December 2012
ESP News



David Kertzner

Robert Connor

As the year draws to a busy close, we are delighted with the enthusiasm of ESP-IS members who contributed to our second newsletter of the year, with one more to follow before we convene in Dallas in March 2013.

As with our first newsletter of 2012, this issue is an eclectic compilation of topics of interest among ESPers worldwide. We also have several informative updates from ESP-IS Steering Committee members.

Our Articles section begins with Shannon Mattern’s exploration of several methods of pronunciation training for workplace settings that can be incorporated into any curriculum. Dafne Gonzalez and Rubena St. Louis, from Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela, then report on web applications that enable classroom teachers to develop tailored ESP materials. Sounds like information a lot of people could use.

Akiko Tsuda provides an interesting perspective on international conventions, sharing her research on the experiences and English language needs of junior dietetic researchers (dieticians) attending an international convention for the first time.

Ros Wright and Evan Frendo offer their insights on the value of ESP textbooks in two different contexts. Ros considers the plight of CELTA grads, who are often novice trainers in ESP settings. For them, ESP textbooks are like a lifeline. Evan Frendo poses a stark question in his piece, Do ESP textbooks matter? It turns out that the answer differs depending on the stakeholder in an ESP program.

Finally, we offer a warm welcome and particular appreciation for a regional update from Nahida El Assi Farhat at Beirut Arab University (BAU), in Lebanon, who shares the tale of recent events at BAU that led the administration to explore the possibility of offering ESP courses and making them a mandatory requirement in a number of majors.

But we hope you will begin by checking in with ESP-IS Leaders in the Leadership Update section. Najma Janjua, Chair of the IS, updates us on some key ESP-IS developments over the past four months. Kevin Knight (Immediate Past Chair) reports on his recent keynote speech at the 2012 International Conference on English for Specific Purposes in Taiwan and Even Frendo (English In Occupational Settings rep) offers a few snapshots of the IATEFL / BESIG conference in Stuttgart, Germany. Finally, Kristen Ekkins (also an EOS rep and soon to be Chair-Elect of the ESP-IS) shares her perspective on the challenges non-native English speakers in the U.S. face while trying to get and keep a good job.

We also want to encourage your feedback on our newsletter. Are you reading it? Is there something you want to see? Would you like to contribute? Let us know you are out there and how we are doing!

David Kertzner, coeditor of the ESP-IS Newsletter is a past chair of the ESP Interest Section and founder of ProActive English, delivering on-site training in corporate and vocational settings featuring an e-learning tool he developed. He holds a Master of Education degree and has overseen training in Asia, in Europe, and around the United States.

Robert Connor, Ph.D., is the Director of English as a Second Language at Tulane University.  His interests include academic English and intensive courses for professional schools.  Lately, he has been experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).


Dear ESP-IS colleagues,

I am delighted to have another opportunity to write to you through ESP News following my earlier letter in the August issue of the publication where I gave you a glimpse of my first four months on the job as the ESP-IS Chair. This time I’ll give you some highlights from the four months that have passed since.

The first area on which I focused during this period concerns the governing aspect of ESP-IS. Specifically, it involved undertaking the task of making some long-needed amendments to the Governing Rules (GRs) of the IS. As you all probably know, ESP-IS GRs are a set of rules or fundamental principles that define us as a group and guide us in governing ourselves. A copy of the document containing the ESP-IS GRs can be accessed on the ESP-IS page through the TESOL website.

In the past and more recently, a need had been felt within the IS to make certain amendments to its GRs. Therefore, in accordance with Article XII of the ESP-IS GRs that allows making amendments to the rules, in late September, I invited ESP-IS Steering Board members to review the current GR document and point out the specific changes that they felt we needed to make. Over the following several weeks, the Steering Board deliberated on and proposed a number of major and minor amendments deemed necessary. We were fortunate to get some valuable input in the process from Kay Westerfield, the co-founding Chair of ESP-IS and a current member of TESOL Board of Directors, and Dr. Margaret van Naerssen, the third Chair of ESP-IS and Co-Chair of TESOL Workplace Program Standards Task Force.

At the time of this writing, the revised ESP-IS GR document indicating the proposed amendments has been submitted to the Professional Development Manager’s office (PDMO) at TESOL. PDMO is responsible for conducting a ballot on GR amendments as well as for overseeing the entire process. If the amendments are approved by a two-thirds majority of the ESP-IS membership, the revised document will replace the current one. I will keep everyone informed of the process through the community e-list pending any updates on this from the PDMO.

The second highlight of my past four months as the ESP-IS Chair concerns searching for a motto for ESP-IS. However, before telling you about the actual search, let me first tell you why I considered it necessary to search for a motto for ourselves. The background to this initiative is my own vision to have a motto for ESP-IS ever since I began my term as its Chair. I find mottos to be impressive and amazing little words that seem to carry the power to inspire greatness! Mottos remind the members of a group of their foundational beliefs and motivate them to be active, overcome obstacles and keep working toward their goals, persevering even in the face of overwhelming difficulties. Put in another way, a motto tells a lot about a group's values, purposes, goals, and philosophy and having one can empower and revitalize the group's members. Some of my favorite mottos are: "Teaching to learn, learning to teach" (JALT); "Come here, go anywhere" (CSU at San Bernardino); "Inspiring minds" (Dalhousie University, Canada); "Mind moves matter" (University of Oregon); and "Mind and hand" (M.I.T.)

Thus, having a motto for the group that I am leading, and inspiring myself and the group members with a greater sense of purpose in our ESP lives and profession are the major rationales behind my initiative to undertake a search for ESP-IS motto. Toward this goal, on October 1, 2012, I sent out a call to the ESP-IS membership inviting them to submit entries for a contest to pick a motto for ESP-IS that would best reflect the underlying principles and spirit of the ESP-IS. For further details and rules of the contest, please refer to my mail dated October 1, 2012 on the ESP e-list. The deadline to submit entries for the contest was Thursday, November 1, 2012, and I am pleased to report that more than 40 entries were submitted during the one month period. As indicated in the call for entries, the entry that best meets the contest criteria will be chosen through a ballot. The exact procedure and date of the ballot will be decided in consultation with PDMO at TESOL after the process of making amendments to the GRs as described above has been completed. And once again, as in the case of GRs, I will keep the ESP-IS membership updated on the motto contest via our community e-list.

The third and the last highlight of the past four months that I want to briefly mention here has to do with marching toward the next TESOL convention. This refers to doing all that I need to do in order to represent the IS at the TESOL convention in Dallas in March 2013. Specifically, in early October, proposal status notifications arrived from TESOL with lots of good news! Thus began my task of informing all presenters of the sessions that I am organizing and getting their confirmations, making adjustments for any cancellations or new additions, and finally making the respective changes in the convention program through the Precis Abstract System before the TESOL deadline of Oct 31, 2012. Luckily, there was only one cancellation but five new additions of presenters in the two intersection sessions where ESP-IS is the primary sponsor, making them much more diverse and rich academically.

The marching toward TESOL 2013 tasks at hand now include working out the precise details of each session, including the one that ESP-IS will be co-hosting with IATEFL’s ESP-SIG. These include details such as outlining the actual program, deciding on the session formats, preparing the handouts for the respective sessions, and so on. I hope to be able to give you the actual details of each ESP-IS sponsored intersection session at TESOL 2013, in the February/March issue of ESP News.

