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Needs analysis in language teaching

Richard West

Language Teaching / Volume 27 / Issue 01 / January 1994, pp 1 - 19 DOI: 10.1017/S0261444800007527, Published online: 23 December 2008

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State of the art article

Needs analysis in language teaching

Richard West School of Education, University of Manchester


There have been several surveys of approaches to needs analysis in foreign-language teaching Qames, 1974; Jordan, 1977; Chambers, 1980; Cunnings- worth, 1983; Brindley, 1989; Riddell, 1991 ; van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990; Robinson, 1991 ;Jordan, forthcoming). During the period of20 years covered by these surveys, both the focus and scope of needs analysis have changed. The dominant focus of early needs analysis was occupational/EOP, but this later changed to academic language/EAP (for the origin of the terms EOP and EAP, see T. Johns, 1981: 16). More recently the focus has shifted again to include general language learning. The scope of needs analysis up to and including Munby (1978) was syllabus specification derived from target-situation needs, but the scope has since been broadened to include areas specifically excluded by Munby - practicalities and constraints, teaching methods and learning strategies, and, recently, materials selection. This evolution can be summarised by characterising each of three stages in the development of needs analysis, and to hint at the future by suggesting a fourth stage (see table below). Much of the later work in needs analysis is either not widely known or (Richards, 1984, cited by Nunan 1988 a: 17) it is still assumed that curriculum development in language teaching should con- centrate on language syllabuses to the exclusion of

broader aspects such as needs analysis, methodology and evaluation. It therefore seems appropriate to survey the field of needs analysis in a broad context. This survey concentrates on work relating to English (for a survey of recent work in other European languages, see van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990).


The term 'analysis of needs' first appears in India in the 1920s (see Howatt, 1984: 245; White, 1988:

12-13; Tickoo, 1988), when Michael West intro- duced the concept to cover two separate and potentially conflicting concepts of' need' contribu- ting to the 'surrender value' of learning: what learners will be required to do with the foreign language in the target situation, and how learners might best master the target language during the period of training. West was concerned with secondary-level learners whose needs, though de- terminable in broad terms, could not be defined with any great precision and whose teaching is indeed often defined in terms which exclude any concept of need - what Abbott (1980: 123; 1981 a:

12; 1981 b: 228) calls TENOR (Teaching English for No Obvious Reason). The concept of need does not seem to reappear for almost 50 years after West, a point commented on by Schutz and . Derwing (1981 : 30): 'it would seem that most language planners in the past have bypassed a logically




Scope of analysis



early 1970s



target situation analysis

Richterich, 1971/1980 ELTDU, 1970 Stuart & Lee, 1972/85


later 1970s


target situation analysis

Jordan & Mackay, 1973 Mackay, 1978



ESP & general language teaching

target situation analysis deficiency analysis strategy analysis means analysis language audits

Tarone & Yule, 1989 Allwright & Allwright, 1977 Allwright, 1982 Holliday & Cooke, 1982 Pilbeam, 1979


early 1990s


integrated/computer-based analyses materials selection

Jones, 1991

Nelson, 1993

After training as a teacher in Zambia and teaching English for miners and metallurgists there

After training as a teacher in Zambia and teaching English for miners and metallurgists there for five years, Richard West worked on Business and Engineering ESP projects and materials. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Manchester. The present article is an expansion of a unit from the distance M Ed module on teaching ESP offered at Manchester.


State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

necessary first step: they have presumed to set about going somewhere without first determining whe- ther or not their planned destination was reasonable or proper'. However, the term returns to central prominence with the advent of ESP, for which needs analysis has become a key instrument in course design. The term 'English for Special Purposes' appeared first at the Makerere Conference in 1960 (Commonwealth Education Liaison Com- mittee 1961: 19), and this was soon linked to concepts of need. Indeed, Halliday, Mcintosh and Strevens (1964: 189) refer to 'English for Special Needs', although for them 'need' was defined purely in linguistic terms as a special language or


Language teachers have frequently based their teaching on some kind of intuitive or informal analysis of students' needs (Tarone & Yule, 1989:

21) but the concept of a formal analysis of 'the requirements which arise from the use of that language in the multitude of situations which may arise in the social lives of individuals and adults' (Richterich, 1973: 32) was established during the early 1970s, largely as a result of the work of those associated with the Council of Europe, and it was in the field ofESP that it was taken up most vigorously. The take-up was by no means immediate: even though Strevens mentions 'the requirement that SP-LT should analyse the needs of the learner' in his 1977 survey of ESP (1977: 157), he offers no examples of how this might be done (despite his close association with Munby at that time) and most of his survey is still concerned with the answer to the question 'what is the nature of scientific discourse?'. In Coffey's update of Strevens' survey (1984: 7), needs analysis figures prominently' largely due to the far-reaching effects of John Munby's

Communicative syllabus design (1978) '. The size and

scope of Munby's work have meant that needs analysis is now crucial to any consideration of ESP course design and almost every modern survey of ESP (McDonough, 1984; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; Robinson, 1991) accords it a central place (Swales, 1985, is a notable exception; see 1985: 177 footnote b for the explanation).

Theoretical basis of needs analysis

Needs analysis is, by its very nature, a pragmatic activity (Schutz & Derwing, 1981) based on highly localised situations (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 11). However, explicitly or implicitly, it has a basis in theory (Coffey, 1984; McDonough, 1984: 31) or principle (Robinson, 1991: 11-12) that was largely established by the Council of Europe (Richterich, 1973/1980; see Council of Europe, 1981, for a survey) and Mun by (1978), although Yalden (1987 b:

107) suggests that there has been little subsequent

theoretical discussion. The broad underlying theor- etical basis is that of curriculum development (see Rodgers, 1980: 148; Littlewood, 1992), which, according to Holec (1985: 263-4), has since the early 1960s followed three main tendencies: im- proving teaching methods, adapting the teaching to the type of learning public, and training the learner how to learn. Needs analysis has been rooted in the second of these tendencies and, more recently, the third. More narrowly, any system of needs analysis is related to the theory of the nature of language from which the categories of language employed in the procedure derive (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 12-20). The selection of language categories constitutes the first step of the six-step model of course design proposed by Coffey (1984: 7-8) :


selection of theory

= nature of language:


principles of restric-

tion -e.g.




needs analysis

=a matching of vocat-


ional needs with the categories established


language realisation

the transforming of the

guage items


functions, skills previous-

ly identified into lan-


course design



the ordering of the lan-


guage items, by their


course construction

relative importance and their sequencing


the devising of strat- egies and techniques


classroom teaching

In Munby's case, the theoretical bases of his needs analysis model were contemporary views on the nature of communicative competence, derived principally from Hymes (1971). It would be possible to build a model of needs analysis on a base of linguistic competence (as posited by Davies, 1977:

36; Robinson, 1991: 11), taking both target needs and present levels of competence into account. Such a model would, in effect, be a study of interlanguage and so we may see error analysis, interlanguage studies and grammatically-based diagnostic testing (e.g. Cooper, 1970) as the ancestors of needs analysis (Schutz & Derwing, 1981 : 30), followed by other

types of analysis, notably register analysis, discourse

analysis and genre analysis Qordan, forthcoming). It is no accident that needs analysis emerged at a time when communicative approaches to language and language learning were displacing grammar-based approaches (e.g. Wilkins, 1976: 55, who noted:

'The first step in the construction of any language syllabus or course is to define objectives. Wherever possible these will be based on an analysis of the needs of the learners and these needs, in turn, will be expressed in terms of the particular types of

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

communication in which the learner will need to engage'. See also Schutz and Derwing, 1981: 31).

