Multiple Perspectives on ESP Needs Analysis and Research

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

What does teaching ESP mean to you personally? What specific situation comes to mind? In my research of leadership, I am finding that how leaders describe “leading” is often, and not surprisingly perhaps, connected to specific activities in specific situations. (No wonder there are so many different ideas about leadership!) Therefore, I have been wondering how ESPers would answer these questions.

As I was considering how I would answer these questions, I began to reflect on the types of English for occupational purposes (EOP) programs in which I have been involved. The students in these programs have ranged from CEOs to factory workers in different industries including medicine, government, law, manufacturing, finance, construction, shipping, food and beverage, and the list goes on and on. Over the last few years, I have also been involved in the training of unemployed workers and undergraduate students.

When I think of teaching ESP, I think of those programs that are designed to meet the immediate and specific needs of one or more learners for English language communication skills. In regard to the assessment of learner needs, Abrar-ul-Hassan (2012), former TESOL ESP-IS Chair, writes about a needs analysis (NA) as follows:

Needs are gaps between program goals and the learner’s proficiency at that stage, which is defined with reference to communicative functions and discourse communities.

Needs or ‘Target Needs’ are comprised of necessities, lacks and wants (Hutchinson & Waters, 1989, p. 54). First, necessities are ‘determined by the demands of the target situation.’ This procedure involves the estimation of necessary skills required for the learner to work efficiently in the target situation. Second, lacks are the gaps between the target proficiency and existing proficiency of the learner. Third, wants are perceptions of the learners about their own needs (Hutchinson & Waters, 1989, pp. 55–57). A systematic NA is comprised of a diagnosis of necessities, lacks and wants… (p. 6)

This focus on multiple perspectives resonates with me. In the TESOL publication, Effective Practices in Workplace Language Training, the authors write about determining “client needs, expectations, and goals” (pp. 26–29). I often find that almost all stakeholders have different expectations about the program. In my role as a faculty administrator, I used to inform corporate trainers that they needed to meet the needs, goals, and expectations of three groups: 1) the students, 2) the HR administration of the client, and 3) the account executive (of the career college).

In the field of professional communication research, Candlin & Crichton (2012) write of a multi-perspectival research framework. This framework includes multiple and overlapping perspectives of site-specific discursive practices. Briscoe (2009) defines discursive practices in education to be as follows:

Briefly defined, discursive practices in education are the uses of language in an educational context (e.g., the typical pattern of teacher question, student answer, teacher feedback) or the use of language in context relating to education (e.g., state legislators’ talk when making new educational laws).

From an ESP/EOP perspective, I think of the uses of language in a job interview, a quality control meeting in a factory, or a doctor-patient consultation.

It seems to me that, as ESPers, we need to take into account multiple perspectives, whether we are doing needs analyses or conducting professional communication research that will inform our program designs and implementation.

I wish you all the best in 2014!

Kevin

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (doctoral candidate in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is Chair of the ESP IS (2011-2012) and will become Immediate Past Chair (2012-2013). He teaches English for specific purposes (ESP), business, and organizational leadership in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career Program) and the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. He has over 25 years of experience during which he has worked for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research is on leadership communication and development.
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