Monday, February 6, 2017

Teacher’s Roles in ESP Class

I’m genuinely grateful that my friend Abdullah Ajjan Alhadid has written a guest post for us on the different roles that teachers usually adopt in ESP courses. Abdullah is a holder of a BA in English Language and Literature as well as an MA in TESOL. He’s currently an EFL instructor at Istanbul University.

Since the 1960s, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has grown to become one of the most prominent areas of EFL teaching today, and teachers need to be able to address both language and content within their classrooms. As the name suggests, ESP refers to teaching or studying English for a particular career like law, medicine, business, etc. ESP teachers are almost always teachers of English for General Purposes, and their switch into this field is sudden (Steven, 1988). To understand teaching ESP more profoundly, we need to understand the teacher's various roles in ESP classes: teacher, course designer and material provider, collaborator, and evaluator. 

The role of the ESP practitioner as a teacher is almost the same as the role of General English teacher. The methodology changes as the teaching becomes more specific. In the case of ESP classes, the teacher is no longer the “primary knower”. Students may know more about the content than the teacher. The relationship is much more of a partnership. In the case of very specific courses, the students themselves are frequently the primary knowers of the carrier content of the material. The teacher’s main role is to generate real, authentic communication in the classroom on the grounds of the students’ knowledge. In some situations the role of ESP teachers extends to giving one-to-one advice to students. ESP teachers need to have considerable flexibility, be willing to listen to learners, take interest in the disciplines or professional activities the students are involved in, and to take some risks in their teaching.

The aim of the role of ´course designer´ and ´materials provider´ is the same in both ESP and General English courses; the teacher has to provide the most suitable materials in the lesson to achieve the set goals. Dudley-Evans and St John, (1998) argue that ESP instructors often have to plan the course they teach and provide the materials for it. It is rarely possible to use a particular textbook without the need for supplementary material. The role of ESP teachers as ‘providers of material’ thus involves choosing suitable published material, adapting material when published material is not suitable, or even writing material where nothing suitable exists. Moreover, ESP teachers need to assess the effectiveness of the teaching material used on the course, whether that material is published or self-produced.

Hutchison and Waters (1987) argue that ESP teachers do not need to learn the subject matter’s specialized knowledge. Rather, they are asked for the following requirements: a positive attitude towards ESP content, knowledge of the fundamental principles of the content, and an awareness of how much they probably already know. The role of the ESP practitioner as a collaborator is connected with working closely or collaborating with field or subject specialists in order to meet the specific needs of the learners and accordingly adopt the methodology and activities of the target discipline. Thus, an ESP teacher conducting an ESP course for would-be doctors will probably need the help of a doctor to help him or her plan the content of the course. Furthermore, it is difficult for teachers to look for the resources or even to design a syllabus by themselves, so that they need the help of a specialist teacher to help them understand the materials and find resources. When team teaching is not a possibility, the ESP practitioner should collaborate more closely with the learners, who will generally be more familiar with the specialized content of materials than the teacher himself/herself. The fullest collaboration is when a subject expert and a language teacher teach classes together.

The role of an ‘evaluator’ is highly important in the whole learning process. It is necessary to inform students about their progress in their language learning and that is why giving feedback is an inevitable part of each activity (Laurence, 2007).  An evaluator is not a new function, and evaluation is actually performed in General English classes; but in the case of ESP, this role seems to be very significant. The ESP practitioner is often involved in various types of evaluation ranging from testing to evaluation of courses and teaching materials. As ESP courses are often tailor-made, their evaluation is crucial. Evaluation of course design and teaching materials should be done while the course is being taught and after the course has finished in order to assess whether the learners have been able to make use of what they learned and to find out what they were not prepared for. Evaluation through discussion and on-going needs analysis can be used to adapt the syllabus. Hence, constant evaluation is an important factor and an important role of the teacher to create a successful ESP course.

The conclusion to be drawn is that if the ESP community hopes to grow, it is vital that the community as a whole understands what ESP actually represents, and can accept the various roles that ESP practitioners need to adopt to ensure its success.  Only then can new members join with confidence, and existing members carry on the practices which have brought ESP to the position that it has in EFL teaching today.


Hutchison, T., & Waters, A. 1987. English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-centered Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Strevens, P. ESP after Twenty Years: A Re-appraisal. Tickoo Ltd, 1988.

Anthony, Laurence. Defining English for Specific Purposes and the Role of the ESP Practitioner. 1997. Journal Papers. 1 May 2007 < 0ESP.html >

Dudley-Evans, T. and St. John, M. Developments in English for Specific Purposes: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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