Despite its base in concepts of communicative competence, Munby's model is essentially perform- ance related, with his categories of communicative activity and communicative event which are cat- egories of real-world language use rather than elements of a construct of communicative com- petence. Munby was here following others in the field of needs analysis (ELTDU, 1970; Bung, 1973; ELTDU, 1975; Allwright & Allwright, 1977) in adopting a 'performance repertoire' model (Hut- chinson & Waters, 1980) and subsequent models of needs analysis have largely adopted a similar theoretical base. However, this performance-based approach has long been questioned by Hutchinson and Waters (1980; 1987), who have argued that 'it is necessary to examine the underlying competence

which the learner must bring to

specialised subject' and 'if we are to prepare the overseas student adequately for, say, technical instruction, what he needs to acquire is this assumed competence' (1980: 178 original emphasis). The concept of underlying competence has now been extended from pre-intermediate technical ESP to higher-level EAP (Waters & Waters, 1992), yet it remains evident that the components of any underlying competence are empirical categories derived from observation or introspection rather than theoretical elements of the same order as, say, Canale and Swain's (1980) discourse competence or Bachman's (1990: 84-107) language competence and strategic competence. Attempts have been made to derive needs analysis procedures from such theoretical bases: Tarone and Yule (1989: 31-60) apply Canale and Swain's model of communicative competence to needs analysis by demonstrating that various needs studies relate to one of four 'levels of generality': (a) global (i.e. the situations in which learners will need to use the language), (b) rhetorical

(the typical way in which information is organised in any language-related activity), (c) grammatical- rhetorical (those language forms which realise the information structure of the language activity), and (d) grammatical (the frequency with which language forms are used in different communication sit- uations) (see James 1973, summarised in Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 12-13, for a very similar classi- fication). Tarone and Yule's model in effect incorporates register analysis (Barber, 1962; Palmer, 1981 a) and discourse analysis (P. Robinson, 1981; Palmer, 1981 b) as layers of target-situation analysis and present-situation analysis, the findings of which are then available as input data for the syllabus design stage. Target-situation analysis and present-situation analysis are essentially concerned with establishing language items to be taught and, as such, these procedures relate only, at best, to the first four of

the study of any

Coffey's stages (1984: 8). Coffey ended his discussion of the theoretical basis of ESP by predicting little change: 'There is a need for refinement, for allowing real-life circumstances and validated successes to have their proper effect on theory, but in the communicative idea ESP surely reached its maturity. At any rate, there is nothing else in sight at the moment'. Even in 1984 this statement was de- batable: theories oflanguage learning methodology (Phillips, 1981; Crocker, 1981), materials design (Phillips & Shettlesworth, 1978) and language- learning styles and strategies Oames, 1980 a) were becoming well established and learning styles had already been incorporated into needs analysis procedures (notably in Allwright, 1982), thus bringing Coffey's fifth stage (course construction) within the scope of needs analysis. It is this area of second-language acquisition and strategy analysis which has provided an additional and important theoretical basis for needs analysis in the 1980s (see

Ellis & Sinclair,

1989 b: Nunan, 1989).

Fundamental questions in needs analysis

In any needs analysis procedure 'we find ourselves faced with a number of unavoidable questions to



answers are a prerequisite to all identification meth- odology' (Richterich, 1983: 1). These fundamental questions and possible answers are surveyed in this



These questions with their possible








What and why

There has remained a great reluctance to agree on a definition of needs: 'The very concept of language needs has never been clearly defined and remains at best ambiguous' (Richterich, 1983: 2; see also van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7). Widdowson (1979, cited by Bowers, 1980 b: 66) and Brindley (1989:

65) identify the main source of this ambiguity as the distinction or even contradiction between various concepts of need: necessities or demands (also called objective, product-oriented or perceived needs), learners' wants (subjective, or felt needs) and the methods of bridging the gap between these two (process-oriented needs). The term 'needs' is often now seen as an umbrella term (Richterich, 1983: 2; Porcher, 1983 a:

22; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 55) covering several interpretations. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) offer a useful classification of needs which may be seen to reflect differing viewpoints and to give rise to different forms of needs analysis (see James, 1974: 76; Alderson, 1980: 135; Bowers, 1980b: 67; Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 6-7; All- wright, 1982: 24; McDonough, 1984: 35-40 and Robinson, 1991 : 7-8 for different classifications):

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching


(a) Necessities are 'the type of need determined by the demands of the target situation, that is, what the learner has to know in order to function effectively in the target situation' (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987:

55). Richterich (1973/1980: 32) described these as objective needs which 'can more or less be assumed to be general from an analysis of typical everyday situations' and any such needs analysis approach identifying these necessities is frequently known as target-situation analysis (see Chambers, 1980). It is apparent, however, that many language courses are not terminus courses and that interim objectives short of the necessities of the target situation will have to be set. In such cases, it would seem better to regard the course objectives as short- or medium- term goals or aims rather than target necessities, and the needs analysis procedure would therefore be one of goal setting (Frankel, 1983: 123) or aim definition (Richterich, 1973/1980: 32). Goals or aims of this type may be determined by the end-of-course test or examination (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 40), so that it becomes important to determine the test require- ments in such a way that they represent practical and useful learning goals (Morrow, 1983: 105-6) providing beneficial washback and washforward effects. At the other end of the scale, language audits

may establish target needs in terms of key assets, i.e. 'the need for foreign languages as a "key" to new possibilities and opportunities, e.g. new markets' (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7). Target needs may be defined at three levels (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 8-9). At its most basic, the target-situation analysis may go little further than identifying which languages are needed. Other surveys may go further and establish needs in terms of skills priorities (spoken German, written French, etc). Most, however, define needs in situational or functional terms (listening to lectures, speaking on the telephone, writing business letters, etc). Some procedures then go even further to specify what grammatical or lexical language components are necessary in order to realise a particular function.

(b) Lacks:

To identify necessities alone is not enough

know what the learner knows already, so that you can then

decide which of the necessities the learner lacks

proficiency in other words, needs to be matched against the

existing proficiency of the learners. The gap between the two can be referred to as the learner's lacks (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 55-56; see also Hutchinson, Waters & Breen,


The target

You also need to

It is, then, lacks which determine the syllabus:

'rhetorical structures are not included in the syllabus simply because they exist, but only if they are either

seen to cause comprehension difficulty

knowing how to handle the particular rhetorical structure can help in the reading process' (Alderson, 1980: 136). In this survey, any needs analysis

procedure adopting this approach will be called

or if

deficiency analysis (see Allwright & Allwright, 1977;

Abbott, 1978: 99).



Hutchinson &





needs is wants: 'what the learners want or feel they need' (1987: 57). These needs are personal and are therefore sometimes referred to as subjective needs

'which cannot be said to be general

unforeseeable and therefore indefinable' (Richterich, 1973 /1980: 32). It is often pointed out that these may differ, even conflict, with necessities as perceived by a sponsor or employer, and lacks as identified by the teacher. This, however, does not mean that

wants are any less real and ways will have to be found to accommodate them. While this may be difficult in cases where the wants are idiosyncratic or even opposed to the aims of the intended course (Mead, 1980, cited in Hutchinson & Waters, 1987), there may be wants which are perceived by the majority of the potential participants which can be incorporated into the syllabus or methodology, especially if this is negotiated between instructor and learner. A common example of this is the demand for speaking, which 'normally emerges as

the least needed skill [for EAP students, but]

if not

a need, speaking is often a want, since in many

students' opinions oral proficiency is the best indicator of mastery of a language' (Robinson,

i 991 : 105; see also Chamberlain & Flanagan, 1978:

Schutz & Derwing,

are quite


1981: 41; Coleman, 1988: 163). Deficiency analysis, which asks learners to identify their own learning priorities, should throw up any such wants.

