which is one reason our methodology debates are endless.

    So, the first point I’d like to make is that we need to make a continuum for ESP material, with the “ESP coursebook” on one extreme on the left, and emergent, student-generated, performance-based material on the right (i.e. dogme for ESP). As Chia pointed out, you’re going to have pre-experience or university students on the coursebook end, and the corporate sector at the other.

    But one problem is that the ELT publishing industry can’t overcome its addiction to the coursebook format, even when “ESP coursebook” is an oxymoron as it is on the right half of the continuum. Evan’s right to say that we need to see this as a resource, not a course, but this would be easier if the publishers didn’t call them coursebooks, treat them as coursebooks, format them as coursebooks, and expect them to be purchased as coursebooks. I don’t think it’s a cynical view to say that there might be better ways for us to access the target discourse than through a traditional coursebook structure.

    Second point: I have to admit I’m a defender of the common core argument in ESP, which I know is unpopular. I think Bloor’s arguments against it show a range of category mistakes. Anyway, come with me on a thought experiment: in a common core diagram, the concentric circles represent general in the middle and increased specificity as we move away from the center. Now, imagine our continuum above, but extended to the left past the ESP realm and into general English. Now image this continuum as actually the radius of the circle of the common core diagram. This seems to work as a framework, doesn’t it? I need to go make one…

    1. Hi Cleve,
      It’s always great to see you on my blog! Hope all is well!

      Indeed, Evan’s comment about everything in ELT being on a continuum is totally on the money, but I’m not sure if ’emergent, student-generated, performance-based material’ is actually possible…maybe I’m seeing the word ‘material’ as something printed on a piece of paper and used as a guideline to how the lesson is going to proceed, which seems like a contradiction to the idea of something being emergent and student-generated. Maybe I am ‘contaminated’ by the view of the traditional coursebook structure and am unable to see beyond that, like most teachers and publishers. I hope I’m wrong here, so if you care to expand, Cleve?

      I’m also curious as to the category mistakes that Bloor makes with his argument, and most importantly, am really keen to see what seems to be Venn diagram that you have described! Could you draw it, take a photo of it and post it here?

      : )


      1. Hi Chia – yeah, I wasn’t very clear with my definitions and your guess is correct. With open platforms (full disclosure: I work for a company that builds one 😉 the definition of learning material or learning content is expanded beyond that of the traditional coursebook. I think of ELT “content” as anything that happens between a teacher and Ss in the target language. Now what is interesting is what the *source* is: it could be a (1) a printed page from a coursebook or (2) emergent language from Ss with the T supporting/explaining/whiteboarding, etc as in a dogme class. So the material source can be external (coursebook) or internal (emergent) or a mix and anything in between. The selection of source is a curation skill that Ts execute to various degrees depending on the teaching context. Jamie Keddie calls it “teacher as DJ”.

        What’s interesting is that the traditional definition of content = coursebook sees content as a product, whereas the expanded definition sees content as more of a process, which I think is a more useful perspective.

        Regarding the common core, I went a little too far out on a limb last night and upon review I see that the criticism (actually Bloor and Bloor 1986) was not a question of language (“IS there a common core?”) but rather of pedagogy (“Do we have to wait until the common core is acquired before we teach ESP?”). Bloor and Bloor answered the latter question in the negative; we CAN teach ESPs at lower levels, and they were not commenting on whether the common core exists or not. Evan said the same and I agree completely. So please ignore that part of my comment!

        I have indeed cranked out the diagram, actually in three parts…how to post? I’ll send you the PDFs and with your WP admin panel maybe you can make them legible if you judge them as post-worthy 😉 If it’s a hassle I can put them on our blog and you can link.

        The idea with the ESP content continuum was to provide a framework for unraveling the tension between generic and specific that you and Evan were discussing, showing that 1) both poles have an appropriate application, 2) the qualities/contexts/needs most commonly associated with each, and 3) also extending the continuum beyond general ESP into general English. Then I slammed this continuum into the common core diagram as the radius of the circles to see if it is useful and illustrative.

        1. Fantastic, Cleve.
          Here are the diagrams you sent me. They are great! You really should put them up on your blog!