On a final note, I would like to add that governing this special IS as its Chair, searching for a motto that could inspire and increase its membership, marching to bring it to its mother convention in 2013, plus many more written and unwritten tasks and duties that come with the job, have all been experiences of a lifetime for me! I feel greatly honored and privileged to have this unique opportunity to serve the IS and want to thank you all for your support of my initiatives and undertakings in all of the above. Happy Holidays and I look forward to writing to you all again soon!

Najma Janjua, Ph.D., ESP-IS Chair, is an alumna of McGill University, Montreal Canada, and a recipient of Quebec Ministry of Health FRSQ Postdoctoral Fellowship, Japan Ministry of Education Research Scientist Fellowship, and JSPS Special Researcher Fellowship. Dr. Janjua’s research interests in language education include English for Medical Purposes (EMP), language transfer in Japanese learners of English, and comparative studies of EFL education in nonnative English-speaking countries. She has developed and implemented EMP curriculum at three Japanese national and public universities and is currently a professor at Kagawa Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Takamatsu, Japan.


My first trip to Taiwan was at the end of October 2012. I had accepted an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the 2012 International Conference on English for Specific Purposes held at the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology (STUST). The conference was cosponsored by the Taiwan ESP Association (TESPA) and the STUST, and the invitation had come to me from Yinghuei Chen, who is currently chair-elect of the TESOL ESP-IS and a leader of ESP in Taiwan (

My keynote presentation was titled Developing Global Competencies and Leadership Skills in Undergraduates: The Evolution of Kevin’s Company at KUIS in the Light of ESP Best Practices. This program was also discussed in the TESOL virtual seminar on ESP titled Principled ESP—Best Practices and Case Studies, conducted by three members of the ESP-IS Steering Board in early October.

My keynote presentation in Taiwan covered the evolution of Kevin’s Company over a 6-year period. Just to be clear, Kevin’s Company is the name given to a “simulated company” (i.e., not a real company). At Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS), teams of undergraduate students in a business internship program did consulting projects for British Hills, which belongs to the Kanda Foreign Languages Group. These students were trained and did their work as consultants in Kevin’s Company. ESP training was provided to meet the students’ immediate needs for English language communication skills as a tool in their training and work as consultants.

At the end of my presentation, members of the audience had the opportunity to ask questions, and one question was how such a program could be implemented in Taiwan. In response, I talked about another project-based program (in which I had also taught) that linked student teams and companies. In that program, the students prepared plans for a local company—without international operations—to do business in the United States, and at the end of the program, they delivered PowerPoint presentations in English (15 minutes) with a summary in Japanese (5 minutes) to representatives from those companies.

In addition to the keynote presentation, I had the opportunity to be a panelist in a discussion on ESP. This discussion matched the conference theme of Reflections on ELT from an ESP Perspective. The panelists shared their views of ESP. In my keynote speech and as a panelist, I talked about “principled ESP,” which has been championed by Margaret van Naerssen in TESOL. In this regard, I also shared information about the PowerPoint titled English for Specific Purposes: An Overview for Practitioners and Clients (Academic and Corporate).

The most rewarding part of my visit was when I was told that my program served as an inspiration to the participants. I hope that the TESOL ESP-IS and TESPA can work closely together in the future as I saw needs in Taiwan that could be met through collaboration of the two organizations. I was very grateful for the opportunity to share “principled ESP” in Taiwan, and I look forward to my next adventure there.

Kevin Knight (PhD candidate, MBA, MPIA) develops curriculum and teaches ESP in the Department of International Communication and the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies. He started his career in ESP with Sony in Japan and has been the program director of the corporate service division of a career college in Tokyo.


IATEFL stands for the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Similar in many ways to TESOL, it also has interest sections, known as Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which focus on particular aspects of teaching. The Business English Special Interest Group (BESIG), is the largest of these and normally has two or three events every year. The annual conference, always held in November, has grown to be one of the most popular events in the business English calendar and draws participants from all over the world. This year 500 delegates met in Stuttgart, Germany, for a weekend of talks, workshops, networking and fun.

One theme of the conference, perhaps unsurprisingly, was technology. The David Riley award for Innovation in Business English and ESP was won by Collins’s business English listening app, which beat 13 other entries. The opening plenary, by Gavin Dudeney, focused on digital skills for the 21st century workplace. Gavin reminded us just how fast the digital world is changing, and what seemed fantastic and modern just a few years ago is now oh so commonplace. Our learners and colleagues expect us to be digitally literate in terms of not only how we connect with people, but also how we handle information, and even how we use language. He also hinted at challenges to come, such as the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between the virtual and the real, and the growing influence of gamification.

Another way the theme of technology manifested itself was in the simulcasting of some of the talks, which has become a regular feature of BESIG conferences. People can log in from all over the world and watch some of the sessions live, or if they are members they can visit the BESIG website and select something to watch from a fast-growing archive of talks and workshops. These talks featured some of the best-known names in business English teaching, such as Adrian Pilbeam (a founder member of the ESP-IS) and Paul Emmerson (author of a number of best-selling business English course books). This year I was asked to moderate a particularly innovative session organised by the BESIG online team, which combined groups of teachers from Croatia, India, Uruguay, and Germany in a discussion about our different teaching contexts and the way we deal with things. Such an event would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

As always, any one conference participant only sees a partial picture. For me, other highlights included a talk by Ed Pegg, which focused on small talk and examined the different strategies and language used by competent native speakers when compared to similar conversations carried out by learners of English, with the very useful insight that that competent speakers “rapport,” whereas the less competent speakers “report.” Sue Kay and Karen Spiller of the ELT Teacher 2 Writer team presented their new website designed to put budding writers in touch with publishers; they also outlined some of the training courses they offer for new writers wishing to develop their ELT writing skills. Almut Koester talked about developing business skills through real recorded meetings and used the example of vague language to show how she had drawn from the 800 million word Cambridge International Corpus to inform the content of Business Advantage, a new Cambridge business English course.

Overall, the BESIG conference was an exhausting weekend, packed with snatched conversations with old and new friends, visits to publisher stands to see the new offerings, and some really inspiring presentations. And best of all, the chance to interact with some of the best minds in the business. Hope to see you there next year, if not in person then perhaps online.

Evan Frendo has been involved in ESP for nearly 20 years as a teacher, teacher trainer, and materials developer.


For over a decade, I have designed, managed, facilitated, and evaluated training programs. My focus has been on corporate clients involved in cross-cultural leadership development, global team building, and global talent development, including workplace English language and literacy training.

This past year I had the pleasure of serving as executive director of a national 501(c)(3) in the United States that advocates for a national essential skills credentialing system. I had the honor of working with some of the most talented leaders in the field who are working hard to get employers, educators, workforce and economic developers, and job seekers to speak a common language.

My work over the past year has led me to a new understanding of the challenges nonnative speakers of English face while trying to get and keep a good job. They face an evidence-based selection process based on competencies—on a person’s skills, knowledge, ability, and behavior. The competencies are measured by workplace assessments typically given only in English. Managers and English language learners alike may not realize the impact cultural differences have on getting and retaining a good job.

My experiences working with nonnative speakers of English and corporate management along with my passion for training and development, sales, and workplace inclusion has led me to start a consulting firm. My new company, C3 Consulting LLC, focuses on helping multicultural companies achieve their goals through increased cross-cultural competence.

In July 2012, I became a certified Cultural Intelligence (CQ) facilitator through the Cultural Intelligence Center. Cultural intelligence is “the capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts (national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.; Ang & Van Dyne, 2008). Cultural intelligence measures different aspects of the overall capability to function and manage effectively in culturally diverse settings. Use of this measure could have major implications for English for occupational settings. I've found that employers who implement strategies to manage a culturally diverse workforce have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining culturally diverse talent and clients.

