Teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

The English language is put to many uses, but one branch of TEFL that is increasingly common is ESP – a generic term meaning English for Specific Purposes. This ranges from specific vocational purposes (such as the language of the tourist industry, or that of the financial industry etc.) to, arguably, academic English in any discipline. ESP is very much focused on the learners needs for the English language.

ESP vs. General English

Is there a difference between ESP and general English? Surely any linguistic improvement – whether classified as generic or specific – contributes to the learners understanding of the language? Laurence Anthony of Okayama University wrote a very interesting article on this subject which explains the issues more clearly than I can, but in summary teaching ESP is based largely on the goals and requirements that the students have. Many companies sponsor their employees to learn English specifically to facilitate English communication in their trade, so it is necessary to have specific targets in mind when teaching ESP. However, when students have little or no basic knowledge of English, teaching it for a specific purpose is almost impossible. This is when general English and ESP really cross paths.

ESP as a career choice

ESP has really taken off as an individual subject in the world of TEFL in recent years. In fact, many institutions offer courses in training teachers purely for ESP. If you want to develop your career as an EFL teacher, ESP seems like a highly relevant way to go. The University of Birmingham offers an MA in ESP, as does the University of Warwick.


About Ben Davies

The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to some ideas about teaching English as a foreign language. I lived in Japan and taught English for several years. It was a great experience that I would strongly recommend. Browse through the blog posts and get some tips, or get in touch if you have a specific question or comment.

2 Responses to Teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

  1. djaileb farida says:

    The only difference lies on the purpose for learning.I share the view of Hutchinson & Waters (1987) when they argue ‘in theory nothing, but in practice a great deal.Even the methodologies used in ESP are some how diffrent.The teaching in ESP required creativity.In the sense that teachers should construct their own material according to the needs of the learners.The specification of needs are crucial in ESP material as opposed to EGP.I have noticed this while teaching my students at the department of computing Science at university, being a teacher of ESP.

  2. There may be different ways of finding information about students needs and previous experience. Students’ analysis can give two kinds of information. The first reflects learners’ “possession”. The second represents what learners want to achieve .

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