Syllabus Designing – Review of Literature

1 January 2017

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is often underestimated because of teachers’ attitudes which are often characterized either by condescension or reluctance. This is manifested in the belief that often prevails among teachers that ESP is for those who cannot teach the “real” language. A good example of this situation is “English in other departments” or “The Language Unit” at university where teaching this component of the students’ program of studies is generally the responsibility of junior members of staff and where it is a “slot-filling” subject in the teachers’ time-tables.

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This underestimation may be due to the fact many language teachers are not aware of what it means to be an ESP teacher, and what it takes to be successful in this practice. The situation in the Tamil Nadu is even more complicated as there is not even a separation between ESP and English for General Purposes (EGP) when it comes to syllabuses and methodology, and who is better trained to teach what. Needs assessment, which is a major component of ESP, never exists, and, if does, it is never systematic, but rather based on teachers’ intuitions.

Moreover, the methodology adopted in teaching never differs. That is, a teacher would enter a class with the same kind of methodology in mind regardless of the aims of each program. Unfortunately, programs are always put “in the same basket” and are always simply labelled as programs for “Teaching English”. As a matter of fact, English is not always just English for there are particularities that ought to be taken into consideration when designing syllabuses and practicing teaching depending on the objectives set for each situation. Definition of ESP (English for Specific Purposes)

The term of ESP is generally represented as ‘English for Specific Purposes’, which emphasizes on the students’ purposes and refers to the whole range of language resources (Robinson, 1980). A definition of ESP given by Strevens (1988, p. 1 – 2) is that ESP needs to distinguish between four absolute and two variable characteristics namely: a. Absolute characteristics: ESP consists of English language teaching which is: designed to meet specified needs of the learners related in content (i. e. in its themes and topics) to particular disciplines, occupations and activities entered on the language appropriate to those activities, in syntax, lexis, discourse, semantics, etc. in contrast with ‘General English’. b. Variables characteristics: ESP may be, but is not necessarily: restricted as to the language skills to be learned (e. g. reading only, etc. ) taught according to any pre-ordained methodology (i. e. ESP is not restricted to any particular methodology – although communication methodology is very often felt to be most appropriate). Munby (1978, 1996) defined ESP in relation to ESP courses based on the analysis of the students’ language needs.

His definition of ESP is still current as follows: “ESP courses are those where the syllabus and materials are determined in all essentials by the prior analysis of the communication needs of the learner” (p. 2). The interpretation of the expression ‘learner need’ deals with two different aspects of needs (Widdowson, 1984, p. 178), referring to (1) what the learner needs to do with the language once he or she has learned it. This is a goal-oriented definition of needs and relates to ‘terminal behavior’, the ends of learning. (2) [W]hat the learner needs o do to actually acquire the language. This is a process-oriented definition of needs, and relates to ‘transitional behavior’, the means of learning. In ESP, the ends of learning are as important as the means in spite of being normally goal-oriented (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; McDonough, 1984; Robinson, 1991), that is, ESP is meant “the teaching of English, not as an end in itself, but as an essential means to a clearly identifiable goal. ” (Mackay, 1978, p. 92) The term of ‘ESP’ has thus been used by different people to mean different things (Blackie, 1979).

Nonetheless, the claims for ESP normally have in common in a sense that ESP is not a new approach, but an emphasis on English teaching that should be matched to the students’ specific needs and purposes for their study of English (De Jesus, 1999; Hutchinson & Waters, 1984, 1987; La Perla, 1984; Mackay, 1978; McDonough, 1984; Munby, 1978, 1996; Robinson, 1980, 1991; Strevens, 1977; Swales, 1985). Chambers and McDonough (1981) argue that the ‘specific’ in English for specific purposes should refer to both the purpose the language is being used for and the language itself.

Three kinds of purposes suggested by Mackay and Mountford (1978) are: 1. “occupational requirements”, e. g. for international telephone operators, civil airline pilots, etc. ; 2. “vocational training program”, e. g. for hotel and catering staff, technical trades, etc. ; and 3. “academic or professional study”, e. g. engineering, medicine, law, etc. Accordingly, an ESP course is pertinently purposeful and is aimed at the successful performance of either occupational/vocational or educational roles (Robinson, 1980) or both.

Moreover, Robinson (1991) argues that the language produced as a feature of ESP should be good enough for the job and not be necessarily native-speaker like, but be the communicative strategies and effectiveness of the non-native professional users of English. History of ESP According to Johns’ (1991) discussion, the ESP history in brief with respect to its development and expansion throughout the world has been influenced by the major theoretical and applied schools of linguistics and developed into four phases. The first phase (the 1960s and the early 1970s) was the structure-based phase of linguistic (i. . lexical and grammatical) features of academic and professional registers, for example, the language of electrical engineering and the language of law (e. g. Herbert, 1965). The second phase (the late 1970s and the early 1980s) was the discourse-based phase of register analysis where the function and purpose in discourse became more rhetorical (e. g. Trimble, 1985). The third phase (the integration of the discoveries in phase 1 and phase 2) was communication-based phase of systematic analyses of the target learning ituations which concentrate on Munbyian concepts of ‘notional-functional curriculum’ (Munby, 1996), namely: (a) the communicative purposes of speaker/writer; (b) the setting for language use; and (c) the mode of communication and language use. This leads to the language teaching in a communicative approach. The fourth phase (the late 1980s and the 1990s) has been focused on the strategies which learners employ to acquire the target language where the needs analysis (or needs assessment) centers on activities or procedures leading to effective teaching and learning (e. . Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). Throughout the past four decades of the history of ESP, the areas of theoretical development and interest in teaching and learning of ESP, relating to the two main branches of ESP: EST and NON-EST, seem to include an interest in register, discourse analysis, the specification of students’ needs (and wants), study skills, or in various methodological approaches to the development of communicative competence (Flowerder, 1990).

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