Take the healthcare industry, for example. U.S. healthcare organizations face numerous challenges that are characterized and influenced by cultural and linguistic diversity. Not only must they meet compliance obligations, they must also compete for talent, overcome skills shortages, and retain talent by meeting increased employee expectations regarding conditions and opportunities. To remain competitive, healthcare organizations must constantly adapt to the realities of increased workforce and customer diversity.

Research shows that when managed effectively, a culturally diverse workforce will improve workplace performance. This includes relationship-based care, teamwork, productivity, market knowledge, customer service, and competitiveness. That said, a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce also presents a number of challenges related to performance and development of individuals with language barriers and low literacy levels. Typical challenges include the following:

  • how to accurately assess the soft skills of nonnative speakers of English (i.e., WorkKeys Personality)
  • how to efficiently develop competencies related to safety and responding to emergencies
  • how to successfully develop career pathways that will retain and develop culturally diverse talent

Employers are able to have a significant impact on ethnic minority retention and advancement by improving the skills of front-line managers who often interact most consistently with entry-level workers of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The increasing cultural diversity of the U.S. population and workforce means that the ability to work across cultures is becoming a necessity for many healthcare professionals. These are exciting times for language and culture professionals. I’m thrilled to work with you all, all the professionals involved in TESOL’s English for Specific Purposes Interest Section, toward a solution!


Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (Eds.). (2008). Conceptualization of cultural intelligence. In Handbook of cultural intelligence: Theory, measurement, and applications. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Kristin Ekkens is a consultant, speaker, trainer, and coach. As an executive director of a national nonprofit in the United States focused on closing the workforce skills gap, senior consultant and corporate intercultural trainer, and workplace English and literacy program director, Kristin has extensive experience designing, implementing, and evaluating workplace learning and performance initiatives. She earned an MA in TESOL from Michigan State University and a BA in Spanish and linguistics from Calvin College, in Michigan. She is an English in occupational settings (EOS) representative for TESOL's ESP-IS and is a certified Cultural Intelligence facilitator through the Cultural Intelligence Center).



A few years ago, I worked on English for occupational purposes (EOP) project that prepared students for entry-level positions in their area of study. Upon completion of the program, students had the language knowledge, content skills, and inborn talent to start their career. However, despite their potential and credentials, some had trouble being understood in an interview and could not secure employment as a result.

As business, politics, and education become more globalized and interconnected, speech and language become increasingly important to establishing and maintaining critical relationships between people and countries. An interesting study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology discovered that people found nonnative speakers less credible because they were more difficult to understand: “They misattribute the difficulty of understanding the speech to the truthfulness of the statement” (Lev-Ari & Keysar, 2010, p. 2). This common perception can have a profound impact on the careers and effectiveness of nonnative speakers. The need to speak clearly becomes even more critical for international professionals working in healthcare and other occupations in which clear communication is paramount.

To better prepare students for the workplace, I began to research the most efficient speech training theories, methods, and techniques. My program was 10 weeks, and I had to find a way to embed speech training within the EOP curriculum.

With a review of speech modification literature, I discovered there were three primary groups of professionals that train speech: English teachers, speech therapists, and voice and dialect coaches. I found that each discipline operated from different theories and used different methods and techniques. I gleaned and sequenced the best methods from each group to make the most efficient pronunciation training that could be incorporated into any curriculum.

Although each discipline emphasized different elements of speech, there was a consensus among all three: that intonation is the first element that must be mastered. The sequence of the remaining elements of speech to be addressed according to speech therapists and voice and dialect coaches are voice, consonants, and vowels. For this article, I elaborate on intonation training because this is where the first and most dramatic results occur in speech training.

The first task of intonation and speech training is ear training. It is important to note that ear training is different from listening. Listening involves making sense of the sounds, tone, and language being spoken. In contrast, ear training takes it a step back and trains the ear to hear pitch changes and phonemes. The focus is not on language comprehension, but on the sounds and rhythm of the language. Essentially, ear training is a prerequisite of listening. Furthermore, cognitive psychology’s information processing model affirms this sequence by explaining that a limited amount of sensory information can be processed at one time. We all have had the experience of learning another language and then grappling with understanding a speaker. The sounds and tones swirl around, and we try to grab at words and meaning. Therefore, to increase listening comprehension, we have to breakdown the elements of speech (intonation, voice, consonants, and vowels) and train the ear to hear and make sense of the sounds and rhythm of the language and then move on to traditional listening comprehension lessons.

For our purposes, intonation is defined as the rhythm and pitch changes of a language. The study is important because it acts as a verbal system of punctuation. Judy Gilbert (2008) details that intonation is structured around thought groups. A thought group is a phrase or clause within a larger statement. Our ideas are ideas are broken down into smaller pieces to make it easier to communicate and understand. Pauses are the boundaries between thought groups. Gilbert goes on to explain that there is a focus word within each thought group. The focus word is the most important word in the thought group and it is often a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective. The focus word is marked by a change in pitch, lengthening of the vowel, and it is spoken louder. It is a signal that the speaker sends to listener to pay attention to this word.

Ear training, then, is about hearing changes in pitch, vowel lengthening, and pauses that package a thought group. The sound cues also help focus listening to glean critical words and organize ideas. Lastly, it can break down an overwhelming listening exercise and give real strategies for processing speech.

Although having these concepts applied to speech helped, learners still struggled with hearing and making sense of intonation changes. David Stern, a voice and dialect coach, makes the analogy that the standard American dialect is like a staircase. A change in pitch is like stepping up on the highest stair, and then then every remaining word descends down the staircase. Words are broken down into their basic sound units or syllables, and each stair has a syllable.

Stern (2007) explains that you must “jump up and step down” (disk 1). For the focus word, you jump up in pitch and then step down for remaining words in the thought group. Speaking in standard American dialect is like going up and down stairs with each thought group. In the example below, there are two thought groups. Each thought group must have a rise in pitch and then descend.

Most thought groups begin on a high pitch and end on a down beat. This is a general rule, and intonation changes with the emotion and mood of the speaker.

Now we can play with pitch changes and how it can change the meaning of a phrase.

The staircase analogy is incredibly useful in giving learners a visual representation of standard American speech. When we overlay thought groups along with focus words on the staircase, it becomes even more effective as learners can see and hear what spoken. Combining these theories in ear training provide a solid foundation for speech.

In the beginning of ear training, I recommend practicing with simple language to such as numbers, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, routine conversations, and common dialogue such as ordering a coffee. As learners gain confidence in hearing intonation, they will be eager and ready to speak.

To begin speech training, I would again use simple language such as phone numbers and addresses. I have learners plan and write out phrases using the staircase. For example:

The practice of breaking down each syllable and planning the intonation pattern will help clarify and solidify speech.

The staircase approach also makes learners aware of every sound in each syllable of each word of each phrase. For learners that cut off endings of words, this is a good discipline to remember to say the–s ending on a plural or an –ed ending on a past tense verb. Learners cannot jump and skip steps but have to “walk” down the stairs syllable by syllable.

The staircase also controls the rate of speech. A common issue that makes speech unintelligible is rapid speech. When people speak quickly, it flattens the intonation pattern and speech becomes monotone making it difficult to differentiate thought groups, hear focus words, and understand what is being said. Learners must walk, not run, down the stairs and make sure pitch changes along with all the sounds and syllables of each word are being articulated.

