What is English for Specific Purposes?

The field of English language instruction is teeming with acronyms, and ESP is a fairly common one. ESP stands for English for Specific Purposes, a niche within TEFL that you may end up teaching in the future. But what does English for Specific Purposes entail?

What is English for Specific Purposes?

An ESP course, instead of focusing on everyday communication as in general English, is oriented towards a specific discipline. These courses concentrate on the language required by students to communicate in a singular, specific environment. While ESP students still require a command of general English, the specific language addressed in the course is of greater significance.

Who needs English for Specific Purposes?

Typically, ESP students already possess a decent English level before starting a course tied to a particular aspect of their lives, frequently their occupation. ESP students are often adults driven by a specific language goal that could lead to a promotion, salary increase, or a new job opportunity. Notable ESP courses include English for Aviation (for pilots, air traffic controllers, etc.), English for Hospitality (hotel personnel), English for Tourism (travel agents, tour guides), English for Medicine (nurses, doctors, etc.), English for Banking, and Legal English.

How to teach English for Specific Purposes

The first task in teaching an ESP course is to conduct a needs analysis to understand precisely what the students already comprehend and what they need to learn. ESP classes usually emphasize certain language points and sometimes specific skills such as reading, writing, speaking, or listening. The focus is on communication using this particular language, rather than extensive attention to grammar and language structures as in a general English class.

In ESP instruction, it is essential to remember that the lessons significantly impact students' daily lives. While the students are likely to be highly motivated, they also expect the teacher to be well-versed in the subject and consistently professional. Every activity should serve a clear purpose and align with the overall course goal.

Who can teach English for Specific Purposes?

Any TEFL certified teacher is eligible to instruct ESP classes, even when the field is completely unfamiliar to them. Teaching English for Aviation does not necessitate being a pilot, nor does teaching English for Hospitality require hotel industry experience. Although any relevant experience would be advantageous, a bit of research and a purpose-designed course book should suffice to teach any ESP course. There are many ESP course books available; a simple online search should help you get started.

Resources for teaching English for Specific Purposes

If you need ESP teaching resources, numerous excellent online options are available. Some of our favorites include:

Onestopenglish is a great resource that offers a section dedicated to teaching ESP, with lessons on English for Aviation, Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, and more. Some of the content is freely accessible, while other parts require a paid subscription.

National Geographic Learning offers a broad selection of resources for all types of English lessons, including ESP.

For ESP class coursebooks, consider checking out these three publishers: Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Macmillan. You will also find various online resources on their websites to utilize in your lessons.