TESOL EVONLINE 2005
ESL2ESP session - Jan 31 -Feb 6
Week 3- January, 24 - 30
On Needs and the Need to Analyze Them
Welcome to Week Three. Below are comments from this week's guest lecturer,
Mary Ellen Kerans. We hope you'll read them and post any questions
or comments you
have about needs analysis.
Chris Parkhurst and Buthaina Alothman
On needs and the need to analyze themin target situations and
genres, in the
opinions of stakeholders, and through personal observation
Ive never done a thorough pre-course needs analysis like a spectacular
admire from a team in Hong Kong in TESOLs ESP case studies volume
Boswood, & Peirson-Smith, 2002). Like the needs analysis Ive
seen others do in
ESAP, mine is piecemeal but ongoingpartly because the demands of
relentless and partly because we dont always have stable work situations
much warning that predicted classes will go.
So, to start off discussion, I reviewed whats been said about needs
fairly recent, easily available sources I had on hand. (Dudley-Evans &
1998; Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001; Hutchinson & Waters, 1996; Jordan,
find a list of what they say below. Then I listed FAQs Ive heard
and wrote some
of my own answers and some questions I have too. I hope those thoughts
controversial enough to get a rise out of experienced ESP teachers who
or see gaps! And I hope that newcomers to ESP will make us all think about
theories and examples relate to their real classroom and market constraints.
To begin with, I see widespread consensus among the expertsreinforcing
opinion that there arent any theoretical controversies in our present
about needs analysis, at least not since the shift away from emphasizing
notional-functional competencies toward giving balanced consideration
learners present situation and attitudes, feasibility, and wants.
to agree that were interested in real target-situation language
needs to guide us in deciding how to help real sets of learners. If we
ESP widely enough to encompass academic courses (ESAP), I think we can
we mainly emphasize the short-term needs of the learnerpartly for
reason that they are perceived by them and have face validity I thinkbut
also take into consideration likely eventual needs.
Heres what I find to be the consensus, followed by those FAQs
and issues for
discussion. Where I found an idea in a particular source, I cite it.
unreferenced concepts on the following list are mentioned by all the authors
What the experts say about needs analysis
- Were interested in target situation language use (communicative
competencebut in the notional-functional use of the term, competence
- Information about communicative needs can be gathered through
ethnography (questionnaires, interviews with learners or informants
observation as participants or flies on the wall) and through corpus
(elegant way to say examination of real texts, spoken and written).
- Information gathering covers ways language is used in the learners
situation (types of activities), frequency, level of demand (exposure
to risk or
judgment). Examples of questionnaires can be found in Dudley-Evans &
(1998) and in case studies like those in TESOLs volume on ESP
- Needs can be classified for analysis in various ways. For example,
vs. more immediate; objective (grounded in facts or plain observation)
felt/perceived by the learner; defined by different stakeholders (learner
- Learners dont always want what our analysis of the data suggests
need or what authorities say they need.
- Learners immediate needs might override their undeniable long-term
oneslike a Chinese graduate student who studies grammar assiduously
to pass a
screening test for a grant, even though shell soon need better
oral skills if
she wins the grant (Hutchinson & Waters, 1996).
- Needs analysis is used to indicate syllabus priorities, which in turn
suggest assessment strategies.
- Needs analysis is ongoing.
- An awareness of constraints (learning needs, resources, time,
permissibility) is relevant to deciding how to use the results of a
- Time needed for interviewing powerful stakeholders will be saved,
well make a better impression by asking better questions, if we
about the target situation and the learners before interviewing starts
(Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998).
- Implicit in needs analysis is new fact findingwe want to be
triangulate from recently gathered facts (from corpora, observations,
explicit demands (authorities real and covert instructions), and
(wants and beliefs).
Some FAQs, some answers and some questions of my own
1. Do you really do a formal needs analysis? Arent there already
written? Arent you re-inventing the wheel? If youre experienced
and know the
type of learner, cant you skip needs analysis?
No, I cant skip it. Evan Frendo mentioned that sponsors can be
out of touch.
Teachers can get out of touch too, too invested in beliefs, if were
to get new facts.
But Im not always formally documenting ongoing needs analysis in
Still I never stop thinking about it and gathering data. If information
inconsistent, I get more and ask informants how they view the inconsistencies.
also have to be prepared to explain our program constantly, so I need
for both public relations and syllabus re-design.