Once simple language is mastered, you can then integrate vocabulary, phrases, and dialogue that the learners would use in their work. This, I believe, is critical because they need to transfer these strategies and methods from the classroom to their communication at work.

The students in my EOP program used these methods and techniques for interview preparation. The students would write out responses to common interview questions and then make notes of pitch changes, pauses, and so on. They would then practice their lines much like an actor practices lines. With this experience, they became more confident because they had a speech plan going into an interview. They knew what they were going to say and how they were going to say it. I am happy to report that they found jobs and confidence in their speech.


Gilbert, J. (2008). Teaching pronunciation using the prosody pyramid. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Lev-Ari, S., & Keysar, B.(2010). Why don’t we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 1093–1096.

Stern, D. (2007). The sound and style of American English [3rd ed., CD]. Lyndonville, VT: Dialect Accent Specialists.

Shannon Mattern is from Denver, Colorado, and has worked on diverse English for occupational purposes (EOP) projects. She is particularly interested in accent modification in the context of EOP. Shannon holds a BA in speech and hearing science and a, MA in English, linguistics and adult education.


Dafne Gonzalez

Rubena St. Louis

Finding or developing authentic materials in the field of English for specific purposes (ESP) has always been a challenge for classroom practitioners who are often faced with a scarcity of authentic input for their students. Advances in the area of technology have not only changed the way in which we live and perceive the world, but also given us access to content that was previously unavailable. Moreover, this new century has seen a number of communication tools with the potential to bring content into the classroom in a more dynamic and meaningful way in several formats that allow teachers to cater to students different learning styles (Gonzalez, 2006).

In this article, we describe a number of web applications that will enable classroom teachers to develop their own tailored ESP materials that could be used in either blended or fully online courses to develop vocabulary and practice the listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills needed to communicate effectively in today’s world.

The following applications, which are user-friendly and aimed at promoting learning and interaction with the language, will be a good start for those teachers who have had little experience with web-based tools. These programs will be beneficial especially for vocabulary acquisition in ESP, in which the meaning of words may change depending on the special content area. This is only a small sample of the many applications available on the web.

Word Dynamo is a free application that creates interactive exercises, such as matching, crosswords, listening and flash cards, using word lists created by both teachers and students. These lists can also be shared with others, giving students an added opportunity to expand their vocabulary in the specific field.

Quizzlet, a free tool, allows users to create interactive flash cards to study, practice, and test vocabulary. A text-to-speech application helps learners with the pronunciation and spelling of words and phrases.

Although many written texts can be found on the Internet for the teaching of ESP, fewer resources are aimed at increasing learners’ contact with the spoken language. In this case, text-to-speech tools such as HelloSlide and Voki can be used to convert written texts to speech and so allow students to improve their listening comprehension skills. This is especially useful in EFL contexts where native speakers are not always available.

Another challenge facing both teachers and students in an EFL ESP context is a lack of sufficient opportunities for oral practice in the classroom. This may be due in part to a reduced number of teaching hours and large classrooms. Web-based audio resources such as ChirbitandAudioboo can increase the number of contact hours with the language by allowing students to record and share audio files with teachers and classmates via computers or smartphones. MP3 Skype Recorderis another application that allows all parties in an online Skype conversation to be recorded in MP3 format. These tools allow teachers to hear, evaluate, and send constructive feedback to students whose progress can also be charted through the saved audio files. On occasions where the use of videos are required, students can gain experience through the use of Eyejot,which allows users to create, send, and receive video messages, without any program installation, on computers or mobile devices or directly to their social network. This type of program facilitates the reading of body language, which is an important aspect of human interaction and communication, and promotes discussion through the exchange of video messages. Applications of this kind are especially useful in areas where there is limited Internet access but extensive mobile communication. Finally, discussions on topics related to the students specific field of study can be made available through the use of voice forums such as VoxOpop. Experts in the area can be invited to give a short talk, and students will then have the opportunity to share their opinions and views on the topic. This type of voice forum also allows learners to actively listen to other speakers of the language and helps sharpen their listening comprehension skills. In an ESP context, these audio and video tools will permit teachers and students to create authentic tasks in their given content area, such as solving problems over the phone, having conversation with international colleagues, or taking part in video exchanges, and allow students to complete these using the target-specific lexical items.

Reading has traditionally been the skill most ESP practitioners tend to teach and to evaluate using methods such as multiple-choice questions and true/false statements. However, students need to develop the high-level cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation required to become competent readers (Singhal, 2004). This can be achieved through the use of graphic organizers such as Gliffy,,and These applications facilitate the brainstorming of ideas and the synthesis of information through mind mapping. They can also be used as input for writing by allowing students to obtain and evaluate information from the text and then transform and communicate the message in their own words.

There are also applications such as Educaplay and LearningApps that allow teachers and students to create a number of different interactive learning activities that cater to different learning styles in one site and share these with an online community. Among the activities that can be created are drag-and-drop exercises, word games such as crosswords and Hangman, matching and memory games, illustrated quizzes, collaborative writing spaces, and dictations, among others. These activities can not only be content specific, but can also promote learner autonomy by allowing students to return to the material when they so desire and for as long as they want (Gonzalez & St. Louis, 2012).

Finally, all of the activities created with the tools described in this article can be housed using platforms like Edmodo, wikis, and blogs, where image and document files, videos, links, and different applications can be embedded and made available online to students. An ESP course can be created, nourished by input from students and content specialists, and easily updated over time, thus permitting content and the learner to interact through technology (Butler-Pascoe, 2009) in order to create an authentic, self-contained learning environment. Unlike static media (books), technology can also allow students to show what they have learned and are able to produce in the target language using different media (text, graphics, video, images, and podcasts) through interactive and visually attractive posters such as Glogster,which can be used as a learning portfolio. Teachers can also use this medium for students to develop specific interactive projects in their field.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the increasing use of the Internet has been persistently pushing back frontiers and thus enabling us to become participants of a global community. This opening of frontiers is also reflected in the amount of specialized information available through online magazines and journals, conferences, interviews, and news reports, to name a few. ESP practitioners should take advantage of these authentic resources that were previously so difficult to obtain and maximize their potential as learning materials. This gap between the authentic material available and ESP students eager to learn more about their content area can be bridged through the use of technology that is increasingly been used daily by students worldwide. ESP practitioners should not shy away from using the Web 2.0 applications that would help create authentic scenarios where students can use the specialized language needed to communicate in their fields.


Butler-Pascoe, M. E. (2009, June). English for specific purposes (ESP), innovation and technology. English Education and ESP, pp. 1–15.

Gonzalez, D. (2006). Using synchronous communication collaboratively in ESP. In E. Hanson-Smith & S. Rilling (Eds.), Learning languages through technology (pp. 11–24). Alexandria: VA: TESOL.

Gonzalez, D., & St. Louis, R. (2012). Promoting learner autonomy with web 2.0 tools. In C. J. Everhard, J. Mynard, & R. Smith (Eds.), Autonomy in language learning: Opening a can of worms (pp. 238–247). Canterbury, England: IATEFL.

Singhal, M. (2004). Academic writing and generation 1.5: Pedagogical goals and instructional issues in the college composition classroom. The Reading Matrix, 4(3).

Dafne Gonzalez is a full professor at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela, and has been an ESP/EFL teacher for more than 30 years. Since 2002, she has been designing and teaching blended and fully online courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Rubena St. Louis is a senior lecturer at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela. She has been teaching ESP for more than 15 years and designing web-based materials since 2002.