(d) Learning strategies: Hutchinson and Waters

(1987: 60-2) here identify two types of learning needs which may usefully be separated, the first being the learner's preferred learning strategies for

progressing from where they are situ- ation/lacks/deficiencies) to where they want to go (target situation/necessities). In this survey ins- truments designed to identify preferred learning strategies will be discussed under the heading of strategy analysis (Allwright, 1982; Widdowson, 1983). Once again, these needs may be a source of conflict because the teacher's interpretation of suitable strategies may differ from learner's expectations or 'preconceptions about the form a language learning experience should take' (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 9).

(e) Constraints: The second element included by

Hutchinson and Waters when considering the decision-making process in a needs analysis is the potential and constraints of the learning situation. These are the external factors which may include the resources (staff, accommodation, time) available, the prevailing attitudes or culture, and the materials, aids and methods available. These were all areas deliberately ignored in early approaches to needs analysis (e.g. Munby, 1978) but they are now seen as central to the process of course design and have


1980: ix;

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

come to be known as means analysis (Holliday & Cooke, 1982; Holliday, 1984), for 'if the resources are fixed then the objectives themselves must be negotiable' (Crocker, 1981: 14).

(j) The language audit: This is the sixth type of needs

analysis (Pilbeam, 1979; van Hest & Oud-de Glas,

1990; Lynch et al., 1993); it is a large-scale survey undertaken by a company, an organisation or even

a country to determine what languages ought to be

learnt, for what reasons, by how many people, to what level, in what type of institution, by what

methods, at what cost, and so on. These are big and often political questions that were originally deemed outside the scope of needs analysis (Munby, 1978) but which now give it a much broader remit making it a matter oflanguage planning. In essence, a language audit differs from a needs analysis in scale:

needs analysis is used to determine the various needs of an individual or group; a language audit defines the longer-term language-training requirements of

a company, country or professional sector, and can

thus be seen as a strategy or policy document. The language audit may include all the levels or layers

of a needs analysis (a-e above), so that, say, the strategy analysis component would seek to identify delivery modes which are appropriate for the majority of learners or trainees and which would then become company practice or ministry policy. Each of these approaches to needs analysis will be examined further below.


At what point in the course should needs analysis be carried out? There seem to be three or four possible answers to this question - before, at the start and during the training course (Hoadley-Maidment, 1983: 43 adds end-of-course). It has been standard practice to conduct as much of the needs analysis as possible before the start of the course (Robinson, 1991 : 15) but it is now generally accepted that the procedure should be repeated during the course, so that needs analysis becomes an on-going process. This is a reflection of the now-common acceptance that a concern with process is a 'good thing' in all areas of language teaching. (a) The first answer has been called 'off-line' analysis (Chambers, 1980: 28) and involves analysis in advance of the course so that the course designer has ample time to prepare a syllabus and select or develop appropriate training materials. Typically, off-line approaches build up a picture of the target situation through questions addressed to sponsors (e.g. training managers) or those currently working in the target situation, who may or may not have an accurate view of learners' language requirements. Alternative approaches to off-line analysis require learners (if they are accessible and/ or if it is thought desirable) to complete questionnaires identifying

their needs, although learners' perceptions of their own needs may be ill-founded, inaccurate or incomplete, and courses devised by off-line analyses

of this sort may frequently have to be reviewed as learners' perceptions evolve. Early accounts of off- line needs analysis procedures include ELTDU (1970); Stuart and Lee (1972/85); Mackay (1978); and Munby (1978).

(b) The second answer is 'on-line' or 'first-day'

needs analysis, which takes place when trainees arrive to start their course. The advantages and disadvantages are the converse of the off-line approach: the trainer or course designer has little time to prepare a detailed course outline, but it is possible to ensure that the information obtained is full, relevant and accurate, although (as with all analyses based on input from trainees) its fullness, relevance and accuracy may be short-lived. An early

and detailed account of an on-line analysis procedure is given by Hughes and Knight, 1977.

(c) The third approach is a response to the limi-

tations of the second and, in particular, the realisation

that learners' needs, or, at least, their perceptions of their needs, will change as the course proceeds (Richterich & Chancerel, 1977: 9; Chambers, 1980: 28-30; Holec, 1980: 35; Richterich, 1983: S; Coleman, 1988: 157; Jordan, 1993: 74). Awareness of both the demands of the target situation and their own shortcomings become more clearly focused. So, for example, Jordan (1993) reports that EAP students attending a pre-sessional course expect academic writing to be the most difficult skill when they transfer to their subject departments. After one term, however, the majority find academic speaking to be the main difficulty, findings supported by Geoghegan (1983) and Christison and Krahnke (1986). In addition, the instructors' perceptions of the learners' needs and possible solutions may emerge as the course pro- gresses (Henderson & Skehan, 1980: 38). A process of on-going needs re-analysis is therefore required in response to these changing perceptions, so that both learner and teacher can identify new or short- term priorities. It is also valuable from a motivational point of view to have learners reformulate their objectives periodically (Richterich, 1979: 74). It has also been pointed out (Richterich, 1983: 3; Nunan, 1988a: 6; Jordan & Mackay, 1973) that learners often find it difficult to articulate their needs and preferences, especially in the initial stages of the course (see also Ellis & Sinclair, 1989 b: 48; Sinclair & Ellis, 1992: 213), and so on-going re-analysis is necessary. Finally, frequent but small-scale surveys may well provide a more accurate picture than elaborate, large-scale procedures, 'since each new attempt can draw on and refine the last' (Gardner & Winslow, 1983: 75).

State of the art: Needs analysis 1n language teaching



The question to be answered here is 'who should decide what the language needs are?'. There are three principal parties involved in what has come to be called the needs analysis triangle (Hoadley- Maidment, 1980: 1 and 1983: 40; see also Johns & Dudley-Evans, 1980: 8):

and 1983: 40; see also Johns & Dudley-Evans, 1980: 8): teacher-perceived needs student-perceived needs

teacher-perceived needs

student-perceived needs

company-perceived needs

Ideally, these three - teacher, student and sponsor - interact in a cooperative way (Hoadley-Maidment, 1980; Hawkey, 1983), although, as Jones (1991:

163) points out, each party may also impose constraints. Richterich (1979: 73) states that 'any- body' can identify language needs and he clarifies this statement by listing nine combinations of the three principal parties working in cooperation. There are also various informants or sources for needs analysis, notably former students (Allen & Spada, 1983: 135), those already working in the target situation (Richterich, 1973/1980: 47; Tarantino, 1988: 34) and specialist/native-speaker informants (Smith & Arun, 1980: 211; Price, 1980; Crocker, 1981: 9; Farringdon, 1981: 66-7; Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 8; Bheiss, 1988; Tarone & Yule, 1989: 33). Porcher (1983 a: 18) stresses the im- portance of having the maximum number of sources of information if the identification of needs is to be reliable. Lurking behind the educational institution/ company/sponsor is the figure of the 'specialist needs analyst', and it is the role of this 'expert' in applied linguistics which has sometimes been viewed with suspicion as 'isolating needs analysis from other aspects of teaching and learning' (Swales, 1985:

177b; see also Hawkey, 1983: 79; Tarone & Yule, 1989: 4 and 21), leading to potential conflict. Hutchinson and Waters (1980) lay the blame for this separation ofneeds analysis from pedagogic concerns on elaborate analysis models requiring an expert analysis (e.g. Munby, 1978) and a feature of later models has been a reaction against sophistication towards simpler models (Gardner & Winslow, 1983:

74). Some of these place the teacher in the central role (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: 78; Tarone & Yule, 1989: 21; but see Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 7 for spurious 'teacher-created needs', Bowers, 1980 b:

73; Bachman & Strick, 1981: 45 on teachers' preconceived ideas; and Chambers & McDonough,

1981 on the arguments for and against the separation of needs analysis and teaching). Alternatively, they may involve the learner (Allwright & Allwright, 1977; Abbott, 1978: 98) more centrally in the needs analysis process. The involvement of the learner in the process that Robinson (1991: 14) calls 'par- ticipatory needs analysis' has several advantages which have been catalogued by Nunan (1988 a: 5):

- Learners come to have a more realistic idea of

what can be achieved in a given course.

