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Lowe I 2009

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Growth of ESP, an approach not a product

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The growth of ESP - an approach not a product
lecture notes, last updated 9 May 2009

This lecture looks briefly at some of the major trends in the history of ESP.

1. Register analysis
*The concept of special language for a subject.
*Word and sentence level.
In modern terms, this was some variety of language that was recognisably different.

Strevens, Ewer, Swales, and others studied the language of science, with the practical objective
of making the ESP course more relevant to the needs of learners by giving priority to language
forms students would meet in their study of science. Eg, Ewer and Hughes Davies (1971) (in
Swales 1988), found that school textbooks neglected some of the language forms commonly
found in Science texts, eg, compound nouns, passives, conditionals, modals. Therefore ESP
courses should give precedence to these forms.

"The problem for any textbook writer who wishes to base their material on register analysis is
that research is either inadequate or non-existent". (Robinson 1980:17, bold added). This
means that intuition is the guide for textbook writers, instead of confirmed evidence. The
situation is made more complicated by the great variety of prose in the language of science.

This is no longer true in 2008. Corpus linguistics is making great strides, but the research has
yet to filter down to teacher training level, let alone to textbooks for use in the ESP classroom.

2. Discourse analysis
a. Introduction
The key players were Widdowson in Britain, and Trimble, Lackstrom, Todd-Trimble in
USA. Attention shifted from sentence grammar, to how sentences were combined in
discourse to produce meaning. There was the assumption that the rhetorical patterns of text
organisation differed significantly between specialist areas of use, but, this point was never
seriously examined.

b. Meanings of 'discourse'
1) spoken interaction, hence analysed in terms of units of meaning, and organised into a
hierarchy employing some or all of the terms 'act, move, exchange, transaction' etc.
2) discourse as text, spoken or written, analysis of which concentrates on cohesion. The
cohesion devices such as connectives are particularly important in a logically developed
presentation of scientific information.

(Dawe (1983) argued that logical connectives were the single most important feature of
language that mono-lingual students had greater mastery of than bi-lingual immigrants.

pdf and www.scientificlanguage.pdf -2- Growth of ESP. classification. 4. This approach was Either way. ) 3) rhetorical functions/communicative purposes. [not always] See Lowe 1992 and 1996 for contrary evidence. He argues that: a) the deep structure of science is universal and language independent. Some classes are fed up with their chosen degree subject and welcome a class which can give them something different. students demand relevance. an approach not a product Linkwords are a marker of language proficiency. b. Yet. but he still made a rigorous specification of the parameters of a sociolinguistic needs analysis. Other students are impatient with anything outside their discipline. no student wants to have to repeat school level science in another language taught by a teacher who might even be struggling with this level of basic science! Munby also provided a rigorous and precise statement of one method of syllabus design. underlying all language users. Skills. Robinson 1980:32 argues that a feature of ESP course designing. who published skills based courses. Widdowson is the main thinker. for each how much the students want material directly related to their discipline. Munby has been much criticised. To Munby. but not all. and a summary www. and is still true today. together give syllabus content. [not proven] b) the surface realisation of scientific discourse in any language will be a combination of verbal and non-verbal devices. but to a lesser extent than is needed in ESP. His work did not consider the ‘constraints’. and he has useful taxonomies of social relationships and attitudinal tones. Munby gives an exhaustive list of micro-skills. enable us to extract meaning . Lowe I 2009 www. failed largely because students were bored by dealing with what they knew already. The main idea is that. Many. beginning with Munby in 1968. causality. the "English in Focus" series. functions. I advise teachers to find Until the development of ESP.pdf 3. eg description. Cohesive factors are also taught in EGP. c. from which a selection can be made. not just in grammar and discourse. This is the reality for most ESP practitioners. The non-verbal devices are supposed to be international. He also gives a detailed inventory of micro-functions. and learner need was placed in the centre. after discourse analysis the stage was set for the start needs analysis. and language forms. In the 1980's there was interest. Target situation analysis/needs analysis Historically. on a regular basis. This is a subject in its own right. were focused on reading. from which the shorter list of particular skills needed by a student can be assembled. but to consider the thinking processes that underlie language use. On the other hand.scientificlanguage. time order. One early attempt. and are crucial in thinking in mathematics. there are common reasoning and interpreting processes. is the selection of material under pressure of a shortage of material or preparation time. Skills and strategies a. needs analysis is but a preliminary to the design of a syllabus. these were assumed to be independent of the subject.scientificlanguage. regardless of the surface forms. This was led by practitioners. space order. which.