This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 23520736.

English is the official language of many international conventions for researchers, professionals, and academics. In this article, based on semistructured interviews with first-time Japanese participants in an international convention on dietetics, I explore the experiences and English language needs of junior researchers and present suggestions for teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) for international conventions. This study is a part of the project “ESP for Intercultural-Minded Dietitians: Needs Analysis and Materials Development” by the scientific research fund of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan.

ESP in Japanese Higher Education

As Japan is an English as a foreign language (EFL) country, various genres of ESP, such as medical science, engineering, and business, have been studied there, and many case studies on ESP in Japanese higher education have been reported. 21 seikikino ESP (Terauchi, Yamauchi, Noguchi, & Sasajima, 2010), coauthored by ESP practitioners in Japanese higher education, compiles the results of these studies, covering almost all the ESP genres that have been taught in Japan. However, this publication is written in Japanese, and to date, no English translation has been made; thus, it is difficult for non-Japanese ESP practitioners to access the information it contains. In addition, the majority of decision makers in foreign language education, including EFL education, in Japan are Japanese. Native-English-speaking teachers are sometimes marginalized in the process of decision making for ESP program designs.

Although universities in other Asian nations such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia designate English as the language of instruction, higher education courses in Japan are held in Japanese. EFL classes have historically been taught in Japanese by Japanese English professors, except in cases in which such professors were familiar and comfortable with the Direct Method.

Generally, Japanese undergraduate students use textbooks written or translated into Japanese. Yet if they advance to graduate school and enter academia, they are often expected to participate in international arenas, regardless of their English proficiency. This can be problematic in that except for some research-oriented universities, institutions do not typically provide adequate ESP programs in graduate courses, leaving researchers to learn ESP through their own independent efforts.

Method and Results


The 16th International Congress of Dietetics, the largest academic event for dietitians, was held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre September 5–8, 2012. As in the case of other worldwide conventions, participants had to follow the (English) instructions on the website to register, book workshops and accommodations, and make inquiries.


The three participants (R1, R2, R3) in this study were Japanese women attending their first international convention. They were nationally registered dietitians who belonged to the same university. Each gave her own poster presentation at the convention. The participants all had previous experience giving poster presentations in Japanese at several conventions in Japan and felt confident in their ability to give a poster presentation in their native language. However, this was the first time they had attended or presented at an international convention, and it was also their first visit to Australia. None of them used English on a daily basis in their personal lives, but they read articles in English for their studies. Table 1 summarizes the participant characteristics.

Table 1. Participant Characteristics




Overseas experience




Associate professor

1 year research in the United States and several tourist visits





Several tourist visits to the United States






Before Departure

Twelve months before the convention. From September to October 2011, I conducted individual interviews to build a rapport with the participants and explain my research aims.

One month before the convention. I held an individual interview with R1 and a group interview with R2 and R3, with the presence of another researcher who worked in the same department and had several experiences in international conventions. None of the participants had created their posters yet because of their busy schedules.

During the Convention

Observation at the venue. I observed the participants during their designated sessions at the convention. Because of the large venue, most audience members looked at the posters but did not discuss the contents with the presenters.

One Month After the Convention: Interviews

[Question 1] How do you rate your performance on a scale of 1 to 10? Provide justification.


7. I was able to communicate, but it was not enough. I couldn’t collect new information.


7. I got my research into shape.


3. I was not able to follow the English.

[Question 2] What was the worst trouble you faced?


I came down with a cold. I asked for table salt at the hotel front desk and gargled with it. Without English speaking skill, I couldn’t have done that.


I had difficulty registering on the website in English.


I had difficulty registering on the website and communicating through email in English. I had no idea where to look for information on the website. I had no idea how to skim for information in the program booklet.

[Question 3] How many people did you talk to during the poster session?


I spoke with 4 Japanese attendees in Japanese and around 16 non-Japanese speakers in English. I was able to talk about topics that I had questions about. Without my 1-year research leave, I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to ask them.


I didn’t speak with any participants. Instead, I avoided them, as I’d had no time to proofread the presentation or practice it.

R3 (same as R2)

I didn’t speak with any participants. Instead, I avoided them, as I’d had no time to proofread the presentation or practice it.

[Question 4] Did you attend oral presentations or workshops given by other researchers?


I attended a presentation given by another Japanese researcher. I had planned to participate in workshops before my departure, but I needed to stay in my hotel room because I was sick.


I attended an oral presentation given by another Japanese participant (different from the presentation R1 attended). The presenter just read the text aloud and didn’t interact with the audience. The presentation inspired me, but at the same time, I think it might be hard for someone who hasn’t studied abroad to give an oral presentation [in English]. I had no time to prepare for my presentation, but I won’t change it for next time.


I didn’t attend any presentations.

[Question 5] Did the convention affect your way of thinking in any way?


Presentations in international conventions provide not only researchers themselves but also universities with good opportunities to convey information to an international audience. Now, I’m thinking about participating in the future convention in Taiwan.


Without reflecting on the presentation, I have returned to my usual busy schedule.


Now I’m interested in traveling abroad, and not just for conventions.

[Question 6] Do you have any comments on English education for junior researchers?


To attend international conventions, it is necessary to have English reading skills to understand poster presentations and listening skills to keep up with oral presentations. Knowledge of the concept of paragraph writing in English articles might be helpful to skim for information.


English conversation skills and reading skills to understand English articles are important.


Listening skills are very important for attending international conventions. Survival English is also necessary. Before attending a convention, it would be helpful to read or listen to English lectures online, read and write emails in English, and know travel vocabulary. It might be good to simulate presentations with anticipated questions for poster presentations.


The interviews with the three junior researchers suggest that overseas experience and a career in academia may affect their confidence, anxiety, and avoidance in communication at international conventions. Because this study was limited to three researchers from one university department, further detailed studies should be conducted to support the results.

English is the common language of global researchers, so ESP for international conventions should be introduced into Japanese university course offerings, in collaboration with subject specialist teachers. This study clarified that international conference participants, as presenters, audience members, and travelers, have unmet needs regarding English language use. Compared to students, researchers have specific goals for studying English (e.g., registering for conventions, exchanging research information, communicating during travel), and their motivation to learn is rather high. At the same time, however, they often lack sufficient time for preparation; therefore, ESP programs for international conventions should be designed to run efficiently so as to teach as much as possible in a limited amount of time.


Terauchi, T., Yamauchi, H., Noguchi, J., & Sasajima, S. (Eds.). (2010). 21 seikikino ESP: ESP in the 21st century: ESP theory and application today. Tokyo, Japan: Taishukan.

Akiko Tsuda is a full-time lecturer at Nakamura Gakuen University, in Japan, and has obtained a master’s degree in education (TESOL) from Temple University and an MA and PhD in social and cultural studies from Kyushu University. Her research interests include curriculum development, ESP/EAP, and intercultural communication.


Although specialised English courses are on the increase, experts crossing over into English language teaching (ELT) from the fields of law, finance, and medicine are few and far between. As a result, responsibility for providing ESP courses is just as likely to fall to a recent CELTA graduate as it is to a trainer experienced in the particular field. Hailing traditionally from a humanities background, many trainers lack knowledge of the financial, scientific, or engineering sectors in which learners work.In the relative absence of teacher training in ESP, this article seeks to demonstrate the extent to which ESP coursebooks can provide valuable support to novice trainers.