- Learning comes to be seen as the gradual accretion of achievable goals.

- Students develop greater sensitivity to their role as language learners and their rather vague notions of what it is to be a learner become much sharper.

- Self-evaluation becomes much sharper.

- Classroom activities can be seen to relate to

learners' real-life needs.

- Skills development can be seen as a gradual, rather than an all-or-nothing, process. (For other discussion oflearner-centred needs analy-

sis, see Tarone & Yule, 1989: 46-47; see Kennedy, 1980: 120, Richterich, 1973/1980: 47, Richterich, 1983: 3, and Porcher, 1983a: 19 for pitfalls.) However, if needs analysis is to be a cooperative process, there is a need for a common language between trainers and trainees (see Hoadley- Maidment, 1980: 3 and 1983: 40-1 on the use of the mother tongue in needs analysis) or for a shared

terminology for describing objectives which is accessible to both language specialists and non- specialists (Crocker, 1981: 15; Gardner & Winslow, 1983: 72; Yates, 1977: 47; Harbord, forthcoming). At the other end of the scale, employers and governments have had to formulate or re-evaluate their language-training policies in the light of changing economic or political circumstances, and have commissioned language audits from experts in order to determine their needs and the most efficient ways of achieving them (Emmans et al., 1974). One outcome of such a language audit might be a re- consideration of who the learners actually are: 'the most effective way of bringing about change in

language use in one part of a system may be

provide input in a quite different part of the


"learners" in a large organisation will be easily recognisable as such' (Coleman, 1988: 167).



we cannot take it




For whom

The usual assumption is that the needs analysis is carried out for the benefit of the user, i.e. the student or trainee. However, language audits are more likely to be carried out from the viewpoint of the requirer - institutions or even countries needing the services of trained personal with identifiable foreign- language knowledge (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 8).

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching


Needs analysis is carried out through a series of steps or phases - Schutz and Derwing (1981 : 35) list eight such phases - but perhaps the crucial one is' selecting the information-gathering instrument'. There are many ways to carry out a needs analysis ranging from major 'scientific' surveys to informal tools put together by an individual teacher for and with his/her class (Richterich, 1983: 9). Of course, any project may employ more than one method, although 'the scope and objectives of the inquiry will largely determine the nature of the in- vestigation, and hence the choice of the most appropriate investigatory instrument' (Schutz & Derwing, 1981: 37). Richterich (1983: 9) even goes as far as to say that the method used in each case must be unique if it is to accommodate all the variables of persons, institutions, time and place. Needs analysis methods can be classified in various ways. Berwick (1989: 56-61) makes a distinction between inductive (i.e. observations and case studies from which courses can be generalised) and, more common, deductive methods (i.e. questionnaires, surveys or other data-gathering instruments which provide various forms of information as the basis of course design). Berwick does not catalogue the methods for gathering data for needs analyses, but Richterich and Chancerel (1977: 11), Richterich (1983: 12), van Hestand Oud-de Glas (1990: 12-13) and Jordan (1977: 13-18; forthcoming) list various methods covering both inductive and deductive approaches. Jordan's (forthcoming) list includes ten methods of collecting data for a needs analysis:


Pre-course placement/diagnostic tests


placement tests estimate the approximate language level of the student, but the main application of such tests is selection and for this reason diagnostic information tends to be limited. The Cambridge Syndicate's International English Language Test- ing System is one of the few public tests providing results in the form of a profile, enabling the teacher to diagnose areas of weakness and strength according

to skill. (2) Entry tests on arrival These tests potentially have greater diagnostic value and are therefore more precise in identifying learners' language weaknesses and lacks. Such tests function according to their underlying construct of language: tests of underlying linguistic competence (e.g. Chaplen,

1970) may have good predictive validity Qames, 1980b) but little diagnostic value, while those covering a broader range of skills (e.g. the English Language Teaching Development Unit's Test Bat- tery; see Yates, 1977) may have limitations of practicality. Placement interviews may lack pre- cision but provide valuable information akin to that generated by structured interviews (see 6 below).


Self-placement/diagnostic tests

Despite prob-

!ems in self-reporting Qordan, 1977, notes a tendency for weaker students to over-estimate their language ability; Blue, 1988, found over- or under-estimation varied with cultural background), self-assessment has been used with success to enable learners to identify their own level oflanguage proficiency and areas of special priority (see Allwright & Allwright, 1977; Floyd, 1984; Tarantino, 1988, and Brookes & Grundy, 1990, for examples; see Oskarsson, 1977, for a survey of procedures; see Ward Goodbody, 1993, for later discussion). Self-assessment may also present problems when grouping students (but see Spaventa, 1980).

(4) Observation of classes Yalden (1987a: 132)

suggests classroom observation as an approach requiring little explanation if 'a checklist or set of notes is at hand'. She seems to have in mind observation oflearners' classroom performance with an error-analysis checklist of the type provided for roleplay by MacGregor (1979) or an evaluation sheet (North, 1991), or more formal classroom- observation procedures (Porcher, 1983 a: 19; Fur- neaux et al., 1991: 76-7). Jordan's (forthcoming) summary of the findings of classroom observation of EAP students in British universities suggests that this approach is principally of value for deficiency analysis. He adds that informal class or progress tests perform a similar function in providing indicators of present needs or deficiencies.


example, Jordan and Mackay (1973) used a ques- tionnaire to survey 106 students at two British universities to assess their learning priorities, and the

questionnaire is now established as the most common method of needs analysis. Gardner and Winslow (1983: 74-5) identify objectivity as the principal advantage of questionnaires but also admit to expense and a very low (7 % ) rate of return plus a difficulty in achieving a balance between asking too many questions and asking too few. Classifi- cations of questionnaires are offered by Richterich and Chancerel (1977: 59-77) and Mackay and Bosquet (1981: 9), and analyses of their advantages and disadvantages for needs analysis are given by Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41); Schutz & Derwing (1981: 37) and Low (1991). Basic rules for question- naire construction are given by Utley (1992: 40). (6) Structured interviews Jones (1991: 155) refers to the 'intrinsic superiority' of the interview as an information-gathering technique for needs analysis. Mackay (1978) points out the advantages of the interview over the questionnaire: completeness of coverage and the opportunity to clarify and extend because of the physical presence of the analyst (although this requirement is also the principal shortcoming). Porcher (1983 a: 18) adds economy, Gardner and Winslow (1983: 74) include familiarity, degree of co-operation and lower levels of specialist training, and Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41) the








State of the art: Needs analysis 1n language teaching


establishment of rapport. Richterich and Chancerel (1977: 78) offer a classification of interviews and guidelines for their content and conduct are offered by Hoadley-Maidment (1980, 1983: 46-51) and Utley (1992: 40-2). Discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of this approach are given by Mackay and Bosquet (1981: 9), Schutz and Derwing (1981:

37), Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41) and Jones (1991:

155). Interviews may be combined with ques- tionnaires to exploit the advantages of each method. (7) Learner diaries O'Brien (1989) analysed 15 EAP student diaries and found that they tended to focus on four areas: course input, tutor performance, learner performance and external factors affecting study (home-related anxiety, food and accom- modation, and personal variables). The first area, in particular, could provide the basis for students and tutors to work towards a negotiated syllabus. A more structured survey of diaries was carried out by Parkinson and Howell-Richardson (1990) under

four headings: in-class activities, out-of-class activities, my problems and what I have learnt. The findings

