November 2022
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Sharon Hartle and Valeria Franceschi, University of Verona, Verona, Italy

Sharon Hartle

Valeria Franceschi


The aim of this article is to present the key points covered in a recent webinar held by the authors as part of the TESOL Italy for Ukraine initiative, in which a range of topics were explored in a joint venture with presenters and educators participating both from Italy and from Ukraine. Our webinar focused on English for Professional Purposes (EPP), a sub-category of ESP, which is not related to a specific domain as such, but which aims to develop the English language required for the world of work in general. This was illustrated by means of our advanced level English for the World of Work (EWW) course, which is open to both university students at under- and postgraduate levels and also to those who are already at work but need to increase their English language competence.

ESP usually involves a needs analysis, based on which the subsequent course is designed. As this use of needs analyses has however been criticized, our course was not based on individual needs analyses but on the results of a global survey into the English Language needs for the workplace.

Background to EWW

EWW, which has so far completed six annual editions, was originally designed to meet the needs of the Italian context in which we work. It arose to meet a real need for Italian businesses to develop English language skills as demonstrated by the results of a global survey of English in the workplace, conducted by Cambridge together with Quacquarelli Symonds (Cambridge English Language Assessment & QS, 2016). The answers from Italian firms highlighted productive writing and speaking skills as being of particular importance. These skills are required in specific tasks such as the writing of email, reports, participating in meetings or giving oral presentations at work, to name just a few. The report indicated a gap between the skills required by firms and by those actually mastered by employees. The aim of our course, therefore, is to bridge the gap between the theoretical study of the language and the application of practical ESP language skills that are not domain specific but are required in many fields. Our participants, in fact, have, over the years, come from a range of backgrounds such as engineering, surgery, or sociology. Our course forms a bridge, which enables those coming from both sides, the workplace or the university, to meet in the middle and to study in a constructivist environment where different knowledge and skills can be shared, benefitting each type of learner mutually. Those already at work may have more practical “knowhow” and soft skills, whereas university students may have higher English Language competence. Catering for different needs, in fact, requires the development of different learning strategies and multiple access to language work. Bearing this in mind, a blended task-based approach was adopted right from the start (although it was adapted even further to meet the needs of the COVID-19 emergency). This approach focused on developing tasks around the topics referred to in the Cambridge/QS survey as being key and these are shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. EWW Topics

The task-based approach enabled us to develop a growing focus on productive language skills but also on the development of multimodal literacy and competence and proficiency in the use of Communication Strategies (CS), as will be detailed in the next sections.

Focus on learner needs: multimodality as well as productive language skills

Learners are central to our process even though the course design is not based on a specific needs analysis and over the years different needs have emerged. For this reason, the course now focuses not only on productive language skills but also on developing multimodal literacy so that our learners work towards not only being consumers of multimodal content, such as Instagram users, but also becoming content creators. What we observed was that learners may well, for instance, be able to write the content of a CV but they did not necessarily consider the importance of other elements such as font choice, colours, spacing and layout (Hartle et al., 2022). When giving professional presentations, on the other hand, an awareness of voice, tone and delivery speed, goes hand in hand with an awareness of effective slide design, another of our key areas of focus. In a Blended Learning context using multiple modes and channels does not, furthermore, mean simply providing a space to upload materials or slides for students to read. Nor does it mean, at the opposite extreme, simply using resources because of their ‘wow’ factor. Using an app to create a digital quiz is innovative and will make a lesson more appealing but needs to be chosen because it meets a pedagogical aim effectively.

Task based learning (TBL) in an ESP framework

Another element of ESP that has been called into question is the lack of a systematic framework for its teaching (Littlewood, 2014). Littlewood, in fact, advocated a theoretical framework for ESP which moves in a continuum from analytical to experiential work and back again, ranging from non-communicative activities to experiential learning and authentic communication. In practice this may mean reflection or discussion, study and finally tasks to put it all into practice. To provide a concrete example of this, the tasks are situated along the continuum with activities that require analysis such as studying models of effective emails, and the experiential, writing email to other members of the class, reacting to them and then writing a reply. Another key area for our learners is the development of effective CSs.