          Diagrams by Cleve Miller

          ESP/Common Core by Cleve Miller

          Learning Content Continuum by Cleve Miller

          Common/Professional/Domain-Specific Core by Cleve Miller

  6. Thanks so much for all your comments so far on this post.

    Evan is in a place where my blog is too racy to access and is therefore unable to respond at the moment.

    He has said that he will be back and responding after the 27th July, so keep those comments/questions coming!


  7. As usual – great job of playing Devil’s Advocate, Chia, with some great provocative questions, statements and apparent assumptions and great job of standing your ground Evan. I know Chia can be persistent!
    I agree with you – Evan (both times), that ESP books can be a great help to teachers who may find themselves landed with a group of learners from a specific field they have little experience with. It’s important they can quickly become ‘experts’ and such books can offer them a good starting point. They can, of course be too generic/general as a course progresses and the need for performance-based material, as outlined by Cleve, becomes all the more relevant and necessary.
    You can’t write/have a one-size-fits all course book. At best, they should act as an opening into the world, needs (and discourse community) of the learners and offer the teacher a great deal of flexibility and springboard opportunities to personalize the experience for the learners.
    I agree with Evan that access to learners’ workplaces during a needs analysis phase, and indeed during ongoing training, can be very useful if it is at all possible. As you’ve mentioned Chia, this isn’t always possible for teachers and there may also be time issues for them involved. What works for the private language school I work for may also work for others. During the phase of pre-course conception, a senior teacher or ‘knowledge sharer’ goes into a given department and shadows people at their job, possibly on a department-wide basis to really establish the performance-based needs of the learners in that department, and of individuals. Interviews are carried out and the result of this, together with any realia/resources one can get from said department/company, which can then be used as the basis of a briefing for all teachers who will work in that department or company in the future. I’m involved in course concept creation on a large scale, so I often take this role. One could see this as a sort of middle-ground of client-specific knowledge acquisition between the in-house trainers and the external just-turn-up-to teach teachers Evan’s talking about. There are varying levels of depth this solution can be taken to. Depending on the feasibility, it is also a great idea for teachers to do this themselves during ongoing training courses, and ongoing sharing or knowledge pooling among trainers is also very useful, even if they are freelancers. We also create client and/or department specific materials and resources which can then be shared over a common platform, like Ed/Chia were suggesting in their exchange.

    @Cleve: Great ideas and diagrams. I love the continuum and how you’ve mapped it over the concentric core circles. I think that much Business English teaching, at least, takes place between the middle and outer cores, depending on teaching context (and needs). In agreement with you and Evan, I obviously I fully agree that language can and should be taught in context from the beginning, at lower levels – and that includes Business English for Beginners! – thanks for the screenshot, Chia.

    1. As we always say in the ELT world, sharing is loving, Mike.
      Seeing that the topic of Business English for beginners came up, it only seemed natural to share your book with everyone.

      Indeed, the very nature of ESP means that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all coursebook, but to take the pressure off the teacher who might not be as familiar with that particular area of specialisation, the idea of a common platform where they can draw on the knowledge of their colleagues and their predecessors is ideal, especially for those who work in an in-company setting where they might not come face-to-face with their colleagues in a staffroom as often as we who work in private language schools do.

      I also love your idea of a ‘knowledge sharer’ that goes around observing the clients and their environment, and providing valuable pre-course information to the trainers involved. And what an interesting job that is too! Watching, extrapolating, identifying the needed communicative skills and competencies, and giving it a pedagogic spin. I envy you.


  8. Simply the best post I’ve read, thank you Evan, Chia, and the others for the stellar comments.
    Yet, I am still shaking my head a bit. We all tend to agree on this issue and have a clear idea of what right looks like. But I am still wondering how to get the long tail of trainers to this point. Mike offers a practical solution for the private language school setting by taking a closer look at their resource bank and in particular their scheduling. I think this is certainly a step in the right direction and for many providers the only economical solution.

    But I am going to say that a split is occuring in BE training for experienced learners. Trainers who have moved away from educational best practice are beginning to adopt corporate training best practice (two very different approaches). In this case, ROI is certainly measureable and clients are receptive. In fact, as corporate training in other fields expands, I find that clients are beginning to expect this level of service.