(10) Previous research Considerable research has been conducted into the needs and deficiencies of certain categories of learners. The research can be divided into two types: case studies of individuals or small groups (see Robinson, 1991 : 13-14 for a survey; Bell, 1981: 159-70 and Cumaranatunge, 1988, for examples of on-site observation or 'shadowing') and surveys of large groups, notably those of business people (ELTDU, 1970; Stuart & Lee, 1972/1985; Lee, 1977: Hagen (ed.), 1988); doctors and patients (Candlin et al. 1974, 1976, 1981) and academic students Oordan & Mackay, 1973; Jordan & Matthews, 1978; Ostler, 1980). Richterich (1973/1980: 68-84) offers a classification of groups of adults with sample needs. The kind of data to be gathered by the needs analysis will inevitably vary according to the instrument used and the purpose of the survey (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7-13), but most of the following areas are likely to be covered (Schutz & Derwing, 1981: 37, who give percentages of total questions for guidance):

suggest that there is 'a high correlation between rate


general personal background (7 %)

of improvement and the amount of time which


occupational speciality or academic field

students spent outside class in social interaction with

(1 %)

native speakers of English'. In addition to student


language background (14%)


teacher diaries (Porcher, 1983 a: 19-20;


attitudinal and motivational factors (8 %)

Bailey, 1990; Porter et al., 1990; McDonough,


relevance of language to target use (10 %)

1994) can be a source of needs analysis. Diaries,


priority of basic language skills in target use

however, are essentially retrospective, i.e. last year's diaries are useful when planning next year's course, and this is an obvious limitation. (8) Case studies, i.e. in-depth investigations of the learning needs and difficulties of individual students or groups (Richterich (ed.), 1983, is a major source of such case studies). Schmidt (1981) conducted a case study of lecture comprehension and essay writing of an advanced student and James (1984) carried out an investigation with a Brazilian student writing a thesis on the sociology of medicine con- cluding: 'Students need help with what they find most difficult. What they find most difficult can only be discovered by observing them at work on the job'. Dudley-Evans (1988) extendsJames' work with a case study of four students' theses and suggests that the language tutor may be able to give clearer advice on the 'move structure' of a thesis than the subject tutor. The advantages of the case study as a means of needs analysis, especially in providing a process-oriented definition of needs, are discussed by Schmidt (1981: 208-9).

At the end of the

course, a test or evaluation provides information for

the student on the effectiveness of learning which can be used as the basis for future self-improvement (Hoadley-Maidment, 1983: 43). For the teacher, it indicates the soundness of the initial needs analysis and can suggest ways in which future courses could be improved.






functional registers and job tasks in target use



course (13 %)




of instruction


reaction to project (1 % )

How long

The length of time taken to carry out a needs analysis will obviously vary with the scale and method. However, Gardner and Winslow (1983:

76) report that the reason most often given for not setting up and implementing needs analysis pro- cedures was pressure on staff time. In part, this problem stems from a lack of awareness on the part of institutions and employers of the value - or even existence - of needs identification.

Target-situation analysis

The most common form of needs analysis is devoted to establishing the learners' language requirements in the occupational or academic situation they are being prepared for - target situation analysis (Chambers 1980: 29). The earliest TSA procedures were designed to determine how much English was used (Ewer & Hughes-Davies, 1971: 16), usually using a questionnaire (Mackay, 1978). Surveys of this kind provided a strong justification for TESP

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

courses but they did not give a clear picture of what the language was used for. The most widely-used procedure for providing detailed data about the precise uses of the target language by different groups of personnel was devised by the English Language Teaching Development Unit (ELTDU, 1970) and subsequently adopted by others (e.g. Stuart & Lee, 1972/85; Gardner & Winslow, 1983; Hagen (ed.), 1988). This procedure sub-divides the four traditional language skills and so arrives at a classification of 20 'activities' to cover all business and commercial situations. Some of these surveys were carried out on a vast scale and obtained data from training or personnel managers, but the advantage of scale must be balanced against the fact that the data were collected at second-hand. The most well-known approach to TSA was that devised by Munby (1978) for the British Council. The basis of Munby's model is a two-part instrument consisting of a communicative needs processor which is then converted into a communicative competence specification. Munby aimed to be systematic and detailed where ELTD U was brief and simple; ELTDU concentrated on 'activities', whereas this is the one component ('events') for which Munby offers no inventory. The Munby model is well enough known not to need explanation here - brief accounts are available from Munby himself (1977) and Hawkey (1980a and b), and the model has been converted into a four-page questionnaire by Harkess (reproduced in West, 1992: 75-82). Munby's work has attracted a lot of attention as 'the most comprehensive' approach to needs analysis (Dickin- son, 1987: 90) and 'a watershed for the field of LSP' (Riddell, 1991 : 73; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 54), but much of this attention has been critical (Swales, 1980: 68-9; Davies, 1981 a and b; Hawkey, 1983: 84; Coffey, 1984: 7; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 12 & 54; Coleman, 1988: 156; White, 1988: 88-9; N unan, 1988 a: 24). The rigour and complexity of the Munby model tended to halt rather than advance development in the field of needs analysis: 'real advance in this area that was originally seen as being so critical to ESP is now lacking' (Chambers, 1980: 25). However, it is now possible to see that the subsequent developments in needs analysis have either been derived from Munby (Dickinson 1987: 90) or in many ways been a reaction to the shortcomings of Munby's model. Discussion of these shortcomings may be sum- marised under four headings. Complexity. Munby's attempt to be systematic and comprehensive inevitably made his instrument inflexible, complex and time consuming (Coffey, 1984: 7; Frankel, 1983: 122; McDonough, 1984:

33). It has been estimated that it can take two full weeks to work through (Carrier, 1983: 3, but see Porcher, 1983 a: 15 for indications that any large- scale needs analysis is likely to be a lengthy process)

and so it is difficult to repeat during the course, thus setting initially-perceived needs in stone. The complexity and impracticality have been enough to put many off altogether (Schutz & Derwing, 1981 :

32; N unan, 1988 a: 43; Berwick, 1989: 52). All subsequent systems of needs analysis have striven for simplicity - the systems of Holliday and Cooke (1982), for instance, start with a blank piece of paper, and Harbord (forthcoming) makes use of a 'Chinese take-away' approach, i.e. clients choose a selection of dishes from a set menu of 14 modules. Learner centredness. Despite Munby's claim, his CNP is not learner-centred (N unan, 1988 a: 24) : the starting point may be the learner but the model collects data about the learner rather than from the learner. The very sophistication of the variables and their associated inventories and taxonomies tends to mean that the profile is drawn up by a needs analysis specialist with limited reference to the participant, what White (1988: 89) calls a 'hands-off' approach. As a reaction, more recent needs analysis procedures have been developed which deliberately adopt a very different starting point, reasserting the value of the judgement of the teacher (Tarone & Yule, 1989:

21) or involving the learner from the start (e.g. Allwright & Allwright, 1977) without the re- quirement for a needs analysis expert. At the other end of the spectrum, Coleman (1988: 156) notes Munby's 'tendency to idealise the individual lan- guage learner', making large-scale application of the model to the analysis of needs of heterogeneous groups problematic. Constraints. Munby saw constraints as matters to be considered after the needs analysis procedure had been worked through, leading to an inevitable 'compromise phase' (Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 16; see also Trim 1973/1980: 22; Ellis & Sinclair, 1989 b: 49) where what is needed has to be balanced against what is feasible. These constraints were classified (Mun by, 1978: 217) as socio-political (e.g. status of the target language), logistical (financial constraints, numbers of teachers available), administrative (time available), psycho-pedagogic (previous learning methods) and methodological (recommended methods and materials available). Many (e.g. Frankel, 1983: 119; Hawkey, 1983: 84) felt that these practical constraints should be considered at the start of the needs-analysis process and, in later statements, Munby revised his view somewhat, allowing that 'political factors affecting the target language and the homogeneity of the learner group should be applied at the needs analysis stage' (1984: 64, added emphasis). Nevertheless, it was Munby's failure to consider such constraints in his 1978 model that led to the development of means analysis (Holliday & Cooke, 1982; Holliday, 1984). Language. One criticism is that Munby fails to provide a procedure for converting the learner profile into a language syllabus (Richards, 1984). It

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

was also somewhat strange that Munby should adopt classifications oflanguage in his skills selection process that were derived from social English, especially the work of Wilkins (1976) and the Council of Europe (van Ek, 1975). The work of Candlin et al. (l974a-d, 1976, 1981; see also Ranney, 1992) clearly demonstrated that ESP language functions are related to 'job-specific tasks' (Candlin et al., 1976: 246) and, as such, are likely to differ from those used in social or general discourse, although categories relating to business socialising are prominent in most surveys. It is also clear that the language used in real-world ESP situations differs from that predicted by course designers (Williams, 1988, on business meetings; Mason, 1989, on service encounters; Lynch & Anderson, 1991, on seminars; Jones, 1991, on technical employees). It is for this reason that subsequent

needs-analysis procedures have tended not to work

with a pre-ordained inventory of language items, and certainly not items derived from non-ESP contexts.

Deficiency analysis

The approaches to needs analysis that have been developed to take account of learners' present needs/wants as well as the requirements of the target situation, may be called analyses of learners' deficiencies or lacks (Allwright, 1982: 24; Robinson, 1991 : 9 refers to this process as combined target- situation analysis and present-situation analysis):

'start from the target situation and design the curriculum around the gap between the present abilities of the target trainees and the needs of the situation in which they will find themselves at the end of the training programme' (Smith & Arun, 1980: 210). Most systems taking this approach include two central components: (a) an inventory of potential target needs expressed in terms of activities, and (b) a scale that is used to establish (and subsequently re-establish) the priority that should be given to each activity. For example, the ELTDU system (Yates, 1977) has 27 activities, all described on an eight-point attainment scale (see Carroll & West, 1989, and Alderson, 1991, for more on similar banded scales). In a less complex system, Allwright and Allwright (1977) list 12 activities that, on past experience, were judged to be potential needs for doctors visiting Britain - reading medical textbooks, writing medical papers, giving papers/lectures at medical conferences, etc. Learners are first asked to establish whether or not each potential need is an actual need, and then to establish their present level of difficulty (= deficiency) in each activity on a none/ some/ a iot scale. A similar procedure is described by Shaw (1982), while Richards (1990:

29) provides an extract from a questionnaire where learners are asked to indicate how frequently each

task should be taught, ranging from not at all to 7 or more times per semester.

A refinement of the Allwright system of com-

bined present-situation analysis and target-situation analysis is illustrated by Bheiss (1988), who adopted a more formal procedure for establishing syllabus priorities. This system has three components: (a) a list of potential target-situation skills supplied by a specialist informant, in Bheiss's case a university nursing tutor; (b) a needs questionnaire using a '0 = unnecessary to 4 = essential' scale to establish target- situation need for each of the sub-skills; (c) a lacks questionnaire using a '0 = no difficulty to 4 = very difficult' scale to establish the present-situation deficiency of each of the sub-skills. Each ques-

tionnaire is given to either specialist tutors or students and the overall needs and lacks of the group are calculated. Learning priorities are then estab- lished by multiplying the two scores together, which has the effect of accentuating the scores at either end of the scale. Other aspects of deficiency analysis may include discovering whether students are required to do something in the target language which they cannot do in their mother tongue: 'Teaching a student to do something in English which he or she can already do in Spanish is a very different problem from teaching him or her something in English which he or she cannot do in Spanish' (Alderson, 1980: 135).

Strategy analysis

As was noted at the start of this survey, the 1980s saw the extension of needs analysis from what (syllabus content) into how: 'language tutors spe- cifically need to know the preferred learning styles

and content expectations their students hold when they learn a language' Qames, 1980a: 8; see Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 17-18+ appendix 2 for' classroom procedures: strategies and associated techniques' selected by teachers but with student feedback questionnaire). The obvious focus for this analysis is methodology (Nunan, 1988 a: 17) but related areas

of relevance in a strategy analysis

189-91 developed from Brindley 1984) are pre- ferences in terms of grouping size, extent of homework, learning in/out of class, learning styles,

correction preferences, use of audio/visual sources, and methods of assessment.

(Nunan, 1988 a:

It is learning strategies which have been the major

focus of attention: 'there is a growing recognition

within the profession that specification of the end products (the syllabus design component of the curriculum) must also be accompanied by spe- cifications of methodology (that is indications on

how to reach

that end point) ' (Nunan, 1988 a: 17).

Allwright (1982) was a pioneer in this area (see Dickinson, 1987: 93-4 for discussion) and sub- sequent instruments of analysis have become ever

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

more sophisticated: Oxford (1990: 283-300) offers a comprehensive 'strategy inventory for language learning' (SILL), with a diagnostic profile designed to interpret a learner's results in terms of currently- preferred strategies. Tarone and Yule (1989: 9) discuss the conflict that may arise between teachers' and learners' expectations and suggest that there may be three solutions - fight 'em,join 'em or channel 'em. The problem is particularly acute where learners bring with them inefficient learning strategies, and this situation is well documented (summarised by B. Robinson, 1981: 29). Robinson himself cites rote learning as one such strategy and several writers (Henderson & Skehan, 1980: 35; Chamberlain, 1980: 105; Watt, 1980: 40; Hawkey & Nakornchai, 1980: 73; Dudley-Evans & Swales, 1980: 93; Bowers, 1980a: 110; Blue, 1981: 59; Hoadley- Maidment, 1983: 39) note that many learners take a passive, non-participatory, teacher-dependent at- titude towards language learning (type 1 learners in the classification offered by James, 1980 a: 13). Tarantino (1988) and Strevens (1988: 40) show that previous school learning experience influences both proficiency and learning style, while James (1980 a) suggests that learning styles relate to cultural experience - the culture in which learners have learned to succeed and the one in which they hope to succeed. Where these two cultures differ (what Dudley-Evans & Swales, 1980: 91 call 'education shock'), there is potential for conflict, especially where the learner is willing to make only minimal or negligible changes in learning processes. Some writers have gone further and attempted 'cultural profiles' of learners from various backgrounds (Hawkey & Nakornchai, 1980; Dudley-Evans & Swales, 1980; Reid, 1987). Brew (1980: 123) suggests that 'creating an atmosphere of dialogue where students can be helped to articulate and explore for themselves their attempts to make sense of the learning environment is important'. The range of learning/teaching styles selected for any course obviously has implications for learner-teacher rel- ationships Qames, 1980a: 16-18) and roles (Wright, 1987). It also has implications for learner training and the development of learner autonomy (Holec, 1980; Hoadley-Maidment, 1983; Holec, 1985; Ellis & Sinclair, 1989a, b).

