English for Specific Purpose appeared due to the awareness that general English course was not suitable for the learners’ need, especially in higher education. In the teaching of
ESP, the materials are focused on the learners’ needs or their specific fields of study and it is assumed that they have basiclanguage skills of general English. In this article there wereanalyzed some of the problems that arise in teaching English for SpecificPurpose (ESP) in higher education.
Key words: ESP, challenges, subject-specific approach.
One of the characteristics or even a critical feature of ESP is that a course should involve specialist language (especially terminology) and content. In the majority of cases ESP teachers are not specialists in the students’ professional fields. That is why the primary issue in ESP teaching is the struggle to master language and subject matter. Teachers find themselves having to teach with texts whose content they know little or nothing about. In addition, the ESP teacher happens to be the syllabus designer and is responsible for the teaching material and evaluation.
The basic problem in designing a topic syllabus is that the ESP syllabus designer is not a specialist in the specific area (e.g. engineering), consequently he/she is not capable of deciding by himself/herself which topics to include in the syllabus to provide the required terminology. It is also very difficult for him/her to arrange the topics in the most suitable order. Care should be taken that the ESP classes do not precede the topics in the special subjects, as the ESP teacher is not a subject specialist, this can lead to misunderstanding. Moreover, if a topic has already been discussed in the special subject, this motivates the learners and gives them confidence to communicate or discuss.
Another problem is the text selection and adaptation. Not being a specialist in the specific area, the ESP teacher cannot decide by himself/herself how to adapt the text that the most important information in terms of subject matter will remain. The decision has to be made about the texts: on the one hand, the texts must not be too difficult, because neither the ESP teacher, nor the students have such a high level of professional knowledge; on the other hand, the text must not be too popular, because some learners have some confidence in their professional knowledge, and if the text is too easy for them in terms of subject matter, they tend to underestimate it in terms of language as well. In order to avoid such demotivation, the text should contain some challenges which can activate the professional knowledge of the students.
The lack of close cooperation and coordination between content lecturers and the designers of the study programmes, is a problem that still exists. Content lecturers should have more responsibility for introducing students and training them in a particular discipline. Developing home assignment or oral examination tasks together with content experts could be a great help for ESP teachers.
Moreover, in the ESP course the students are expected to have at least an intermediate level of general English. In practice we have to deal with mixed-ability groups in terms of both level of language competence and professional competences. Some students are very good at English; other students are very good at professional areas (i.e., know carrier content very well but do not possess good command of English). The first group wants to practice their general English and is quite disappointed by the matter-of-fact style of technical English. For example doing tedious reading tasks about the values of diodes may demotivate them for studying ESP. The group who feels confident in their professional field has much stronger motivation for studying ESP. Though if some of them do not have good knowledge of general English they would like to spend much more time studying grammar, revising tenses, articles, etc. If the English teacher is not competent in electronics and the learners are not competent in English and electronics how can they possibly communicate in the different aspects of the learning/teaching process? How can an ESP teacher cope with the issues he/she meets in his/her job?
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) provide part of the answer. ESP teachers do not need to learn specialist subject knowledge. They require three things only:
A positive attitude towards the ESP content;
A knowledge of the fundamental principles of the subject area;
An awareness of how much they probably already know.
In other words, the ESP teacher should not become a teacher of the subject matter, but rather an interested student of the subject matter.
Nevertheless, some teachers are able to develop sufficient knowledge of a subject to teach confidently from the subject-specific texts. But even the most dedicated ESP teacher will realize that his knowledge of a subject has limits and may feel the need for closer cooperation with the subject teacher, perhaps developing a team-teaching programme.
Chen (2011) describes language pedagogy as the challenge of ESP in Taiwan. One main problem is the widespread opinion that there is no solid theoretical basis to support the teaching ESP. There were confrontations whether ESP should be viewed as a tool or a discipline, whether ESP should be considered a practical skill or knowledge capital and whether ESP instructors should be “insiders” or “outsiders”. It is argued whether language teachers or subject teacher that should teach ESP. The paper concludes with the dilemma that differentiating ESP instructors into “language teacher” and “subject teachers” only continues the rigid power structures within the academic hierarchy.
Other study, for example the one conducted by Ho (2011), revealed that course designers and teachers encountered problems related to the design of the course, the task, assignments and the teaching methods. The researcher described the teaching ESP in a university in Hong Kong which emphasized on developing students’ English communication skills needed in workplace and/or in academic setting. The students were expected to learn to write and engage in spoken activities related to a number of documents over a period of 13 weeks. They should learn for example how to conduct a meeting, write an agenda, minutes, a memorandum report, a letter and a technical proposal and give oral presentation. Due to the need to achieve so many learning outcomes in a short period, the problems arose.
The other problem in ESP is related to students’ reading skill. A study conducted by Rezaei, Rahimi, & Talepasan (2012) showed that mostly learners have problems in understanding the concepts of syntactic units in reading text. For example, they do not understand what is the concept of subordinate clause or passive forms. It has also been observed that they did not have problems in understanding the meaning so the researcher assumed that the learners have problems in the form of language. The research proved that the learners encountered problem in syntactic units. The problem arouse due to the different structure of
English and Persian language.
Learners and their needs in higher education are also problems in the teaching of ESP. These problems are found in the study written by Suzani and others (2011). The data showed that the learners complained about several things. First, the inappropriate time of conducting ESP course which is offered in the lower semester. They thought they were not ready enough for the course. Second, the class was usually too crowded so the students could not concentrate on their study. Third, it concerned with inappropriate class hours. It was claimed that class’ hours were usually postponed. Fourth, summer course could reduce learners’ motivation. It was due to the shortage of time and excess of specific materials. Fifth, the learners found incompatibility between their previous knowledge and ESP course they have. Sixth, most in ESP classes, the students were just required to memorize terminology. They feel frustrated for not applying them in authentic context. Seventh, the students stated that sometimes the teachers were unable to cope with unwanted problems of teaching ESP in their educational setting.
All these issues considered we reached the conclusion that, teaching of English for Specific Purpose is necessary in higher education due to the demand in academic setting or workplace later on. Teaching ESP means the teacher focuses the material to content of students’ subject field or knowledge which should be run based on the needs analysis. This led to several problems in the teaching of ESP. There are five major problems found. First, it is related to teaching pedagogy. Second, it is concerned with the teachers. Third, the design of the material also becomes challenge in ESP. Fourth, it deals with students’ ability which cover their basic knowledge about language use. The last is students’ need which sometimes is not fulfilled by ESP course.
- Hutchinson, T., A. Waters (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A learning-centered approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Chen,Y. (2011). The institutional turn and the crisis of ESP pedagogy in Taiwan. Taiwan International ESP Journal, 3(1). 17–30.
- Ho, B. (2011). Solving the problems of designing and teaching a packed English for specific purposes course. New Horizon in Education, 59(1).119–136.
- Rezai, A., Rahimi.M. A, & Talepasan, S. (2012). Exploring EFL learners reading comprehension problems in reading ESP texts. Sino-US English Teaching, 9(3). 982–987.
- Suzani, S. M, Yarmohammadi, L. & Yamini, M. (2011). A critical review of the current situation of teaching ESP in the Iranian higher education institutions. The Iranian EFL Journal, 7(6). 179–204.