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B USINESS E NGLISH professional                                

The official language would be English,
giving these students daily contact with
the target language. They would already
be at an advanced or, at least, upper-
intermediate level of language
proficiency, since this is a precondition
for entering any British university. The
language spoken by the teachers and

fellow students on their engineering
course would be English. As a result,
they would have contact with scientific
and technical texts and constant
exposure to the specialised English
needed to pursue their studies. Finally,
their motivation would be very high as
they would find practical and
Celia Bell rejects a one-size-fits-all approach.
immediate use for the target language.

Context 2

ome English for Specific
To illustrate Context 2, let us take
Purposes (ESP) teachers point The variables of the German undergraduates studying
out that most of the research in
their field is carried out in the different learner groups engineering in Germany. The official
United States or in Britain, where language would be German, rather than
must be considered, English, so use of English would be
students already have contact with the
target language. Thus, teachers outside and each group should limited. They would be likely to be at
these countries face a variety of least at an intermediate level of English
difficulties in implementing the findings
receive treatment language proficiency as it is well-known
of these studies in the context of their tailored to its needs in Europe that having a good level of
own countries. One of these difficulties English is an advantage when pursuing
has to do with the teaching of a successful professional career. The
specialised words. A great deal of subject classes, their level of language language employed in their engineering
literature in the field of ESP vocabulary proficiency, the language in which their course would be German, but they
focuses either on native speakers or on specialist subject is taught, and their would still be highly motivated to learn
foreign students attending scientific and motivation to learn English. I will English. This is firstly because they
technical classes taught through the exemplify each setting for better would have many opportunities to
medium of English. There are few comparison. You may find that one of interact with native speakers of English
studies focusing on non-native speakers these contexts corresponds to your own or to use English as a means of
taking their subject matter courses teaching situation. communicating with their European
(engineering, biology, etc) in their L1. neighbours, and secondly because
However, I believe that learners in these Context 1 English is not just seen as a plus in a
three distinct settings cannot be taken Let us take as an example of Context 1 CV but is almost a requirement for
as one. The variables of the different overseas undergraduates studying securing a job in their homeland and
learner groups must be considered, and engineering at a university in the UK. elsewhere in Europe.
each group should receive treatment
tailored to its needs. In this article I will Context 1 Context 2 Context 3
compare and contrast three distinct
contexts in which students learn ESP in Official language English Students L1 Students L1
an attempt to demonstrate that the
method by which specialised vocabulary Students level Advanced or Advanced or Basic level
should be taught is dependent upon the of language upper-intermediate intermediate
situation involved. proficiency level level

Language used to teach English Students L1 Students L1

Different contexts
the students specialist
The table on the right displays three subject courses
distinct situations in which (eg engineering,
undergraduates learn ESP. These maths, biology, etc)
situations differ basically in terms of the
official language of the country where Students motivation High High Moderate
the students are taking their specialist ENGLISH TEACHING professional Issue 42 January 2006 35

B USINESS E NGLISH professional                                 

students in Context 3 may still wonder is the core of ESP. When they come up
whether or not English will be of either against this specialised vocabulary,
practical or immediate use in their learners are instructed to infer the
professional lives. When considering the meaning of any new words from the

vocabulary importance of ESP in contexts such as

the third one, where students have so
few opportunities to use English in daily
life, one question which might
surrounding text. This approach works
relatively well for groups at high levels
of language proficiency, but it is not so
effective for groups at lower levels.
 Context 3 reasonably be asked is whether or not There is a considerable body of
A good example of Context 3 would be ESP should still be taught. In answer to research suggesting that written contexts
Brazilian undergraduates studying this question, I would say that it should. usually supply limited information about
engineering in Brazil. Portuguese would Preventing these undergraduates from the meaning of unfamiliar words, and are
be the official language and having any contact at all with the sometimes even misleading. For instance,
opportunities to use English would be English language in their chosen fields Carmine, Kameenui and Coyles
very limited. The students command of would have the result of enlarging the investigation of deliberate vocabulary
the English language might be quite vacuum between developing and learning from context (cited by Beck and
basic as undergraduates in Brazil usually developed countries since English is the McKeown) found that only 40 per cent of
attend college first and then learn foreign language most often used for business word meanings could be inferred. Pressley
languages according to their professional and communication worldwide. et al reinforce this view and claim that
needs. (South America encompasses 13 inferring meaning from context is less
countries, including French Guyana, out effective than more intensive or explicit
of which nine are Spanish-speaking. If Written contexts forms of vocabulary instruction.
we add up the populations of these
countries and analyse them in terms of usually supply limited 
language use, we see that 49.1 per cent information about Based on the above, I would suggest that
are Portuguese speakers, 50.5 per cent ESP teachers adapt their teaching to suit
Spanish speakers and only 0.4 per cent the meaning of the context in which their students are
speakers of other languages, such as
French and English. Looking at these
unfamiliar words, studying and approach the teaching of
specialised vocabulary accordingly.
figures, we can understand why in this and are sometimes Moreover, I believe that research
context undergraduates are not very focusing on Contexts 2 and 3 should be
motivated to learn foreign languages even misleading promoted so that teachers in these
especially if we take into consideration settings can receive theoretical support
that native speakers of Portuguese are and guidance for their everyday practice.
able to understand Spanish very well.) Proficiency
The second factor affecting language As a final word I will quote Beck
The language used in their and McKeown, who point out that all
engineering course would be Portuguese. learning has to do with proficiency. On
the one hand, ESP teachers in Context instructional methods produce better
Their enthusiasm for learning English word learning than no instruction. ETp
would be only moderate, firstly because 2 would be able to use English with
they would rarely encounter native their students as they would be able to
read scientific and technical texts in Beck, I and McKeown, M Conditions of
speakers of English, and secondly vocabulary acquisition In Barr, R, Kamil,
because, unlike students in the second English and infer the meaning of
M L, Mosenthal, P and Pearson, P D
context, English is still seen as a plus in unknown words from the text. On the (Eds) Handbook of Reading Research
a CV and not as a requisite qualification. other, teachers in Context 3 would find Longman 1991
it difficult to use English as a medium Pressley, M, Levin, J R and Miller, G E
of language learning. The keyword method compared to
Key differences alternative vocabulary learning
Looking closely at Contexts 2 and 3 we Contradictions and strategies Contemporary Educational
can see that the main differences between Psychology (7) 1982
them lie in two aspects: the students considerations
motivation to learn and their command Despite the fact that there are different Celia Bell has a BA in
English Language and
of the target language. However, as contexts in which ESP is taught, as Literature. From 2002 to
English language teachers, we know that exemplified by the three that we have 2003 she did her MA in
English Language at
these two factors alone play an important identified here, in my experience, ESP UFSC, Brazil. Since 1997
role in language learning. courses usually all follow the same she has been working
as an ESP teacher in
teaching methodology. They concentrate several textile
Motivation heavily on the development of reading companies in Brazil.
Whereas students in Context 2 will find and writing skills in general but pay less
practical and immediate opportunities attention to the explicit teaching of the
to use the English they have learnt, technical and scientific vocabulary which

36 Issue 42 January 2006 ENGLISH TEACHING professional