Communication strategies

CSs are a key element in strategic skills, and the ability to use communication strategies to pre-empt and solve communication problems has been recognized as crucial to the success of high-stakes business interactions, especially in international contexts (Kankaanranta & Louhiala-Salminen, 2013). However, awareness of CSs and training in their use appears to be understudied in Business English textbooks (Vettorel & Franceschi, 2020, p. 235). For this reason, attention to CSs is paid throughout the course, introducing the concept and building awareness in earlier modules to act as a springboard for the module which dedicates ampler space for CS practice. Here, students work on this ability following Littlewood’s Communicative Continuum (2014). The focus on CSs starts with a reflection activity in the form of a group discussion, with the purpose of breaking the ice and of encouraging students to draw from their previous encounters with CSs during the course. The discussion and subsequent feedback from the instructor ultimately increase awareness of CSs and their importance. Students are then asked to perform analytical work and are provided access to a list of functional phrases that can be used to fulfill both pre-emptive and solving CSs. Experiential work occurs in two stages: in the first stage students carry out a semi-structured roleplay where CSs are useful to obtain the correct information each party needs. A second activity is a taboo-like game, where students use paraphrasing for their teammates to guess words pertaining to the world of work.

Comments from the audience

After the presentation, the floor was opened to comments and questions from the audience, which gave us a chance to illustrate some of the other innovative features and strengths of the course. For example, a question on how much time the course takes led us to underline the blended nature of this course, which includes, besides compulsory assignments that have a deadline, additional study materials that can be freely accessed by students at any time on the course’s e-learning space. This fosters independent learning. Another question was related to material development, which is left to individual teachers, who select and develop materials and tasks based on the results of the QS survey and their previous experience on the course, as the course aims to provide students with skills and abilities that they can immediately transfer to their professional life. It was also underlined that tasks are usually not linked to a specific domain or industry, as the purpose of the course is not to develop domain-specific lexis, but on the other hand to scaffold learners’ own life-long learning, providing them with the tools to continue their own education after the end of the course. Similarly, as the course focuses on communication skills, grammar is not dealt with specifically, although key errors are pointed out and explanations provided when necessary. Another interesting question focused on the separation of students into groups: the students who attend the course are fairly heterogeneous in both language level and background, as university students and professionals already at work are combined on this course. We find that this is not a drawback but, on the contrary, it contributes to the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Students indeed engage in extensive pair and group work, which allows them to build their learning together through collaboration and sharing. Each student puts their abilities at the group’s disposal and these complementary strengths help the entire group grow and improve their weaknesses thanks not only to instructor feedback but also to peer feedback.


Cambridge English Language Assessment, & (QS), Q. S. (2016). English at Work : global analysis of language skills in the workplace. November. Available at Last accessed 22/08/2022.

Hartle, S., Facchinetti R., & Franceschi ,V. (2022). Teaching communication strategies for the workplace: a multimodal framework. Multimodal Communication, 11(1), 5-15.

Kankaanranta A. & Louhiala-Salminen L. (2013). ‘What language does global business speak?’ – The concept and development of BELF. Ibérica 26, 17-34.

Littlewood, W. (2014). Methodology for teaching ESP. In V. Bhatia & S. Bremner (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Professional Communication (pp. 287–303). Routledge.

Vettorel, P., & Franceschi, V. (2020). Communication Strategies in BELF from users’ perceptions, corpus and textbook analysis to pedagogical implications. Lingue e Linguaggi 38, 219-239.

Sharon Hartle is an Associate Professor in the Verona University Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. She is specialized in ELT pedagogy, working specifically in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and materials development.

Valeria Franceschi is Temporary Assistant Professor in the Verona University Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. She specializes in English as a Business Lingua Franca, corpus linguistics and tourism discourse.
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