At Universidad de Occidente in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico every student is required to study General English - Mexican students introduction. It doesn’t matter if they are engineering or Spanish language students. All undergraduate students must take five quarters of GE (General English) within their first one and a half years of studies. It will also be instructive to note that English is neither the national language nor the language for instruction in this university.
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English lectures are taken by groups of students who belong to the same discipline. This means that one teacher teaches a group of Civil Engineering students, another teaches a group of Law students and so on. On these grounds, it can be said that the study groups are homogeneous.
The main textbook for this study is a General Purpose English Course Book. The goal of academic authorities seems unclear as the course book is taught at the tutor’s discretion. There is no clear syllabus or modular objectives. Furthermore, in academic meetings these authorities have expressed ambiguous expectations regarding the subject. One expectation, though, seems to be highlighted during most of these academic meetings. It is mainly that, at the end of the English studies, learners should be able to understand English written texts related to their subject field (this could be a research paper from the internet).
Students have expressed their dissatisfaction and have a negative attitude towards the current approach to English language study, arguing that it would be more effective if the content were related to their subject matter. The current approach is the teaching of general English. Students have clearly shown a preference for ESP (English for special purposes).
Understanding ESP (English for special purposes)
Tricia Hedge (2000, p. 46) refers to the field of ESP as a field developed to meet the professional or academic needs of English language. Hutchinson and waters (1991, p.53) define ESP as an approach to course design that starts with the question ‘Why do these learners need to learn English?’ According to these authors ‘awareness of the need’ is then what distinguishes ESP from general English (Ibid). Robinson (1991, pp.2-3) says that there are many types of ESP, but that the major distinction is between English for academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP). According to this author EAP relates to academic study needs, and EOP, to those involving needs of work and training. On the other hand, Hutchinson and Waters (1991,pp.16-17) explain that there are two main types of ESP: one is EAP and the other type is broken into English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) / English for Vocational Purposes (EVP) / Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL). These two categories of ESP are differentiated by the needs of the learner. EAP refers to learners requiring English for academic studies; and EOP/EVP/VESL, when the learner requires English for work and/or training. Due to the characteristics of our context, we will be addressing only EAP/ESP.
Dudley-Evans & St. John (1998, p. 4) remark three absolute characteristics of ESP in their definition:
1. ESP is designed to meet specific needs of the learner;
2. ESP makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the disciplines it serves;
3. ESP is centred on the language (grammar, lexis, register ), skills, discourse and genres appropriate to these activities.
According to Strevens as cited by Watson (2003); Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998), the term ‘needs’ seems to be pondered as a basic and important feature of EAP:
Perhaps the most obvious differentiation characteristic of EAP is the needs of students and thus the content and goal of teaching. The raison d’entre of English for Specific Purposes, including EAP, is that teaching is designed to meet the specific needs of the students (Strevens,1988). In EAP, these needs, and thus the teaching, relate to a study purpose (Dudley-Evans & St. John. 1998), and EAP is largely founded on the fact that the English used to fulfill these needs stand in contrast to General English (Stevens,1988).
As said by Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, p.34), EAP ‘Refers to any English teaching that relates to a study purpose’. As a starting point to EAP, Jordan (1997, p.1) sustains that ‘EAP is concerned with those communication skills in English, which are required for study purposes in formal education systems’. Wiesen’s article (2000) may be a good example for Dudley-Evans and St. John’s (1998) fourth EAP teaching situation, In addition, Wiesen shows the benefits of an EAP course on a content-based unit; where learners, were expected to read and comprehend academic texts related to their disciplinary field by the end of their EAP course. Hyland and Hamp-Lyons’ article (2002) say that the field of EAP flourishes opening its way in Universities and in other formal settings throughout the last 25 years approximately, as an answer to the need of English reading comprehension of texts related to disciplinary fields. Ken Hyland (Interviewed by McDonough, 2005) reports how theoretical concepts like: ‘discourse community’ ‘literacy practices’ ‘contextual relevance’ which have stood out for a long time in EAP are influencing how general English is currently taught and his feelings regarding how EAP has advanced over the other branches of ESP and the role of EAP in the academic community.
The word “needs” comes across in most definitions of ESP. Regarding the term ‘need’, Lawson cited by Robinson (1990, p.7) says that, a need ‘is a matter for agreement and judgment not discovery’. Hutchinson and Waters (1981, pp.54-55) make a distinction between target needs and language needs. They (Ibid, pp.58-59) provide a framework to gather the information to analyze the target needs; this is the so-called ‘needs analysis’ basic schema. This framework is based on the following questions:
Why is the language needed?
How will the language be used?
What will the content areas be?
Who will the learner use the language with?
Where will the language be used?
A similar pattern is proposed (Ibid.p62-63) for analyzing learning needs:
Why are the learners taking the course?
How do learners learn?
What resources are available?
Who are the learners?
Where will the ESP course take place?
When will the ESP course take place?
Let us start with the first set of questions. In our context, it is needed to enable students understand materials related to their specific fields which are written in English language. They will use it mainly for assimilation of information. They are not concerned with its use in writing or speech. They will be concerned with it in the sourcing of more information. The content areas will be their specific disciplines. That is, their areas of study. The intent of the school is not to develop communication skills in English language but to access information. The language will be used online and other places where relevant materials in English language can be accessed.
Let us consider the second set. Why are the students learning this language? They are learning it to be able to access additional information related to their fields of study. They have developed learning skills along the lines of their various disciplines. They learn in their national language. They have abundant English materials that are in their specific areas of interest — Their field of study. Furthermore, they have enough English teachers considering that each lecture caters to students of the same discipline. The learners are Mexican residents who neither have English as their national language nor use it for general institutional communications. If adopted, the ESP classes will take place in the same venues as the current Genral English classes. And the classes will take place within their first one and a half years of studies.