Means analysis

The failure of the Munby (1978) model to take account of matters of logistics and pedagogy led to debate about practicalities and constraints in implementing needs-based language courses (sum- marised by Swales, 1989: 86): 'in the real-world of

ELT, there has to be a creative synthesis of theoretical

principles and practical constraints, and

these conflict, as they sometimes do, the latter must

take precedence' (Frankel, 1983: 120). Chamberlain


and Flanagan (1978) and Hawkey (1983) list these practicalities and constraints, and Bachman and Strick (1981) attempt to quantify them. Others have argued that instead of thinking about constraints, course designers should consider how plans can be implemented in the local situation. This approach has received powerful expression in what Holliday and Cooke (1982; Holliday, 1984) call 'means analysis' or 'the ecological approach'. According to this view, the question for the course designer is 'how to make ESP take root, grow, bear fruit and propagate in the local soil' (1982: 126). The course designer or teacher first identifies the relevant features of the situation (the 'ecosystem') and then sees how the positive features can be used to advantage to accommodate what would con- ventionally be seen as constraints. Holliday (1984: 45) identifies four principal steps in such a means analysis: (1) observe lessons, taking random notes on all significant features; (2) use the notes to construct a report on the lesson to form the basis of discussion with the teacher; (3) review all the original notes and draw out significant features common to all observations; (4) construct a communicative device (chart, diagram, etc.) which expresses the findings. This device then forms the basis of realistic negotiation of the course between all interested parties in the light of available resources and options (Crocker, 1981 : 9).

This approach is directly opposite to the way in which needs analysis is usually done, where the categories are defined before the observation and are based on linguistic descriptions and not the situation being observed. The Means Analysis approach allows sensitivity to the situation and prevents the imposition of models alien to the situation (Holliday, 1984: 45).

Mountford (1988) and Swales (1989) have de- veloped the scope of means analysis further by suggesting other factors which need to be taken into

consideration by curriculum specialists if courses are to have any chance of success, especially in 'alien' learning environments. Swales lists five such factors:

e classroom culture (Holliday, 1984; cf. Mount-

ford' s learner factors)

e EAP staff profiles (T. Johns, 1981; Chamberlain,

1980; cf. Mountford's teacher factors)


pilot target-situation analysis


status of service operations (Drury, 1983; Tan,

1988; cf Mountford's institutional factors)

e study of change agents (Kennedy, 1987, 1988;

White, 1988: 136-56). On the basis of the data thrown up by analysis of these five factors, Swales argues, decisions can be made. The literature contains project case studies (Frankel, 1983 ; Drury, 1983 ; Holliday, 1984) but no documentation of a full means analysis. It is, of course, true that many programmes have been successfully implemented, but this success becomes evident only with hindsight. Means analysis is an attempt to reduce the hit-and-miss nature of many

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

projects and this kind of approach, which is normally discussed in EAP contexts, has parallels with more systematic approaches to EOP and general language course design (Holliday, 1994) which have involved investigations of the 'objective context' (Porcher,


Related questions of culture include cultural factors that must be taken into account in conducting the needs analysis itself (Hoadley-Maidment, 1980:

3). It is also possible to see the EOP equivalent of classroom culture as the business culture of the target situation (Reed, 1992) : 'What makes them tick will be different from your own cultural background and upbringing. They will have dif- ferent attitudes to business relationships, to neg-


to life in general' (Embleton, 1992: 31).

Language audits

The early literature on language audits (e.g. Pilbeam, 1979) defined them in rather narrow terms derived

from ELTDU experience (ELTDU, 1970; Stuart & Lee, 1972/1985): (a) analysis of needs based on on- the-job tasks; (b) assessment of current staff capa- bilities by means of a sophisticated placement test; (c) a training specification drawn up to bridge the training gap between present performance and required performance in the target language. The scope oflanguage audits has now been broadened to include any large-scale exercise forming the basis of strategic decisions on language needs and training requirements carried out by or for (i) individual companies (e.g. Hagen (ed.), 1988; Embleton, Haney & Gannon, 1992) or institutions (e.g. Coleman, 1988), (ii) professional sectors (e.g. Rich- terich, 1971; Brown et al., 1993) or (iii) countries (e.g. Denmark - Looms, 1983; Portugal - Rod- rigues, 1983; Hungary - Teemant et al., 1993) or regions (Hagen (ed.), 1988). At their most basic, language audits simply provide data about the current state of language needs in the sector; at their most sophisticated they lead on to the development of an integrated policy or strategy which may take months or even years to implement: 'the first issue concerns the efficiency of the present system, the second implies changes with a view to a future


' (Looms, 1983: 62). The basic issues of

definition, prerequisites and procedures are surveyed

by Utley (1992), the strategic reasons for a language audit are established by van Hest and Oud-de Glas (1990: 6), and the stages of proceeding in various types of audit are set out by Pilbeam (1979 - company audits), Berggren (1987 - company audits), van Hest and Oud-de Glas (1990 - company audits), Lynch et al. (1993 - company audits), Hagen (1988 - regional audits), Dubin and Olshtain (1986 - national educational audits) and Richterich (1971 - national vocational audits). Looms (1983: 66-7) discusses the problems of

definition, coordination and objectivity involved in carrying out a language audit, but guidelines in formulating the basic operational questions are offered by Olshtain (1989). Language audits have become important as a response to changing economic and political cir- cumstances, notably the single European market, economic developments in the Middle East and south-east Asia and political changes in eastern Europe, although audits can also be prospective (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 16). Richards (1984) points out that needs analysis was espoused in a climate of language planning within the Council of Europe (see Emmans et al., 1974, for a Council of Europe survey of national requirements in foreign languages). Although there has been nearly 20 years of such work in Europe, the results have often been limited and disappointing. Hagen (1988) surveys company language audits ranging from 1972 to 1981 and reports depressing results: 'Despite the findings on employers' needs, it is still apparent that many firms remain unconvinced of the commercial advantages of taking on personnel with foreign language skills' (1988: xviii). Despite the origin of language audits within mainstream needs analysis for specific-purpose language teaching (notably ELTDU, 1970, and Stuart & Lee, 1972/1985), it has to be said that much of the recent literature of language audits is not always 'clear and worked out' (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 15). The primary limitation oflanguage audits derives from their very scale:

as these data take the form of statistical averages, which may indeed be representative for a common core of learning objectives, but do not coincide with the particular situation of the individual learner, the picture has to be completed by a further needs analysis involving personal contact with the

individual learner

(van der Handt, 1983: 32).


Nunan (1988a: 44) points out that needs analysis and syllabuses planned on a needs basis have been widely criticised. While some of this criticism may be justified, 'recent critics have generally failed to appreciate the significant shift which has occurred over the years, and still tend to equate needs analysis with the sort of narrow-band ESP approach which typified the work of people such as Munby '.There has been a broadening of the scope of needs analysis to encompass the full educational process - the determination of objectives, contents and curricula, for the production and testing of new materials, for the development of autonomous learning, assess- ment by the learner, feedback for the conduct and reorientation of the project, teacher education and re-education, and 'for running an entire system' (Richterich, 1983: 12). Nevertheless, needs analysis is still perceived to have limitations.