    Risk-averse trainers who clutch their worn out binder of standard materials and roll out the standard line that we are simply English language teachers will continue to earn low wages. Why? Because it takes forever for them to have a measurable impact on the crucial communicative events. In comparison, following the guidance of Evan and the comments, we are able to make a difference immediately. In other words, the trainer gets a higher rate because it takes fewer hours. I find that clients understand this inverse relationship.

    If the prospect of higher wages, better job satisfaction, and added credibility aren’t motivators for teachers… what is left?

    1. Thanks for your delightful comments, Charles!
      (I think this is the first time I’ve described someone’s comments as delightful! hee hee)

      The split you talk about is definitely becoming more and more apparent.
      There are the BE trainers who get involved in CPD and move BE teaching into a field whereby the clients’ business skills and communicative effectiveness is the main focus.
      Then there are the BE teachers who continue to ‘turn-and-burn’ course books that call themselves communicative task-based learning course books, but ultimately are the 57th rehash of Headway…

      Now, here’s me playing Devil’s Advocate:
      Are the salaries of that first group necessarily higher than the second group?
      Or are the second group pulling down the wages of the first…so much so that although clients are beginning to expect this level of service, they are still not willing to pay more for it?

      As for your last question,
      1. The correlation between higher wages and specialised business skills communication training are not that obvious to most teachers…and is not necessarily guaranteed either.
      2. Not all teachers find ‘playing coach’ and focusing on business skills more satisfying. Some love their lexicogrammar and Applied Linguistics focus. That’s why they became language teachers and not business people, isn’t it?
      3. Perhaps the easy money and predictability of the ‘turn-and-burn’ coursebook-based teaching is what motivates the teacher to carry on?

      Or am I being cynical here?


  9. Hi Chia

    I’m new to this blog, but it seems I’ve been missing all the action, so I’m really glad to have found it. Very impressive post, and great comments!

    Here are a few of my random thoughts, in no particular order.

    (BTW, I’m series editor of CUP’s ESP series, Cambridge English for …, so I know Evan’s dilemma well – how on earth do you create a coursebook for something that almost by definition won’t fit in a book!)

    For me the key point, already mentioned by Richard above, is that we can’t equate an ESP *course* with an ESP *book*. If we’re just using a book, we’re not really doing ESP. In fact, you could almost define ESP as “teaching things for which no coursebook exists”. As soon as there are plenty of good coursebooks for a particular field, it becomes mainstream and ceases to be ESP. I think this has definitely happened for Business English (which was once included under the ESP umbrella) and is happening now for (aspects of) legal, technical and perhaps medical English.

    That said, I think it’s perfectly sensible to use coursebooks as part of an ESP course, as long as they’re supplemented with plenty of other stuff that’s tailored to your learners’ specific needs. There’s no doubt that having a good coursebook to fall back on makes the teacher’s life much less stressful. But the point is, they’re not the whole course.

    In a way, that’s why so many ESP coursebooks (well, mine at least) tend to be rather short: the expectation when they were being written was that they would need to be supplemented.

    If you like, to borrow from Cleve’s handy diagram, the coursebook can do a pretty good job of staking out the middle ground (the professional core). The outer layer (domain / performance specific) has got to be covered by the teacher and tailored to the learners’ needs. Fortunately, thanks the internet, it’s not too difficult to come up with plenty of texts and wordlists to at least make a start on this outer layer. But this outer layer is where good, professional ESP teachers can add the most value, for example by following Evan’s advice and getting immersed in the learners’ working environment, and doing thorough genre and discourse analyses.

    I also don’t think ESP coursebooks should cover stuff from the inner core (which I take to mean a traditional grammar syllabus, plus key GE vocabulary and generic skills work). It’s not that ESP learners don’t need those things, but rather that those needs are independent of their ESP needs, and therefore would be much better served from a different source, be it a general English grammar book or the teacher’s own worksheets or whatever. The ESP coursebook should concentrate on doing stuff that you simply can’t get from other sources or make easily for yourself – things like credible but graded situational dialogues and authentic, practical role-plays.