Despite the increased demand for ESP trainers, Hüttner, Smit, and Mehlmauer-Larcher(2009) bemoan the lack of preservice training, a scenario that is repeated across Europe and beyond—in Pakistan 66% practitioners receive no formal ESP training (Maimoona & Shah, 2012). With 12,000 graduates a year worldwide, the CELTA represents one of the main ports of entry into ELT. Yet with little if any reference to ESP in this preservice programme, to what extent are recent CELTA graduates actually equipped to deal with adult learners? It is not unusual for them to find a mismatch between the conditions of their training and reality. However, finding oneself at the proverbial deep end, teaching a vocational course in nursing or a group of IT specialists just weeks after graduation, presents a slightly more complex challenge. One might argue that ESP training demands additional training compared to general English and in many instances (medical or aviation, in particular) the level of responsibility assigned to ESP trainers goes far beyond that of the general English teacher. This perspective alone leaves us questioning the current status quo; a sentiment shared by Hutchinson and Waters, who are concerned that despite the scale of what they call the ESP revolution, little seems to have been done to retrain teachers.

The impact is all too familiar. Grappling with content and terminology, new trainers are often wary of the ESP classroom and its occupants. Maimoona and Shah (2012) note that the lack of specialised training often results in ESP trainers relying on their own intuition. Needless to say, the potential implications for certain fields are considerable—and the possible outcome fatal.

Arguably the most daunting aspect of ESP is the perceived sense of powerlessness; the realisation that the learners are more knowledgeable of the “carrier content” than the trainer. Coupled with this is the learners’ own expectation of the trainer. Lacking the assurance that invariably comes with experience, not to mention unfamiliarity with the subject content, the novice may find adopting the role of facilitator in the ESP context as opposed to controller particularly challenging.

However, the lack of content knowledge is only one side of the coin. Few CELTA graduates possess the necessary skills for developing principled materials. Estaban, (2002), through his work in ESP coursebook design, goes so far as to suggest that tailoring ESP materials is a major risk for those not expert in materials production. Collaboration with content experts, notably in higher education, should be encouraged. Alas, this is not always feasible, and rare are companies that will allow trainers to observe learners’ professional environment prior to designing a course. Further impacting the situation is the number of disciplines covered. Trainers in France, for example, might be required to teach professionals from four or five different sectors at a time.

So how might CELTA graduates go about compensating for their predicament? The most logical course of action is to reach for the nearest coursebook. Although criticism is often leveled at commercially produced coursebooks, I would venture that the ESP coursebook offers an essential link between newly qualified trainer and learner.

ESP titles provide an informed reference on which to build a specialised language course. Often set against the Common European Framework, they offer course credibility and accountability as well as a certain degree of consistency and quality control. In addition, given that few ESP trainers are granted adequate time for class preparation, coursebooks also provide a time-efficient and cost-effective means of delivery.

Although learners may not expect trainers to be expert in their particular field, they will have more confidence in one who possesses an understanding of the relevant concepts. Input from content experts is therefore essential in ensuring validity. A recent move towards a more principled approach to the design of ESP coursebooks has resulted in collaborations with experts and practitioners—the Cambridge English for . . . series and Pearson’s Vocational English series. Other titles have been reviewed by content specialists: Good Practice: Communication for Medical Practitioners, a course in the development of doctor-patient communication skills, was reviewed by Jonathan Silverman, expert in medical communications. Major publishers now produce ESP coursebooks that seek to replicate real-world tasks and methodology from the field, employing frameworks and incorporating activities specific to a particular domain.These not only more closely reflect the working environment, but also provide greater opportunities for learners to draw on their own professional and personal experience. The focus is placed on achieving outcomes as opposed to linguistic accuracy.

Frendo (2010) and Hüttner et al (2009) agree that learners—pre or in-work—are not always conversant in the discourse of their professional community, even in the L1. Frendo alsopoints out that “in ESP the teacher is rarely a member of the target discourse community.” Increasingly, publishers are developing corpus-driven coursebooks or at the very least making use of authentic materials. Dudley-Evans and St John (2005)warn of the likely risk of misinterpretation should teachers be allowed to develop their own authentic materials. By incorporating authentic texts, publishers aim to facilitate learners’ transition into the professional environment as opposed to making it up as they go along. From a lexical perspective, therefore, the coursebook serves to introduce the trainer to the learners’ community of practice—to their spoken and written discourse needs—be they technical, subtechnical, nontechnical, general, or even colloquial. Having tackled the basics via the coursebook, such discourse needs can then be further developed according to the specifics of the learners’ context.

Although very often function based, ESP coursebooks do take grammar into account. They tend to prioritise performance over accuracy, considering not only structures that are key to carrying out professional tasks, but also the order in which they are taught. Critical in providing an accurate diagnosis, triage nurses need to grasp early on the difference between the past tenses. Equally important is an understanding of the rationale behind the inclusion of a particular structure. A teachers’ guide for a nursing course explains that use of the structure going to for carrying out a particular procedure (e.g., taking a blood sample) keeps patients informed and prepares them psychologically for what is about to happen, which in turn helps maintain patient dignity.

The ESP coursebook also provides guidance to trainers in terms of generic business skills (meetings, presentations, telephone). Although common to many professions, the exact nature of a presentation, for example, can differ greatly and as such has implications for language training. Scientific conference presenters may be required to speak for only 15 minutes (10 minutes of content, 5 minutes of Q&A), which naturally has a bearing on the style and format of the presentation. With little time for rhetorical questions and anecdotes, the content tends to be delivered in a more formulaic, factual manner. The medium may also differ; indeed the poster presentation has now become the norm in the scientific community.

ESP coursebooks and accompanying teachers’ guides bring the CELTA graduate closer to the real world of the learner, offering an insight into the professional culture and its values, the mind-set, even the preferred learning style of the particular target group. They also introduce trainers to industry-specific exams (e.g., ILEC) as well as third parties (e.g., patients, clients, defendants) who may in fact represent the ultimatebeneficiaries of the training. Trainers’ guides then take the graduate one step further by offering background information, technical explanations, and additional resources. Trainers, novice or otherwise, cannot hope to penetrate the learner’s discourse community without the wealth of knowledge imparted through the ESP coursebook.

Belcher (2004) notes the extreme burden placed on ESP practitioners in terms of coping with often unfamiliar subject matter, and Westerfield (2012) calls for action on the part of governments and businesses to provide investment for ESP, citing the need for specialised teacher training in syllabus and materials design. In the meantime, ESP coursebooks play a vital role in empowering recent CELTA graduates, developing them professionally, easing them gently into their future role as collaborator, and in turn facilitating the learning process in the ESP context. ESP coursebooks don’t just provide novice trainers with subject content, they also serve as an important lifeline, allaying fears and building confidence, helping ensure that graduates are truly work-ready and able to deal successfully with the genuinerealities of the adult learner classroom.


Belcher, D. B. (2004). Trends in teaching English for specific purposes. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 165–186.

Dudley-Evans, T., and St. John, M., (1998) Developments in ESP: A Multi-disciplinary Approach, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Esteban, A. (2002) How Useful are ESP Textbooks?, Odisea, N°2

Frendo, E. (2010, November 30). Business English, ESP and Dogme [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Hutchinson, T. and A. Waters (2008) English for Specific Purposes, Cambridge University Press

Hüttner, J. U., Smit, B., & Mehlmauer-Larcher, B. (2009). ESP teacher education at the interface of theory and practice: Introducing a model of mediated corpus-based genre analysis. System, 37, 99–109.