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

Limitations of needs analysis

Several criticisms of needs analysis and its ap- plicability to language teaching have emerged since the mid-1970s (Richterich, 1983: 2-5; Gardner & Winslow, 1983: 77-8). The most fundamental remains the lack of awareness of the existence of needs analysis as a tool in course design, as well as narrower problems of familiarity and expertise. There is also little information on the validity or reliability of the instruments used and the results obtained (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 13). More general areas where limitations have been identified are discussed in the following sections. Needs analysis in general EL T. Most of the literature on needs analysis originally came from the realm of TESP but needs analysis procedures have in- creasingly come to be seen as 'fundamental to the

planning of general language courses' (Richards, 1990: 2; but see Trim, 1980: 50 and Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 53 for practical difficulties). Ashworth (1985: 78) and Yalden (1987 a: 130-56) give outlines of the scope of needs analysis in ESL situations, and Dubin and Olshtain (1986: 25) point out that needs are 'more pronounced in the ESL [situation] in those cases where the target language plays a crucial


learners might be painfully aware of immediate, daily needs in order to begin to function in the new community'. They go on to apply this observation to young learners and adult ESL students, whose needs not only include social-survival needs outside the classroom but, additionally, the need to learn the TL in order to have access to other academic subjects. In the field of EFL as opposed to ESL, there has been an increasing application of needs analysis, especially as learner training has become an es- tablished component of course books (Sinclair & Ellis, 1992). Harding-Esch (1982) describes a 'MAFIA' model for general learners in Britain, where MAFIA stands for motivation - aims - functions - information - activities. The aim of the procedure is to get learners to identify their own aims and objectives in a language course before selecting a course or materials (see Dickinson, 1987:

role in the overall process of acculturation

95 for a summary). The broader context of needs analysis in state-sector TENOR situations is dis- cussed by Holliday (1994). Needs analysis for young learners. Young learners may seem to present the ultimate TENOR situation of learners whose needs cannot yet be defined, and Rixon's (1992: 80) observation that many countries have adopted syllabuses which have a structural basis would seem to support this. However, whole- language classrooms (Goodman, 1986) emphasise the creation of individual meaning and Williams (1991 : 206-7) proposes a content-based approach in which 'the purpose is learning other things (other

than language)

and in order to participate in these

things in a foreign language, certain language skills will be needed'. In the case of second-language learners where the target language is also the medium of instruction, needs are defined in terms of different school disciplines (Tongue, 1991: 112-13; Martin, 1985, 1986). Ellis (1991 : 192) takes a broader approach and sees learner training as an effective method of developing an awareness of needs in young learners. For a further discussion of the needs of young learners, see Porcher (1983 b).

Seif-assessment of needs. Strevens (1980: 27) points out that early models of needs analysis (e.g. Munby, 1978) reflect little that has to do with 'personalised instruction', although subsequently needs analysis has been seen as 'a sine qua non of all learner-centred teaching and of all learning which is matched to the learner's resources, expectations and interests' (Richterich, 1983: 2). Holec (1980) and Dickinson (1987: 88-98) outline applications of needs analysis to general self-instructional language learning, and, while pointing out that 'the vast majority of learners do not have any [needs]', Dickinson suggests that a needs analysis questionnaire can be used to help learners assess their achievement of their objectives. He cites an 'aims and objectives' questionnaire (Cousin, 1982) as an example of such

a procedure which lists a range of general language

objectives (correct model of spoken English, reading speed, etc.) and asks the student to estimate the necessity and priority of each one. A somewhat similar needs analysis questionnaire is described by

Blue (1988). Bloor and Bloor (1988: 66-7) describe

a learner's questionnaire designed to serve as the

basis for a subsequent consultation with a counsellor in order to determine learning objectives.

Converting needs into goals. Needs analysis has been accused of being both too limiting and not limiting enough: Richterich (1972, cited by Trim, 1980: 62) and Widdowson (1983; 1987, cited by Nunan, 1988 a: 43-4) suggest that syllabuses which specify precise needs or ends result in restricted competence (Maley, 1980: 37 and Holec, 1985, address the same concern), while Dubin and Olshtain (1986:

102) complain that 'an assessment of individual needs could result in multiple course objectives'. The first objection is discussed approvingly by Tomlin (1988) but has been dismissed as 'logico- deductive rather than empirical' (Nunan, 1988 a:

44); the second objection is well handled by Shaw (1982) and Holec (1985), who offer alternative procedures for converting individual needs into teaching objectives either through group nego- tiation (Shaw, 1982) or through the development of self-directed or autonomous learning programmes (Holec, 1985).

Requirements for an effective needs analysis procedure.

Several commentators have now produced con- siderations or requirements for an effective needs

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

analysis procedure. Dickinson (1987: 98), for example, lists eight considerations:

- Is the questionnaire to be used by the learner or by a specialist (teacher, helper, counsellor)?

- Is the questionnaire complete in itself or is it

designed to act as the basis of an interview with a specialist?

- Is it designed to elicit needs irrespective of whether facilities exist for meeting them or only to the level for which teaching/learning facilities and materials exist?

- Should it elicit information on learners' preferred learning strategies, etc.?

- Will the questionnaire be concerned with identi- fying the time available?

- Should the questionnaire endeavour to analyse needs into short-term objectives?

- Will the questionnaire attempt to suggest ap- propriate materials to meet objectives?

- Will the questionnaire attempt to guide the

learner in ways of assessing the achievement of objectives? Ways forward for needs analysis. The last two points in Dickinson's analysis lead to areas currently thought to be beyond the scope of needs analysis - materials selection and self-assessment. Most needs analysis procedures do not begin to handle the leap between needs analysis and methods/materials selection or development. It is often stressed that the two processes are closely linked (Porcher, 1983 a:

17) but moving from the former to the latter is

usually seen as a subjective matter Qones, 1991: 166) of teachers' intuition or inspiration:

there exists a wide range of alternatives, both in teaching

methods and in types of materials, and

the way to make their

own lessons work effectively with their own particular students is to develop the ability to select from those alternatives (or even to create novel approaches) in accordance with what they perceive to be their students' needs (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 3; but see Porcher 1983 a: 21 for a rejection of 'irrational intuition').

Crocker (1981 : 9) points out that 'there is no necessary content or methodology for an LSP course since the only criterion for course evaluation must be whether what is used works'. However, it has been pointed out that this intuition may be unsound or, in ESP situations, totally lacking: 'the only way round the problem is to have an intuitive feel for what is appropriate for scientists, and it is just this intuition that the EST teacher, with his literary background, does not possess' (Greenall, 1981: 25). Richterich (1983: 3) is also pessimistic: 'Relating teaching to language needs remains the most difficult problem to resolve in the implementation oflearner- centred teaching systems'. For this reason attempts have been made to establish a more sophisticated picture of needs through computer analysis Qones, 1991) and to link perceived or identified priorities to a database cataloguing potentially suitable teaching materials (Nelson, 1992, 1994). Nelson's model integrates placement testing, needs analysis and materials selection:



Oxford Placement Test (Allan 1985/1992)

Needs analysis carried out:

a) of the students

b) of the company point of view







l PRELININARY COURSE DESIGN - defined by subjed areas



[ MATERIALS chosen from Materials Data Base



[ COURSE BEGINS - negotiation


students about course plan



Mid-course evaluation:

students evaluate course so far; possible re-orientation, new materials, etc



l FINAL TEST: course specific



l Flnal evaluation of the course by the students


State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

Dickinson's final consideration - self-assessment - is both topical and relevant. Dickinson (1987: 98-102) suggests learner contracts as a means of self- assessment of objectives using a model adapted from Knowles (1975), while others have suggested questionnaires to assess progress (Blue, 1988). It may be, however, that there is most to be gained from adopting simpler approaches to needs analysis (Harbord, forthcoming) or improved train- ing in needs analysis techniques. In a recent survey of British master's degrees (Brown, 1992: 7), it was revealed that there was little principled discussion of approaches to syllabuses or curricula. More rigorous discussion of these areas might lead to greater knowledge and application of the various needs analysis approaches and, therefore, teaching pro- grammes which are more firmly based on the various needs of the learners.

Ack11owledge111et1ts: I should like to thank the following and former members of the School of Education, University of Manchester for their assistance: Gerry Abbott, Mike Beaumont, Richard Fay, John Harbord, Lindsay Howard, Bob Jordan, Gary Motteram, Mike Nelson, June O'Brien, Teresa O'Brien, Gillian Walsh and lsao Yasuhara. I should also like to thank Mike Crompton of Manchester Metropolitan University for help with the section on language audits.


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