What does this readily bring to view? A transition to ESP will be relatively painless. The only thing required being a readjustment of procedures and paradigms. This meets the needs of the students. However a change in methodology is imperative.According to Watson (2003), methodology in EAP needs to be taken into account with more attention and care.
Robinson (1991, p.4) declares:
In some cases, there is no absolute need for students to gain proficiency in English in order to cope with their, work, study; they will manage well enough(or even very well) in their own language. However, there may be an institutional (or even national) requirement to study English, usually because of the known role of English as an international language of communication, trade and research.
The university community should be well aware of ‘what’ they are studying English for, and ‘why’. Given the basic theory of ESP/EAP it is the best solution to the current situation.EAP/ESP starts with identifying and agreeing the needs; the goals of the university and the needs of the learners. EAP is more useful within the academic and research world as outlined in McDonough’s (2005) interview with Ken Hyland.
Universidad de Occidente requires that its students be able to read and comprehend English texts related to their disciplines in order to take advantage of large resources that they may not have access to otherwise. As seen in Hutchinson and Waters; EAP is a field for people whose purposes are academic. There would seem to be evidence to accommodate our particular case on Dudley-Evans and St. John’s fourth type of situation where EAP may be taught as the language spoken in the country is not English, neither the language of formal instruction.
Teaching General English to in-sessional university students at Universidad de Occidente, in Guasave, Sinaloa.Mexico, does not seem to be the appropriate, most suitable approach if the following are true ( And they are):
English is neither the lingua franca nor the language for instruction in our university.
The authorities are just concerned that the students be able to read and comprehend an English written text related to their disciplinary fields.
Learners seem to have a negative attitude in regards to the General English Language subject.
Groups of learners are homogeneous. They are divided by disciplines. This suggests that they should have the same interest. Content related to their fields is highly relevant for them as their main interest is completing studies in their various disciplines. EAP takes care of this since it uses content relevant to their studies in the teaching process.
We know that these in-sessional students at Universidad de Occidente can well achieve their academic purposes using only their national language, but that, having the skill of reading and comprehending English texts from the internet or from other sources, related to their fields, can be a very useful tool in their learning. Without making things more difficult than they should be, EAP will help them have this added advantage.
How do you get attention in a subject matter that is of no interest to your listeners?
Interest is unsatisfied curiousity. If you are not curious about a matter, you won’t have interest in it. If you don’t have an interest, you will not be motivated to study. Students begin to “cram” information in such cases just to pass the course.
Is study not meant to impact knowledge? If study is meant to impact knowledge, shouldn’t it be relevant knowledge? If the knowledge being impacted is relevant, shouldn’t it use the most effective and acceptable method? Shouldn’t it focus on the most relevant sections of such study? If this study is a means to an end (being able to read and understand discipline-specific materials in English language, shouldn’t it focus on that aspect or branch of study that focuses mainly on that?
What determines the process chosen? What determines the quality of any teaching process? Is the importance of the subject matter not an issue? Importance here is from the point of view of the students involved. What is important to the authorities might not be to the students. And since it is the students who will be involved in the process, won’t it be a good idea if they are actively involved in the process of choosing what’s important to them? After all, they are no longer pupils. When they were pupils they had no choice but to study whatever was given to them. And even then, their interest determined how well they performed.
Again, is the level of interest in the subject not an issue? If students have shown a preference for a specialized more focused variation of the general subject, will it be rational to maintain a contrary position that has met with more resistance than results?
Why should a student study a subject that does not give to her/him an advantage? Yes, a subject can give an advantage to a student without a student realizing. And even in that case, it affects her/his level of involvement. Students may be compelled to study a subject. They may even be compelled to pass a subject by making it a minimum requirement for graduation. what cannot be done, however, is force them to master the subject.
Students study better when it is relevant to their chosen discipline. Students study better when it gives them an advantage in the real world. Students study better when the subject is of value to them in the pursuit of their academics. Students study better when the incentive is knowledge and not fulfilling an institutional requirement. Students study better when a subject is of interest to them. Students will have a negative attitude — and rightly so — if they consider that a subject takes much of their time without addding a commensurate value to their main pursuit. Students will have a negative attitude if their needs are not considered in the course requirements. Students will have a negative attitude if they know of, and proffer, a better method but are ignored on the basis of an unfounded policy. Students will have a negative attitude if they notice that their is an ambivalence, ambiguity or uncertainty in the purpose of study.
Dudley-Evans, T. and St. John, M.J.(1998). Developments in English for Specific Purposes: A multi-disciplinary approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A.(1991). English for Specific Purposes: A learning-centred approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.
Hyland, k. and Hamp-Lyons, L.(2002). EAP: issues and directions. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 1(1), pp. Available at:
<http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/library/ejnls.html%20%20> (Accessed: 08 December 2005).
Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for Academic Purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McDonough, J. (2005). Perspectives on EAP: An interview with Ken Hyland. ELT Journal: English Language Teachers Journal 59(1), pp. 57-64, Available at:
<http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/library/ejnls.html%20%20> (Accessed: 13 December 2005).
Robinson, P. (1991). ESP today:A Practitioners’s Guide. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.
Watson Todd, R. (2003). EAP or TEAP? Journal of English for Academic Purposes 2(2), pp. 61-70. Available at:
<http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/library/ejnls.html%20%20> (Accessed: 11 December 2005).
Wiesen, B. (2000/2001). Content-Based Learning In English For Academic Purposes Courses In Teacher’s Colleges. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 44(4), pp.372-381. Available at:
<http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/library/ejnls.html%20%20> (Accessed: 06 December 2005).