It was further assumed that a focus on specific subject registers is NOT needed.I can usually identify the main points. of attitudes to learning ESP]. and L1 language skills can be applied to L2. which enable the learner to cope with the surface forms. This lack of competence even in L1 in reading skills has been recognised by some ESP practitioners. I delight to take a letter in Arabic inviting me to a departmental meeting.MA thesis idea . Reading skills are therefore assumed to be universal. summarising skills. an approach not a product from discourse. See www.scientificlanguage. I can quickly verify my name. independent of the subject. The situation is made even more complicated when diglossia is taken into account.pdf e. such as teacher supply. Yet the local context and conditions are often the determining factors in lesson planning. Take for instance. I have had advanced English students ask me. Similarly. how they are supposed to identify the main ideas in a passage before summarising it. Some students whose mother tongue is not English (NNE) already possess advanced study skills in their native language. This is especially true once students progress beyond the basics. and. All this can take less than 30 seconds. and show students how I do not even need to be able to read or understand all the words. Eg guessing words from the context. followed by dates and times and room numbers or names. it would be interesting to find out how much the opinion makers think that the four skills are independent . Even when I do not understand the text well - because it is in L2. etc. Eg listening to a lecture also demands note taking: a so called micro-skill. and get these words translated if they are not known to me. and these conditions can be very restrictive. since all teachers have to be realistic. and when. therefore I have no idea how to teach this extremely basic skill. THINK: do you agree with this view? The question is not so simple. exploiting cognates (words which are the same in L1 and L2). They may need help in the transfer. Lowe I 2009 Eg some learners demand a mixture of skills [NB. seriously. look for who sent it. local patterns of bilingualism. or because the subject matter is beyond my grasp . in addition. The focus should rather be on the underlying interpretative strategies. interpreting visual layouts. at least among the teachers leading to a recognition that the four skills are INTERdependent. Question: what evidence is there that the skills are inter-related? Munby also deliberately excluded from consideration the so called "ecological" factors.maybe part of a wider question. . though only some. f.pdf -3- Growth of ESP. These are underlying skills. The problem I have observed is that the reading skills of students are very poor in any language. Some of the skills. Some ESP teachers have therefore been in the strange position of teaching skills in L2 that are not even mastered in L1. Then I can quickly identify the main items on the agenda. are also different in Arabic and French or English. There was also more sophistication. because the underlying processes are not specific to any subject register. d. There is therefore little need to focus on surface forms.

in 1990 the three move sequence was published. an approach not a product THINK: is it harder to learn new skills. Examples Research articles or papers. Speech has received little attention.pdf -4- Growth of ESP. in any language. Quotation for critical discussion: "ESP."the study of how language is used within a particular setting". varies with the subject. moves 1 & 2 were hard to distinguish. plus. Detailed definitions 1) Discourse communities set and use a genre 2) Possesses characteristic features of style and form. characteristic conventions. attainment of general language proficiency..] . Writing article introductions Swales initially proposed a four move sequence.scientificlanguage. Conventionalised and accepted rhetorical structure. Swales 1990. 6. It is often very difficult identifying what is distinctive. but. 3) Possesses known public purpose 4) Has specialised. [I expect students to study this point for themselves. or to change old skills? Many students may not have required skills. The first requirement of any student is the development of study skills to a level appropriate for the subject. This includes: 1) Lectures and note taking 2) Participation in group discussions (seminars. even of essays. terminology. Comment Most research has concentrated on written academic text. This is so well known. THINK: In your own country. Genre analysis See Jordan 1997:230ff. Theses. Seminar speeches are very conventional. Jordan 1997:231 b. then. Which is true? Who teaches it? g. Textbooks c. a. and so well explained by Jordan. It is to facile to assume that similar conventions apply. accepted. e." Hutchinson and Waters 1987:19. Abstracts. Lowe I 2009 www. is an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner's reasons for learning. tutorials) 3) Academic writing 5. Short definition. . so. and high level of expertise/expected prior knowledge and assumptions about the discipline and the genre ==>institutionalised culture. See Jordan 1997:233.

