English for academic (EAP) or english for specific purposes (ESP) / english for occupational purposes (EOP): Who needs What?

Nasreen M Ahsan
Chairperson Dept of Humanities
Posted On Saturday, 29th August 2009 | Comments

The present context of globalisation has multiple effects on the lives of people across the globe. And for all those countries where English is not the first language the significance of learning, teaching and using English cannot be understated. Linguists, researchers and teachers, textbook writers, publishers In the context of English Language Teaching (ELT), are all agreed that (i) English is an international language (EIL) and has to be taught as such, (ii) English has many varieties, (iii) English is the language for research, trade and commerce, and higher education, and (iv) within the next decade there will be more non-native speakers of English than the native speakers (that is, those whose mother tongue is English). Consequently, the role/importance of English at the undergraduate level of education in Pakistan cannot be minimised. In addition to that, students, teachers and others need to have greater clarity about the nomenclatures used in regard to the teaching and learning of English. This article attempts to present the distinctions in the nomenclatures, and to highlight the role and importance of English for the undergraduate students in Pakistani institutions.

Why is English an international language? It is an international language because it was considered to be the language of political, economic and military power, until the early 2000 A.D. The Iraq war (2003) was looked upon by many people as an economic opportunity in more ways than one. As mentioned in an article by Hadley in 2004, (and by Edge also in 2004) , English teachers would be required in Iraq to help with the reconstruction work by facilitating the policies that the tanks were sent to impose. Hence, the war itself created a lucrative opportunity for all those involved in the game of teaching and learning English. In addition, USA being looked upon as a superpower was worth immolating in terms of its culture and language. A noted Pakistani researcher, Dr Tariq Rahman mentioned in one his books (2000) that English is in demand by students, their parents and aspiring members of the salariat because it is the language of the elitist domains of power not only in Pakistan but also internationally. He presented data from David Crystals 1997 book that One-third of the worlds newspapers are published in English dominant countries... 80% of the electronically stored information is in English ... The CNN and BBC are in English ... between 80 85% motion pictures are in English... 180 nations have adopted the recommendations of the Civil Aviation Organization about English terminology ... increasing numbers of students take the IELTS and TOEFL exams each year in more than 110 countries ... nearly 90 per cent of research articles (in most subjects) are in English.

In many contexts it has been felt that students require adequate English language skills in order for them to cope with the academic demands of their study programme. Hence a course of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is designed and taught to them. Such a course includes the teaching of such skills as critical thinking, critical reading, listening for global and specific comprehension (e.g. lectures, talks, announcements, etc), writing essays, terms papers, critical analysis, reports, participation in group discussions, making oral presentations, etc.

One may ask: How is English for Specific Purposes different from what is called general English? A simple answer is The most important difference lies in the learners and their purposes for learning English. One can add to it by saying that ESP concentrates more on language in context than on teaching grammar and language structures. It covers subjects varying from accounting or computer science to tourism and business management. In some cases, people with inadequate proficiency in English need to be taught to handle specific jobs. In such cases English is taught for specific purposes so that the concerned employees can perform their job requirements efficiently. However, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has a wide scope and superimposes other nomenclatures such as EOP and EAP. An article on ESP available on the Internet says: ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course aims are determined by the needs of a specific group of learners. ESP is often divided into EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and EOP (English for Occupational Purposes). Further sub-divisions of EOP are sometimes made into business English, professional English (e.g. English for doctors, lawyers) and vocational English (e.g. English for tourism, nursing, aviation, brick-laying).

Do you think the requirements for English of a medical, or social science or science and technology student would be exactly alike? Or would someone in the tourism industry have a similar manner of using English as an air traffic control, or a share market analyst or a technical writer? While there will be some similarities in the use of common vocabulary there will be great dissimilarities in the way they use words, phrases, expressions in writing or speaking to get on with their jobs. Such differences are mainly due to the types of communication they have to achieve which make different demands on their knowledge and skills in English. Thus professionals such as air traffic controllers, or those who work in laboratories or in the mining / drilling /space stations often require knowledge of English that is very specific to the kind of work they are doing (English for Occupational Purposes).

Learners in the ESP classes are usually adults who are generally aware of the purposes for which they will need to use English. A useful website for English language teachers discusses ESP in the following words:

Dudley-Evans, a notable authority in the field of ESP, in 2001 defined the absolute characteristics of ESP as:
ESP is designed to meet the specific needs of the learners.
ESP makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the specialism it serves.
It is centred not only on the language (grammar, lexis, register), but also the skills, discourses and genres appropriate to those activities.

It may therefore be concluded that the kind of English some adult learners learn for employment could also be referred to as EOP, while undergraduate students learn EAP so that they can cope better with their studies in contexts where the medium of instruction is English.

Web Sources: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/transform/teachers/specialist-areas/english-specific-purposes
http://espsig.iatefl.org/resources/esppae.pdf
Rahman, T. (2000). Language Ideology and Power. Karachi: Oxford University Press.
Hadley, G. (2004). ELT and the New World Order: Nation Building or Neo-Colonial Reconstruction? In TESOL Islamia 2004. Paper presented at the SoLLs.INTEC.03 International Conference, Putrajaya Marriott Hotel, Malaysia. Retrieved on April 24, 2008

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