Reading the ESP literature and going to some conferences help too. Needs
analysis is the backbone of ESP and needs are specific to a set of learners.
However, I do sometimes read about the needs of distant groups and how
met. Partly, others reports are models for how I go about needs
partly, I want to check I havent forgotten something!
It is true that a person whos been in the profession (a lawyer
like Debby or an
engineer like Irina) or whos been a participant-observer (an authors
like me or Adam) has a head start. I didnt need to collect a corpus
about research article structure when I started teaching science undergraduates,
who would soon be reading them. But I did need to look at more specific
to learn that dentistry students have vocabulary needs I didnt know
physical therapy students have surprisingly reduced specific vocabulary
and nursing students have dauntingly wide-ranging language needs. And
needed to monitor what my co-facultys hopes for these students would
studying and how the students immediate role models use English.
So needs do have to be analyzed and re-analyzedbut the process
sophisticated (Baxter, Boswood, & Peirson-Smith, 2002) if the means
available or simpler if done by conscientious teachers doing their best
students within a framework of conflicting constraints (Zaki, 2001). The
article by Smoak (2003), mentioned by Debby last week, has some good stories
about the sort of seat-of-our-pants needs analysis we do in our
2. Whats a real need? Do you mean vocabulary? Do
you mean writing vs.
speaking? Whose needs?Does everybody in the class really feel the same
Hutchinson & Waters (1996) say needs are what the learner has
to know to
function effectively in the target situation.
But what does effectively mean? If ESP is restricted to teaching
learner needs to know to be effective immediately after the course ends,
real answer to what s/he absolutely needs might be nothing at all.
(In my EFL
context unambitious students can muddle along without English.) If its
too widely to encompass what a triumphant researcher will need to know
then neither learner nor instructor is likely to feel much has been accomplished
in a course. So how effectively is something I have to look
Negotiation and common sense are in order. When I analyze needs I look
and long-term ones. And since one of my hardest jobs is dealing with the
intellectual, emotional and social needs of undergraduates, I know I have
make a persuasive case in the classroom for some real-world needs they
feel yet but their educators want them to prepare for. I try to challenge
ambitious at the same time I try to engage the unambitious, but I dont
miracles. That can be said of all education, though.
3. What about the analysis part? How do we do that?
Analysis involves triangulation, working from different types of data.
the wisdom you can muster. I dont find that general theorists on
ESP have much
thats helpful to say about how to analyze data. But you can learn
a lot by
reading about how others have done it in practice. That splendid account
recommend as a model is about a workplace situation (Baxter, Boswood,
Peirson-Smith, 2002). Another one I admire, precisely because the analysis
thoughtful, is in the writing volume of the same case studies seriesand
about an ESAP situation (Flowerdew, 2001).
I dont think were all in a position to carry out elaborate
data collection. My
colleagues and I started a new universitys program seven years ago
two weeks notice, and thats not uncommon in Spain. I bet its
the same in a
lot of other educational settings. But were all able to gather some
especially, to subject it to serious thought. To do that, the more we
see of the
big picture, the better. For instance, corpus analysis can tell me I neednt
bother fussing over present simple vs. present continuous if immediate
and writing of medical literature is a priority. On the other hand, I
decide its relevant if Im training for a clinical situation.
knowledge of how English is taught in my environment will tell me more.
simply teach and practice the use of gerunds in science texts? Theyre
frequent and are almost never verbs. Or are my pre-intermediate students
to have been overtaught continuous vs. simple tenses in general English?
in addition to new information about uses of gerunds in science, they
patient unlearning of the automatic association of gerund and verb. Ill
make syntactic clues more salient throughout the sentence.
To see many angles, it helps to work in a team.
4. Ethnographyhow do I do that?
Formal ethnography involves both observation and structured interviews.
& Marriot (1994) advocate that new ESP teachers be trained to do this,
agree, but most of us are self taught. So how can we learn without going
school? The way practitioners in all professions doreading our literature
learning from colleagues.