Maimoona, A., & Shah, S. K. (2012). Change from a general English teacher to an ESP practitioner: Issues and challenges in Pakistan. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 4(1).

Westerfield, K. (2012). The micro and macroeconomic impact of ESP. Lower Mekong Initiative ESP Symposium.

Ros Wright is a freelance coursebook writer and teacher trainer specialising in English for medical purposes. Passionate about the important role of materials in ESP, she holds an MA in applied linguistics and materials development and is also tutor of the module How to Write ESP Materials for


In a seminal article titled “ESP: The Textbook Problem,” John Swales (1980) wrote that “ESP textbooks have been in many respects an educational failure” (p. 11). Yet despite this, ESP textbooks have developed and have continued to be published in ever-growing numbers. In this article I explore the perspectives of three groups of key stakeholders in ESP—publishers, users, and researchers—and examine just how much textbooks matter to the people in these groups.

But before we start, we should take a quick look at roughly how many ESP titles are currently available, just to get an idea. This is not a simple task, because it is not easy to decide what to include and what to leave out. If we follow McDonough (2010) and focus only on ESP, as opposed to business English and English for academic purposes (EAP), and take a glance through the major international publishers’ ELT catalogues, we get something like the list in Table 1. The picture is blurred by the fact that some publishers make clear distinctions between ESP, business English, and EAP, whereas others do not. In addition, some topics, such as marketing, can be seen as a subset of business English. There is no clear definition of what is and is not an ESP textbook, so the list can appear somewhat arbitrary. But it gives an idea of what is out there.

Table 1. Publishers’ Current ESP Titles


Current ESP titles

Cambridge University Press

Professional English in Use series: engineering, finance, ICT, law, management, marketing, medicine

Cambridge English for . . .series: engineering, human resources, job-hunting, marketing, nursing, scientists, the media

Other titles: Flightpath: Aviation English for Pilots and ATCOs, Be My Guest, Contact US!, English for the Financial Sector, English in Medicine, Good Practice, Infotech, Safe Sailing, Welcome!

Delta Publishing

Absolute series: financial English, legal English

Express Publishing

Career Paths series: command and control, hotels and catering, information technology, tourism, law, air force, engineering, accounting, police, beauty salon, nursing, secretarial, banking, agriculture, navy, medical, mechanics, construction—buildings, plumbing, finance, petroleum, civil aviation, sports

Garnet Education

English for Global Industries Oil and Gas, English for the Energy Industries Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals, Technical English, Safety First, Take-off Technical English for Engineering


Professional English series: health sciences, humanities,science and engineering

Other titles: Technical English, US Citizen Yes, Financial English, Energy English, English for Cabin Crew


Aviation English, Check Your Aviation English, International English for Call Centres, English for Law Enforcement, Campaign English for the Military


Vocational English series: banking and finance, construction, information technology, nursing, oil industry

Other titles: Tourism: English for International Tourism, English for Tourism: Ready to Order, English for Work: Everyday Technical English, Technical English, Test Your Professional English: Law, Finance, Medical, Hotel and Catering, Accounting

Oxford University Press

Express series: aviation, automobile industry, energy industry, logistics, telecoms and information technology, cabin crew, pharmaceutical industry, fashion industry, customer care, accounting, human resources, legal professionals, marketing and advertising, sales and purchasing, football

English for Careers series: commerce, engineering, finance, medicine, nursing, oil and gas, technology, tourism

Other titles: Tech Talk, Highly Recommended

A list like this suggests to me that ESP textbooks clearly do matter, at least in the publishing world. There are nearly a hundred titles in the list, and I have only selected a few publishers. And I have not clarified which of the titles are offered at different language levels; some, like Pearson’s Technical English, have up to four levels. It seems clear that these books have been produced because the publishers believe they will sell. They also matter to the individuals who have been involved in their production, from editors to artists to project managers and so on. Successful books tend to have career benefits. And for authors there are royalties as well as professional reputation. No one in ESP has ever had a career harmed by the publishing of too many textbooks.

The second group to consider is the users of the textbooks—in other words, education authorities, schools, teachers, learners, and so on. Presumably these are the people who are buying the titles in the list, but it is difficult to say exactly how many they buy; publishers tend to keep sales figures close to their chests. It is probable that some books, such as Pearson’s Tech Talk, will reach a much wider audience than more niche products like English for Football, but it is hard to predict with any certainty. And sales do not necessarily point to usage. I am sure many of the readers of this article own ESP textbooks which they have never used with students—I know I do.

Why do people buy ESP textbooks? There are many possible reasons for this, but three in particular are worth emphasizing in an ESP context. First of all, there is the issue of access to the specialist genres and language. For many teachers and learners textbooks offer valuable insights into the communities of practice and discourse communities which the learner needs to operate in, and in some instances it is the only practical way to gain these insights. Few practitioners ever get the chance to observe their learners in the real world. Second, there is the question of time. Even when the teacher has access to the target discourse community, developing appropriate materials can be extremely time-consuming. Adapting written texts is hard enough, but working with spoken data can often turn into something like a full-time job. ESP textbooks help to solve this problem. And third, there is the issue of expertise. Producing good ESP materials requires certain skills, such as the ability to analyse corpora and genres, and the ability to develop pedagogically effective materials. It is easy to produce dull worksheets from authentic material, as countless teachers and learners will no doubt attest, but it is less easy to produce materials which function well in a classroom.

The third group of people on my list are ESP researchers and academics. Interestingly, this appears to be a group for whom textbooks do not matter that much. If we use the ESP literature as a guideline, we find that it abounds with descriptions of course design and materials development, studies of genre and discipline-specific lexis, and different types of learning activities, but it rarely touches on the use and adaptation of published materials. Even Paltridge and Starfield’s (2013) text, which contains 577 pages on ESP, only devotes a handful of pages to the topic of published ESP textbooks. The most recent survey on ESP textbooks I could find in the literature was by McDonough (2010). And the journal in question was English Language Teaching Journal, not ESP journal, which I found quite telling.

Occasionally there are articles about how ESP textbooks might be improved (e.g., Chan, 2009) and textbook reviews, but even these are not common, and they certainly do not cover all the ESP titles that are published. Perhaps there is a gap between what ESP researchers working in an academic context feel about ESP textbooks and the practitioners in classrooms who are inevitably under time and resource pressure. The irony, of course, is that many researchers also teach ESP. And it is worth remembering that many textbooks are produced very quickly, with little time for serious research into the specific genres and specialist language that a target group might need. Even piloting can be neglected in favour of comments by experienced readers and advisors. Publishing is inevitably a compromise. One notable exception has recently appeared in business English: The back cover blurb on Business Advantage (Handford, Lisboa, Koester, & Pitt, 2011) states that it is “the first business course to benefit from a spoken business English corpus, further guaranteeing that the language learnt is both natural and up-to-date.” I do not know of any published ESP title that can make a similar claim.

So ESP textbooks do matter. But as we have seen, perhaps not to everybody in ESP, and certainly not in equal measure. The picture is certainly changing as textbooks in their traditional form are challenged by other forms of content delivery. E-books, for example, have the advantage that they can include links to other content. Platforms like English 360 allow the practitioner to adapt published textbooks to suit a particular class. Companies such as can produce virtual worlds which allow the student to get ever closer to the target environment. And the abundance of audio and video content now available on the Internet gives the materials developer ever more options. It may be that in a few years ESP textbooks, at least in their current form, will not matter at all.


