Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Language, English, Development, Learning, Science, Education, Study, Rhetoric

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/02

The Development of ESP

English for Specific Purposes from its emergence in the early 1960s till now has grown into a well-developed area of knowledge with a great number of specialized studies, publications, programs and courses. The present study is aimed at reviewing the main stages of development of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) through describing the pioneering efforts to define it, tracing its history of development and giving the examples of specific theories and works. Though a variety of definitions of ESP exists in the current body of literature, the majority of scholars agree that English for Specific Purposes encompasses teaching of English language that is designed to meet specific professional, academic or scientific needs of the learner; is related to specific disciplines and activities of learner’s interest; and is centered on language characteristics (lexis, syntax, semantics, discourse, etc.) appropriate to above mentioned disciplines and activities (Javid, 2013.)
ESP has emerged as a result of various converging trends such as acceleration of economic, scientific and technical progress after the end of the World War II, growing penetration of English as an international language for communicating in the domains of technology and commerce; growing demand for learning English for specific business or scientific purposes and also shift of the educational paradigm towards learner-centricity and focusing on specific learner’s needs (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.) In the following evolution and growth ESP went through four key stages of development (register analysis, discourse analysis, target situation analysis and skills and strategies) and has entered the fifth, modern, phase which key feature is learner-centered approach.
The first development stage of ESP – the register analysis phase - covers the timeframe approximately from 1965 to 1974. The main point of scholars of this time period was that the language varies depending on the different people who use it and in relation to the different aims and purposes (Mayo, 1998.) So the basic principle of analysis was an identification of the lexical and grammatical features of registers attributed to, for example, Medical English of Constructional Engineering English. This principle was conceptualized in the works of Ewer, Strevens, Barber, Swales, Hughes-Davis, Halliday and Mclntosh. In the books “The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching” (Halliday et al., 1964), “A Course in Basic Scientific English” (Ewer & Latorre, 1969) and “Some measurable characteristics of modern scientific prose” (Barber, 1962) as well as in other studies of that time period, the main emphasis was on identifying peculiarities of English for specific purposes, first of all, of a quantitative nature (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.) Although the early researches were criticized for being very limited and unidirectional, they generated interest to the social aspect of English (van Vlack, 2006), managed to create a syllabus focused on the language forms widespread in scientific body of literature and allowed to make the process and content of English learning more focused on the specific student’s needs.
The second phase of ESP evolution had driven the researchers beyond the quantitative analysis of language forms at sentence level. This stage is known as rhetorical or discourse analysis and lasted approximately from 1974 to the early 1980s. The new paradigm was qualitative and analyzed the language forms from the point of view how they reflect the elements of discourse and which connotations are brought by various forms. This new approach was reflected in the works of the following scholars: Henry Widdowson, Larry Selinker, John Lackstrom, Mary Todd-Trimble and Louis Trimble. The linguistic studies of ESP, such as “The description of scientific language” (Widdowson, 1979), “English for Science and Technology: A Discourse Approach” (Trimble, 1985), “Focus Series” (Alien & Widdowson) and “Nucleus Series” (Bates at al.) were dedicated to identification and conceptualizing the basic, industry- or subject-independent language constructs such as function, structure and causation (as cited in Mayo, 1998.) Also, the value of the studies of the second stage of ESP development was in distinguishing the rhetorical structure and communication patterns of scientific and commercial texts.