But basically, the gist of ethnography is, talk to people systematically
dont settle for using only your students or only sponsors as sources.
just as limiting as only looking at target competencies implied by finished
genres. Talk to other stakeholders, like bosses or potential bosses. If
training nurses, interview people whove been patients in large hospitals
If youre in ESAP, interview older students about what their English
really turning out to be like. Interview and observe potential role models
students might want to emulatefind out what it was like for a doctor
to go to
Canada for a fellowship for example. Dont take everything at face
both closed and open-ended questions prepared and gently challenge informants
with what other informants say or inconsistencies you see. Dont
stop with clichés: English is a lingua franca isnt
And observe. Use contacts to get free access to an international medical
conference in your city and observe how participants give presentations
they interact afterwards. Do some pro bono work if necessary. I did some
the other day! In my field, manuscripts arent usually submitted
on paper in the
classic double spaced format anymore, but you dont get to see the
submission process unless youre an author. So I invited an insecure
author to my home office and we submitted her finished manuscript togetherI
have information I need for the design of some online writing tutorials
responsible for. I could have charged her hospital for the time, but ethically,
I thought, better to give it as good will since Im receiving equal
5. If John
Swales is the father of ESP and Ive done a thesis using his
of genre analysis, Ive analyzed whats needed, right?
Genre analysis is a very necessary part of needs analysis I think.
Id give a lot of credit to a person who knows relevant genres, because
seen programs billed as ESP based only on students or stakeholders
with no research into how language is used in target situations. Success
defined as satisfaction alone.
But analysis of moves in a finished genre isnt enough, just as
opinions arent enough. (Is nothing enough!?) Ethnography
in the target
situation is necessary too. Ideally, we also need to learn about the steps
proficient users go through in creating genres in real lifeand compare
the ones our specific learners have been using. And, too, there are what
called pre-genres (like hallway conversations) and occluded genresones
outsiders cant even dream about until we ask or participate. Along
Adam Turner has mentioned he learned about problems with certain types
correspondence by observing. Our ESP literature also holds informationGosden
(2001, 2003) has written about one of the occluded genres Swales mentionedthe
point-by-point letters scientists must write to peer reviewers. Along
lines, Ive learned about writing peer reviews themselves through
observation as an authors editorfor accomplished authors who
speakers of English also write peer reviews of others work, and
they need help
Finally, circling back to the shift in our thinking I mentioned
beginningtoward giving balanced consideration to the learners
situation and attitudes, feasibility, and wants along side target competenciesI
think we can see that genre analysis is necessary but not sufficient.
Now, toward discussion
All of this is disconcertingly ideal, so we need to talk about it
colleagues from time to time, in forums like this EVO. In daily practice,
in and year out, we do the best we can and gradually move toward expertise
time. But a tenet of ESP is that we are indeed basing our teaching on
of needs. To me, its part of the fun because it keeps me learning.
wonderful to be able to say I feel challenged and surprised pretty often
nearly 30 years of teaching!
Baxter, R., Boswood, T., & Peirson-Smith, A. (2002). An ESP program
management in the horse-racing business. In T. Orr (Ed.), English for
Purposes. Alexandria: TESOL, Inc.
Boswood, T., & Marriot, A. (1994). Ethnography for specific purposes:
and training in parallel. English for Specific Purposes, 13(1), 3-21.
posted by the author for free access: HYPERLINK
Dudley-Evans, T., & St. John, M. J. (1998). Developments in English
Purposes: a multidisciplinary approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Flowerdew, J. (2001). Toward authentic, specific-purpose writing at the
levels of proficiency. In I. Leki (Ed.), Academic Writing Programs (pp.
Alexandria, VA: TESOL, Inc.
Flowerdew, J., & Peacock, M. (2001). The EAP curriculum: issues,
challenges. In J. Flowerdew & M. Peacock (Eds.), Research Perspectives
English for Academic Purposes (pp. 177-194). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Gosden, H. (2001). Thank you for your critical comments and helpful
suggestions: compliance and conflict in authors' replies to referees'
in peer reviews of scientific research papers. Ibérica, 3, 3-17.
open access: HYPERLINK "http://www.aelfe.org/documents/text3-Gosden.pdf"
Gosden, H. (2003). Why not give us the full story? Functions
comments in peer reviews of scientific research papers. Journal of English
Academic Purposes, 2, 87-101. (Abstract only available through the publisher:
Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1996). English for Specific Purposes.
Cambridge University Press.
Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for academic purposes: a guide and resource
for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Orr, T. (Ed.). (2002). English for Specific Purposes. Alexandria, VA:
Smoak, R. (2003). What is English for specific purposes? English Teaching
Online. (Available by open access: HYPERLINK
Zaki, A. (2001). From needs analysis to student analysis, The ESP Newsletter:
Publication of the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English. (Available
open access: HYPERLINK "http://www.mate.org.ma/mateweb/esp1contents.htm"
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