expressions which show the author's personal doubt and direct involvement. and time --roughly. . probable. and teaching ideas. estimate) 4) Channell 1994. and a comment. our knowledge 4) Emotionally charged intensifiers. often. there are subject conventions to conform to. frequency.] b. etc 3) belief. apparently) d) modal adjectives (certain. The main modal expressions found were: a) modal verbs (would.extremely interesting. with hedges. Again. -.pdf -5- Growth of ESP. unexpectedly 5) Compound hedges. with comments. degree. appear.I believe. Types of (Salager-Meyer 1994) 1) Shields. particularly encouraging. eg <it may suggest that>. Teachers setting essays should make available. likely 2) Approximators of quantity. Myers 1989 [I expect students to study this point for themselves. A feature of academic language is the need to be cautious.probably. b) semi-auxilaries -. especially by changing registers. possibility. to improve their precision. Hedging/vague language a. need to learn these. arts and sciences. and immerse themselves in it. A whole book! Easy read. may) b) lexical verbs (seem. the modal nouns were almost totally neglected. and found they needed to devote more to this. also. eg -.scientificlanguage. Practical implications 1) Salager-Meyer suggests sensitisation and translation exercises. -. could. 3) Hyland 1994 looked at ESP and EAP textbooks. c. to make it more academic in tone. undoubted) e) modal nouns (assumption. <it seems reasonable to assume> etc. rewriting for instance a popular article. Lowe I 2009 (adding or taking away the hedges) The best advice to students is to get examples of the genre they are supposed to imitate. eg a) all modal verbs expressing possibility. suggest) c) modal adverbs (probably. and have greater nuances and delicacies of meaning. d. 2) Students in all appear. an approach not a product 7. There is a difference between a proposition. good and bad essays. Lots of research ideas. to seem c) probability adverbs -. In particular. See Jordan 1997:240-243.

Bilingualism and mathematics reasoning in English as a second language. French. . Hedges and textual communicative function in medical English written discourse. Salager-Meyer F English for Specific Purposes 15(3):217-232. ch 2. Has a critical review of Widdowson's views on universality. Educational Studies in Mathematics 14:325-353 Hutchinson and Waters 1987 English for Specific Purposes: a learning centred approach.. Hedging in academic writing and EAP textbooks. Makes a few good points. chapters 2-3 Hyland K 1994. CUP. Régent O 1985 A comparative approach to the learning of specialized written discourse In Riley P (ed) Discourse and learning p105-120. CUP.pdf Lowe I 1996 Non-verbal devices in pre-university science: the extent of correspondence between English and French. This article specifically compares the rhetoric of medical articles. Lowe I 1992. ad nauseum. English for Specific Purposes 13(2): Swales J 1988.D thesis. Episodes in ESP. A very readable comparison. Lowe I 2009 www. Unpublished Ph. University of Surrey.. written in French and those written in English. 1988 Swales J 1990 Genre Analysis.pdf -6- Growth of ESP. Scientific language at pre-university level between French and English. For a summary see www.partly annotated Channell J 1994 Vague Language.scientificlanguage. TESOLQ 21(2)327-349. Oxford. Robinson PC 1980. UK. ESP: the present position. UK: Longman. UK. and Japanese. English for Specific Purposes 13(3). Oxford University Press Dawe L 1983. Pergamon Press. an approach not a product References . which illustrates how interesting such work can be. Jenkins S & Hinds J 1987 Business letter writing: English.