The next phase lasting approximately within the period between 1980 and 1987 is known as target situation analysis stage. This phase didn’t manifested with any breakthrough innovation in the field, but it brought more systematization and scientific background to the existing body of knowledge, enabling adjusting language structures analysis and learning design to the specific needs of learners. The main feature of the new approach was identifying the target situation where the learners are expected to function, and then designing a syllabus meeting the needs the learner will have in the target situation (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.) The most characteristic works of the described stage included “Communicative Syllabus Design” (Munby, 1978), “A re-evaluation of needs analysis in ESP” (Chambers, 1980) “Perceiving and pursuing learner's needs” (Allwright, 1982) and others (as cited in Mayo, 1998.) As a result, the framework for target situation analysis as well as for analyzing learning needs have been formed. The situation analysis included identifying the purpose of ESP using (studying, business, etc.), modes of language use, content areas, target audience, context, etc. The pedagogic needs analysis embraced the following aspects: deficiency analysis, strategy and means analysis. Development of this comprehensive analysis and learning program design framework can be considered as the most valuable achievement of the third stage of ESP development. Nevertheless, this stage, as well as the previous two stages, was focused mainly on the surface language forms (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.)
This drawback was addressed at the fourth stage (Skills and Strategies) of ESP development, featured by emergence of the concept of authenticity. At this phase, the ESP scholars (Alderson, Glendinning, Holmstrom, Chitravelu, Urquhart, Nuttall, Grellet, and others) looked beyond the surface language forms and addressed the thinking processes and patterns that underlie English language use (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.) The focus of studies and learning programs shifted to the interpretive and reasoning strategies, allowing a learner to guess the meaning of various terms depending from context, to determine the type of text regardless of subject or field of study, using just its visual layout. The concept of authenticity of text extended the scope of ESP approaches by addressing texts other than written, and also built specific analytical techniques for processing the different types of text produced by each language skill – reading, listening, etc. (Mayo, 1998.) With this cognitive theories-based approach, treating English language learners as thinkers, the students were enabled to analyze not only the surface language forms, but reflect on how the meaning and communication message are generated and retrieved from various spoken and written texts.
As it was mentioned at the beginning of the current paper, now the ESP entered the newest evolution stage of learner-centered approach. By analogy with customer-centered approach in retail and consumer services, the learner-centered approach employs the best practices to address the specific needs of a learner, enabling the optimal level of learning programs specialization and customization. Arising as a result of expansion of demand for English for particular business and academic needs, progress in linguistics and development of educational psychology, the recent trends in ESP draw the line between the language use, which had been the key focus of the previous four stages, and language learning, making the methodology, learning needs and processes the key pillar (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987.) The new learning-oriented paradigm has been designed to overcome the disadvantages of the previous language-centered approaches and make the language learning course design more dynamic and interactive, focusing neither on the language constructs nor on language skills but on how a learner acquires skills and competences (Mayo, 1998.) Along with learner-centric approach, the integrated genre-driven approaches prevail with their focus on communicative contexts and settings.
This brief review mentioned the key factors of the ESP emergence and traced the historical development of its key concepts and approaches. At the pioneering stages of its evolution, the ESP was focused mainly at linguistic factors as well as at descriptive analytical approaches. At later stages the focus shifted to the language skills and to the authentic target situations. In other words, at early stages the scholars focused on language itself, later – on how the language is used by a particular person in specific communication settings. Now, when the ESP principles have already reached maturity, the tensions and contradictions between usage needs and learning needs resulted in increasing prevalence of learning-centricity. Knowing the history of ESP concepts evolution enables educational professionals to understand the current trends of ESP development and facilitates them in decision-making and programs design.

Works cited

Hutchinson, Tom, and Waters, Alen. English for Specific Purposes. A learning-centered approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Mayo, María del Pilar García. The development of ESP: Language description and its influence on pedagogical materials. Revista de Lenguas para Fines Específicos N 5 & 6 (1998 & 1999).
Van Vlack, Stephen. English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Sookmyung Women’s University, 2006. http://www.udveksling.com/ESP2006/ESP2006Week3
Javid, Choudhary Zahid. English for Specific Purposes: Its Definition, Characteristics, Scope and Purpose. European Journal of Scientific Research ISSN 1450-216X / 1450-202X Vol. 112 No 1 October, 2013, pp.138-151 http://www.academia.edu/8519119/English_for_Specific_Purposes_Its_Definition_Characteristics_Scope_and_Purpose

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