Chan, C. S. C. (2009). Thinking out of the textbook: Toward authenticity and politeness awareness. In L. Savova (Ed.), Using textbooks effectively (pp. 9–20). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Handford, M., Lisboa, M., Koester, A., & Pitt, A. (2011). Business advantage: Student’s book upper intermediate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

McDonough, J. (2010). English for specific purposes: A survey review of current materials. English Language Teaching Journal, 64, 462–477.

Paltridge, B., & Starfield, S. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of English for specific purposes. Boston, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Swales, J. (1980). ESP: The textbook problem. English for Specific Purposes, 1(1), 11–23.

Evan Frendo has been involved in ESP for nearly 20 years as a teacher, teacher trainer, and materials developer. Five of the titles listed in this article were authored or coauthored by him.


“Your language proficiency is poor? Join the intensive English program (IEP).” This is what some people presume to be the solution. What if a student is in the postgraduate program preparing to write his or her thesis and suddenly recognizes that he or she needs to pass an English exam. Is the English for specific purposes (ESP) course a feasible solution, or an IEP course a possible replacement? Beirut Arab University (BAU), one of the biggest Lebanese private universities, has never offered any ESP course in any of its 132 majors since it was established in 1960. The two situations that BAU experienced lately made the administration explore the possibility of offering ESP courses and making them a mandatory requirement in a number of majors.

The first experience was handling Arab students’ problems in the Faculty of Arts. Many Arab students continue their postgraduate studies in the Faculty to get a degree in history, geography, or law. Those students admit that their English language proficiency is very poor because all their studies in countries, such as Iraq, had been in Arabic, and foreign languages, such as English, were not taken seriously by the system or schools. On the other hand, when BAU faculty know this sad fact, they allow lecturers to deliver most of the lectures and classroom discussions in Arabic although the university policy states that English is the medium of instruction. As a result, those students face an obstacle when they finish the degree course requirements. They are allowed to submit their articles in English, but they have to take an English exam, without which they cannot register their Arabic-language theses. It is then that those students envision the solution:

  1. In a very short period of time between finishing the course requirements and writing the thesis, what can they do to improve their language proficiency to pass the exam? It will take at least a year of intensive English for a student to be able to take a general English test. Whereas, if an ESP course is offered, students will be more prepared for their majors, will understand all the terms relevant to those majors, and will use their language more responsibly after they graduate; to them, nothing is more authentic, focused, and relevant to their major than a test built on the ESP course.
  2. Why should instructors forgive students’ poor English during the courses and explain in Arabic instead of giving an assessment test as early as the students register in the program, assigning the required courses, explaining the material in English then giving the exam?

BAU decision makers should explore the feasibility of those solutions.

The second experience took place in 2012, when a visitor from Johns Hopkins University came to BAU to give a lecture to students in the Business Department. In the middle of his presentation, the speaker observed that students were not on the same wavelength. Trying to investigate the reason, he learned that students preferred that the presentation be in Arabic. Frustrated, the visitor went to the president of the university, reported the situation, explained that ESP courses were essential in all majors, and volunteered to (a) discuss the issue with the people involved and (b) offer a copy of his book, the objectives of which he had set, and the material written by an expert material writer.

At BAU, unlike what the name suggests, English, not Arabic, is the medium of instruction. And instead of bending the rules to accommodate students from neighbouring countries tentatively, the university should study carefully what courses to offer so students from Lebanon as well as from outside would receive quality education and in turn guarantee better career chances. It is never too late! In 2012, BAU decided to consider ESP courses seriously, thanks go to the visiting professor and the BAU president’s openness to positive change. What will follow is a very strict measure: Instructors will be obliged to use proper English in classes, not English terms without good structure (which might be found in the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry), and never use Arabic except in Arabic subjects.

Nahida El Assi Farhat is an associate professor, a researcher, program developer, materials writer, thesis supervisor, and the owner of ELSL Training and Consultation Company. She has a good record of conference presentations in the Middle East, Far East, Europe, and the United States. She is a TESOL member interested in intercultural communication.



Kristin Ekkens and Evan Frendo, our EOS representatives, will moderate a discussion via in January 2013. The title is The Face of the Profession?


ESP covers a wide range of perspectives and teaching contexts reflected in the literature familiar to ESP practitioners working in academic contexts and belonging to a strong community of professionals.

Yet there are a growing numbers of ESP practitioners worldwide who are working in contexts such as private language schools or onsite in workplace settings, blissfully unaware of ESP writing, research, and professional organizations like TESOL or IATEFL. Members of this group may not even have a TESL certificate or degree.

Still, many are successful at what they do, and for many learners worldwide, these teachers are the face of the profession.

In a wide-ranging and candid discussion, TESOL’s ESP-IS wants to explore the apparent disconnect between the established side of ESP, with its literature, its conferences, and its academic focus, and the many practitioners who are teaching in small language schools or in workplace settings. Are we describing two very different worlds? Does this disconnect really exist? And if it does, what can be done to close the gap?

We will welcome your voice to the discussion. Details will be coming soon via the e-list.



Statement of Purpose/Goals

The English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESP-IS) is open to TESOL members who are interested in research and instruction designed to meet the unique English language needs of students and working adults in specific areas of study and employment by providing special training beyond that which is normally acquired by the average English speaker. The ESP-IS fosters the sharing of ideas, expertise, and specialized curricula among ESP practitioners to promote quality research, education, and professional development in ESP.


ESP has long been an international movement with great strengths in research and teaching in many parts of the world, including developing countries. Establishing the ESP-IS both indicates and validates TESOL's commitment to its international responsibilities.

Daphne Mackey, Kay Westerfield, and Adrian Pilbeam initiated the work to establish an ESP-IS at the 1990 TESOL convention in New York. Meetings were well attended by participants interested in promoting the international sharing of ESP experience and expertise.

The proposed IS was given proposals to review for the 1992 TESOL convention in Vancouver and was allotted slots for presentations and discussion groups. The petition to recognize the ESP-IS was overwhelmingly approved by the Interest Section Council in Vancouver and was ratified by the Executive Board shortly thereafter. Kay Westerfield was appointed chair (1992–1993), with Laraine Kaminsky as chair-elect. Mary McSwain and Roberta Rettner became the first editors of TESOL ESP News, and Peter Master, the first editor of the TESOL Matters ESP column. In fall 1992, the IS was also awarded its first TESOL Special Projects Grant, submitted by Angela Castro with IS support, to establish the Directory of ESP Professional Services. Today, the ESP-IS enjoys active participation from an ever-increasing membership and continually explores better ways to serve ESP professionals in more efficient and effective ways.


Current (2012–2013) ESP-IS Steering Committee Members

Chair: Dr. Najma Janjua (Japan)

Chair-Elect: Dr. Yinghuei Chen (Taiwan)

Immediate Past Chair: Kevin Knight (Japan)

Secretary/Archivist: Ethel C. Swartley (USA)

ESP in Academic Settings (EAS) Representatives: Susan Barone (USA) and Marvin Hoffland (Austria)

ESP in Occupational Settings (EOS) Representatives: Kristin Ekkens (USA) and Evan Frendo (Germany)

Community Manager: Debra S. Lee (USA)

Newsletter Editors: David Kertzner (USA) and Robert Connor (USA)

Members-at-Large: Mark Krzanowski (UK) and Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan (Oman)

Discussion E-List: Visit to subscribe to the ESP-IS, the discussion list for ESP-IS members.