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!


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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One Response to Multiple Perspectives on ESP Needs Analysis and Research

  1. Jing Chen says:

    Dear Dr.Kevin,

    Thank you for your analysis of the need analysis. I am really interested in how need analysis will influence other elements in a curriculum especially objectives of the curriculum.

    I would like to know how lacks influence learning outcomes and then influence or change the setting of objectives. When I read the relationship between them I feel a little bit confused“describing learning outcomes is an essential aspect of backward design…Descriptions of outcomes…are developed from the information obtained from needs analysis…”(p141, Richard, 2017) As you have mentioned, “lacks are the gaps between the target proficiency and existing proficiency of the learner”, so if curriculum designers haven’t considered learners’ present knowledge, to what extent will lack influence or change learning outcomes and objectives of the whole curriculum?

    Best regards

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