    To some extent, I’d say the same goes for generic business skills like meetings and presentations. Ian said in his comment: “… ESP coursebooks … need to take on board more thoroughly the kind of underlying generic communication skills … dealt with by Bob Dignen in his articles in Business Spotlight.” I agree that these need to be part of ESP *courses*, but I disagree that they should be in ESP *coursebooks*. I’d say: why re-invent the wheel? These things are already done well in business skills books (I recommend Bob’s Communicating Across Cultures, plus Mark Powell’s new books, Dynamic Presentations and International Negotiations – nothing to do with the fact that I wrote the TBs for all three, of course), and I’m sure they’re also done well in Business Spotlight. So why try to duplicate all of that in an ESP coursebook, where they’d inevitably be done less thoroughly? Why not simply use a short ESP coursebook alongside a short business skills book – with both chosen separately to meet the learners’ needs.

    (And no, I’m not talking about photocopying here. You just buy two small books instead of one big one. Or you use something like English360 to legally mix and match from a range of sources.)

    Anyway, I can see I’ve written too much here, so I’ll leave it there. I’ve plenty more I could say on this fascinating topic, but I’ll save it for later!

    all the best and thanks a lot for stimulating my imagination!


    1. Hi Jeremy,
      I’m glad you found this blog too, and thanks very much for your lucid comments.

      Indeed, the term ‘course books’ is a bit of a misnomer especially when it comes to ESP.
      I never know what to call books like ‘Effective presentations’ and so recently, I’ve just been calling that resource books.
      (Although I know ‘Resource Packs’ have a whole other reference to those supplementary packs that come with course books)

      Being a Dogme (remember it’s ‘materials-light’ and not ‘materials-less) and Task-Based Learning advocate, I all definitely in support of the ‘dipping-in’ approach when it comes to resource books (and even course books) and in my ideal world, all books in ELT and BE/ESP would be resource books.

      This would of course mean that teachers would no longer be able to just follow page after page of the course book (see my response to Charles Rei about turning and burning) and have to actually spend more time and effort finding out the needs and interests of their learners, selecting and adapting from course books, learning to deal with emergent language and provide scaffolding and appropriate feedback, and focusing on the learners’ communicative competence and ability to perform their needed business skills.

      Am I being naively idealistic?
      Or is this revolution I’m advocating justified?


      1. Hi Chia

        No, I don’t think that’s naively idealistic at all. Your ideal world sounds not too far away from the common situation where an ESP teacher with a ‘flexible’ attitude to copyright laws has access to a resource library and a photocopier. Plus of course plenty of home-made worksheets and non-printed stuff (from the teacher’s own head).

        (This is pretty much how I created many of my first ESP courses over the years, before I got involved with publishers. Of course I always obtained permission before photocopying anything …)

        In your ideal world, I guess all coursebooks would be legally photocopiable. But in practice, of course, there’s simply no way such books would generate enough income to cover their costs, either for the publisher or the author. (And I know of many, many great ESP book ideas which have never been written because the publisher couldn’t see how they’d break even financially).

        I mentioned English360 above (which is my main employer these days, by the way). Your ideal world is very much what we’re trying to create there: a mix and match approach without illegal (and ugly) photocopying, and without all those publishing costs (like printing and distibution). In an earlier comment, you said you’d love to see ‘some kind of combined internet resource where we can share and store the ESP materials that we have created for our specific learners from specific (and perhaps less common) industries’. Again, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do on English360. It’ll still be a few years before there’s an editable ESP course available for every conceivable niche (including English for Poutry Farmers), but that’s what we’re working towards.

        (Sorry – I know it’s bad form to plug your own stuff on someone else’s blog 🙂 Hope you’ll forgive me.)

        Again, I’ll leave it there before I get carried away. All the best.


        1. Hi Jeremy,
          Sorry for the delayed reply.
          And please don’t be worried about getting carried away! Always great to read someone else’s thoughts on the subject.

          I know quite a lot about English 360 because my partner works with them on a regular basis and we both think that it is a fantastic framework for teachers to work from. Cleve and Valentina (and yourself) have a great product on your hands and so please plug away!

          Now to get teachers to move away from ‘turning and burning’ and to actually really cater to their learners communication needs.

          : )


        2. I’m really glad you like the platform – we’ve got great plans for it (in terms of self-publishing for all those niche ESP fields). You’ll regret that offer to allow me to ‘plug away’!



