Classroom Practices and Methodologies for English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

In terms of classroom practices or methodologies, a popular question raised against ESP is “Is there a particular technique adopted by English language teachers in the ESP classroom?” This question was raised by Sinha & Sadorra (1991), and their answer is “no”. Indeed, this question has haunted language teachers, in particular, ESP teachers.  Although communicative language teaching (CLT) is the most prevalent methodology, ESP courses are not limited to this. 

Philipps, as cited in Robinson (1991), suggests four key methodological principles, namely:

  1. reality control, which relates to the manner in which tasks are rendered accessible to students;
  2. non-triviality, i.e. the tasks must be meaningfully generated by the students’ special purpose;
  3. authenticity, i.e. the language must e naturally generated by the students’ special purpose; and
  4. tolerance of error, i.e. errors which do not impede successful communication must be tolerated.

Below is a list of some commonly used activities in an ESP program:

  1. Role play and Simulation. Students assume a different role or a role that is present in their future work area. For example, a student pilot may assume the role of the captain and give orders to his crew or report coordinates to the air traffic control tower.
  2. Case studies. This activity is common in business, medicine, and law. It involves studying the facts of a real-life case, discussing the issues involved, and coming up with a decision or plan.
  3. Project work. Here students work on a particular “project” which may include out of the class activities. Then, students are expected to construct manuals, which explain how it works and/or discuss how their project was made. This may be applicable to engineering students specifically to those who are in the field of robotics and other innovative gadgets.
  4. Oral presentations. Relevant to the activities above, students may present or even defend a particular product or issue. Here, students are exposed to possible academic or work environment that they may face in the future.

Other pertinent principles and issues in ESP methodology involve:

  1. Knowledge of content. One problem in ESP is the language teacher’s mastery over the content. Since the teacher is a language major, it would be difficult for him or her to have mastery of the content. A usual approach to address this issue is to team teach with a subject-matter expert
  2. Teacher talk. Since ESP courses are communicative in nature, teachers are expected to be facilitators rather than classroom authorities. Students should have more talk time instead of the teacher.
  3. Learners’ cognitive and emotional involvement. Tasks and activities should make the students feel “successful” at the end of the program. It should be noted that these students took the course to achieve a certain degree of language proficiency. Thus, they should develop a positive outlook on the program, because this will, in turn, affect their cognitive development.