TESOL EVONLINE 2005
ESL2ESP session - Jan 17-Feb 26
Week 2 - January, 24 - 30
Learn How to Learn about Your ESP Field
Debby Lee is the guest lecturer for this week.
After each section, I've place a question in BOLD.
Take time to think about the questions and respond to the yahoogroups
site. Please feel free to disagree with my ideas. Discussions (even
heated ones) are often how we learn. I'm looking forward to reading the
responses of this multi-year, multi-continent, multi-field group.
Do we have to be content experts?
As you probably know from my introduction, my specialty is legal English
and I came to TEFL after a career in law. I've been ESP for 12 years now
and have co-authored a text on legal English. I've also taught business
English, EAP, and co-authored a text on English for the Mechanical Trades.
I have content knowledge of the law-I have a law degree- and content knowledge
of general academics-I went to college. I don't, however, have business
or mechanical knowledge.
I have heard of total quality management and I've sat in meetings. I
also know the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver, a nut and
a bolt. In business English classes, however, my students are the experts.
Mechanics-My father made me change the oil and tires a few times in my
old VW Beetle-"In case, you ever need to know how to do this, Debra.
You never know what will happen." I vowed then that I would never
change oil or a tire again once I had a paying job and I have kept that
vow. However, I have been involved in the mechanical trades again. I found
it enlightening, especially since I didn't have to work on cars.
What I mean is you don't have to be a content expert to teach ESP. However,
you do need certain qualities [some of these are my own thoughts, others
come from great conversations or reading materials from people like Hutchinson
& Waters, Robinson, or Dudley-Evans & St. John]:
- Curiosity and a willingness to learn about the content subject
- Tolerance for content ambiguity (You aren't the expert and your
students may not be either.)
- The willingness to let your students be experts
- Confidence in yourself and your ability as a language, not content,
- The willingness to ask for content help (i.e., your colleagues
in the Science Department or a conversation with an in-field expert)
- The ability to adapt content materials to meet the levels and
needs of your students
- The willingness to forego a vocabulary-driven class
- The ability to tie language to content (discourse analysis/concordancing)
|Two General Skills:
- Understanding that it is your language ability that makes you
a great ESP teacher
QUESTION: I know you have other qualities to add
to this list. What do you consider essential when teaching ESP?
Can you have too much content knowledge?
My answer to this is a resounding YES! I've seen too many people with
dual degrees who end up teaching the content and not the language. I used
to be one of those people-I hope I've reformed. When I first started teaching
legal English-the first year after my M.A. TEFL program, I had serious
problems deciding what to teach. I was in Germany, the want of the students
was for an introduction to the Anglo-American legal systems, but I was
housed in a language department and their wants/needs were for students
to speak and write English. The exams were based on a student's ability
to read, translate, speak, and listen to English on content-related topics,
but not to explain the law. What to do?
I pondered, I reflected, and in retrospect, spent too much time on the
LAW. Of course, I included language components. We discussed vocabulary-general
and specific. We looked at language in letters. I videotaped mock trials
so that we could review language. We did grammar exercises. Even though
I was doing language, I remember discussions with TESOL colleagues about
the wants of my students for a legal system introduction and not just
language. I gave them their wants, but in doing so, partially neglected
my students' needs for language, especially the lower-level students.
Rebecca Smoak in 2003 article in the Forum discusses John Swales' [also
known as the father of ESP] view of ESP teachers. "[N]ew ESP teachers
seem to have to go through the same stages of development personally that
the field has gone through since the 1960s- beginning with an urge to
teach general English with technical vocabulary, moving to an awareness
of the importance of sub-technical vocabulary and needs analysis, and
emerging eventually to recognition of the need to use discourse analysis
and linguistic corpora. At this point, they understand what ESP is."
I think people with a great deal of content knowledge go through the
same stages, except they begin by teaching more content than language,
then move to Swales'
latter two stages.
QUESTION: Can someone have too much content knowledge? Are there
non-equivalent ESPs* that require more content knowledge*?
*Charles Hall and I coined this phrase during a discussion/argument about
what actually constitutes legal English. As ESP professionals, we depend
upon our students to be the content experts in ESP, but what happens if
In equivalent ESPs, a business student or businessperson has often studied
similar business concepts, such as total quality management. However,
in non-equivalent ESPs, such as law, many of the concepts are different.
If you are teaching legal English in Germany, the law students/lawyers
are experts in civil law or code systems. However, they are not experts
in the common law systems that are used in many English-speaking countries.
For the German audience, consideration for a contract is non-equivalent;
that is, consideration in the contractual sense does not exist in the
German legal system. This means that legal English, a non-equivalent ESP,
requires the addition of new content knowledge. Often the ESP teacher
is the one providing that knowledge. Remember, however, that there are
many ways to gain content knowledge. A legal English specialist does NOT
have to become a lawyer.
How do we become ESP experts?
There are, of course, many ways to become experts in the content field
we are teaching. Below is a partial list. Talk to your students
- Sit in on a content class.
- Read content journals/magazines-even widely-read magazines, such as
Time or The Economist provide interesting insights into various content
fields, such as law or business.
- Read content textbooks.
- Talk to colleagues in the content field.
- Surf the web [my favorite].
- Read the ESP or EAP Journals-great resource for discourse and corpus
studies in content/university fields.
- Read online journals, such as ESP World or The Internet TESL Journal
QUESTION: What else should you do so that you feel comfortable
with your ESP hat?
Smoak, Rebecca. (2003). What is English for Specific Purposes? English
Teaching Forum Online. U.S. Department of State. http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol41/no2/p22.htm
The Internet TESL Journal
http://www.streetlaw.org (for its
freely downloadable mock trials)
(Click HERE to see what some participants have added to Debby's list)
Up to Top