  10. Thanks Chia, Bethany, Mike, Ed, Christopher, Ian, Richard, Cleve, Charles, Jeremy for all your generous and insightful comments. Please excuse my lateness in replying – I’ve been away doing some teacher training in China, and sadly I wasn’t able to access the blog.

    Some responses

    Ed – yes you’re right of course – working in-company is quite different to working in a language school. I can just see you grinning as you typed those words. But as you and I have discussed before, and your excellent blog post so clearly explains, your situation brings advantages which are not that easy to simulate in-company. There are pros and cons to everything, and I guess we need to work to our strengths. Having said that, I still think there is more teachers in the classroom can do to find out more about their students’ needs – things which are hardly even mentioned on teacher training courses. An example of this is techniques for analysing workplace processes, which I have just blogged about.

    Re course books, yes, I agree, and I think it is happening already. But it is not always easy to find samples of “real workplace interaction” which also work well in a teaching context, and which are also acceptable to the many different stakeholders involved in the production of a course book. The author is one very small cog, unfortunately.

    Richard – there are lots of books about discourse analysis out there. But if you are interested in business English teaching, the one I would strongly recommend is Almut Koester’s Workplace Discourse (Continuum, 2010) . It is up to date and very readable.

    Cleve – You’re absolutely right in mentioning the ELT publishing industry and its addiction to the course book format, although sadly I suspect many teachers (and learners?) are comfortable with it too. But the younger generation is definitely less comfortable with it, so things will change. We won’t be having this conversation in a few years’ time.

    I’m afraid I’m not as convinced by your common core diagrams, although of course this is an age old argument in ESP. Personally I would agree with Mike Nelson http://users.utu..micnel/thesis.html when he says that business English is “more than simply general English added to by certain specialist terminology”. I don’t see it as a continuum at all (despite my comment in the discussion about everything in ELT being on some sort of continuum…). For me each specific domain / situation has its own context and therefore has its own way of using language to transfer meaning. Different discourse communities use language in their own unique ways. Yes, there is overlap between various communities, and it may be possible to identify certain lexical items and differences in meaning. But when we move away from discrete items and start analysing things like genre, appropriacy, mutual understanding and so on (ie the stuff of communication), the whole picture becomes very blurred and not quite as straightforward as your diagrams would have us believe. Moreover, the notion of common core for me implies that it is a key part of the syllabus, and that we need to cover it with our learners. This goes directly against the idea that we can choose according to the information we gather on a needs analysis.

    Jeremy – yes, I agree completely with you regarding your point about generic communication skills being left out of ESP books – there is never enough space to do it thoroughly, and as you say, there are much better resources out there.

    Thanks guys.

  11. I am joining this debate long after the effect, but I would love to get discussion going again, picking up on a couple of points …

    I had read the original post back in July (Thanks to Chia for your excellent choices – speaker and topic) and have already made use of some extremely pertinent quotes (Thanks Evan!) Also very interesting to follow the various comments and I’ll come back to Bethany’s in a moment and try to develop that further.

    I would just like to reiterate Evan’s final comment here about discourse communities using language in their own way. But trainers should not lose all hope – within certain ESP areas (especially those requiring enhanced people skills) there are core communication areas. Once you’ve understood the rationale and the related discourse behind effective patient communication skills, then you’re all set to train consultants, podiatrists, healthcare assistants, dentists, and physiotherapists, etc.

    However, I would like to dispute (if I may) Jeremy’s point about leaving out generic communication skills from ESP coursebooks (publisher’s listen up!). My advice to new ESP trainers would be – assume nothing! While there are obviously certain skills that are common, their exact nature can differ greatly. Presentations spring to mind – the 15min scientific presentation for example leaves very little time for rhetorical Qs and anecdotes. Just like scientific journal articles, they tend to be rather formulaic. Given the time constraints, they have to be. On the other end of the scale you might have a sales pitch style presentation which employs very persuasive language and is much more about ‘playing to the crowd’. The medium might also be different – scientific poster sessions are very different from the ‘presentation’ give at an exhibition stand. I think you’ll find similar differences with meeting and telephone scenarios too. All this has a bearing on the materials you produce and the subsequent training you provide.

    But going back to Bethany’s comments – I personally think the area of teacher training is the key to this whole debate: give trainers the right tools and they – just like their learners – become more autonomous. ESP trainers in particular, given the circumstances in which many of them work, have a far greater need to be autonomous than trainers in other areas of ELT. And most importantly they need to be autonomous from day one! ‘Employers pair teachers with learners … leaving them to juggle the jargon. No other profession … requires learners to do this!’ (Bethany) Sad, but true. Ask any trainer here in Paris how many different disciplines are they expected to grapple with – 4? 5? I can’t count the number of different industry-specific courses I was asked to develop during my 6 years as DOS. While I enjoyed the variety (finance excepted), the amount of time and effort I went to research and develop courses to ensure they were vaguely credible in the eyes of the stakeholders and the Ss, doesn’t bear thinking about. Please note this was late 90’s-early 2000s so pre the ‘ESP coursebook revolution’ and easy access to the internet, not to mention platforms such as English360, of which I am a confirmed fan. So it has become easier to be an ESP trainer – coursebooks are written together with content specialists and online resources greatly facilitate the task for more experienced trainers. But principled ESP coursebooks is only one aspect of the whole process, albeit a very significant one.

    But we do need to ask to what extent CELTA graduates are truly ‘work-ready’ and equipped to deal with the genuine realities of the adult learner classroom? Simple answer – they’re not. I now co-run a specialised EMP teacher training programme and simply by training trainers to develop effective needs analysis, design their own materials based on methodologies used in medical communications training in the L1, and have a better understanding of their target audience, the results are pretty significant. One of the immediate results is that they now have the tools to adapt existing ‘generic’ medical English coursebooks to their specific public (dieticians was one example recently). I am currently preparing my IATEFL talk for 2013 which will look into the need to include ESP components in pre-service training, as well as the possibility that such a component might provide newbie trainers to offer a USP to prospective employers. I am hoping this presentation will start to get those Cambridge ESOL bods talking ….

    No niche is too specialised for skilled trainers, OK – but please let’s give them the tools to do it!

  12. Today I had a little spare time and thought “What’s Chia up to these days?” So here I am, entering one of her discussions again, months after it has seemingly run its course.

    I thought Chia was very effective in her devil’s advocate position. She asked many questions that needed to be ask to understand better the state of the BE and ESP professions.

    Some of the dialogue centered around how the published BE and ESP materials (i.e. coursebooks) fall short of what many learners really need in their specific professions. And this then begs the question of why the publishers are not providing more material for more specific needs. I think the answer is quite simple: the mainstream publishers need a certain sales volume to justify the developing, marketing, and shipping. Hence the course book format, where every student has to pay $20 to be an effective participant in the class. To get this volume, the publishers need to cater to the business or technical skills of the average ELT teacher, which is not very high. If the publisher moves into more specific fields of BE or ESP training, then not only are there fewer students to extract that $20 from, there would be fewer teachers capable of presenting this material well—-because they are not paid enough to justify to learn the new skills to present this material well. So new advanced material is not being developed, and teachers are left building their custom made lessons. In other words, there are several vicious circles happening here that keeps the BE profession stuck in one place.

    I’m going to use Evan’s recent publication of “English for the Oil Industry” as an example of the state of the BE and ESP profession. To be fair, I haven’t yet seen this material. But just because it has been published by a major publisher, I’m fairly certain it has been written more for average ELT teachers, not for what real petroleum engineers need in their technical workplaces. While we can claim that this coursebook is only a start in the engineer’s language acquisition for the petroleum workplace, where does that leave the teacher with little experience in the petroleum industry to go beyond the coursebook and develop the custom lessons the engineers really need?

    With my background in petroleum engineering, ELT teaching, and BE development, I have no doubt I could develop very relevant and effective English modules for petroleum engineers. While this material will be very beneficial to learners, it will be quite a bit different than the coursebook approach. As the BE profession has yet to recognize my approach as viable for some BE classroom situations, I can’t see ESP teachers adopting my approach either. Hence I can’t justify developing ESP in the petroleum engineering direction.

    I don’t think we should expect the ESP and BE publishers to be all that innovative in the next decade. The potential profit is not there.

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