English is the most powerful language in the world and has approximately 500 million native speakers across the world.

Achieving proficiency in the English language is vital for professional success internationally. While a General English course offers learners the opportunity to become fluent in the language, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) provides content altered according to the needs of the learner and the requirements of their profession. Furthermore, the learner is expected to have basic English language proficiency prior to starting the course course as ESP focuses on the task specific vocabulary and communication.

Here’s everything you need to know about an ESP course:

What is English for Specific Purposes (ESP)?

Coffey (1985) described ESP as a “quick and economical” method of using the English language for efficient communication in employment or for the intention of academic learning.

ESP focuses on the development of English language communication skills customized according to the required sector or department of the learner, i.e. Finance, Hospitality, Marketing, etc. It focuses on a particular field, allowing learners to master the skills relevant to their professional needs and, therefore, improve communication.

According to Lorenzo (2005), ESP “concentrates more on language in context than on teaching grammar and language structures”.

Points to remember:

  • ESP is commonly taught to adult students
  • Often delivered in a professional/office setting
  • Converts learners into ‘users’ of the language via intrinsic motivation



What are the key variables of ESP?

Tony Dudley Evans, the co-editor of the ESP Journal, distinguishes the characteristics of ESP into two types of variables:

Absolute Variables

  • Course content is created to meet detailed learner needs
  • It uses the primary practice and workings of the field or sector it serves
  • The grammar, terminology, register, skills, dialogue and genre of the language will depend upon the learner’s activities or field of work


Variable Characteristics

  • ESP may be created for specific subjects
  • It may use a different teaching strategy than that of General English or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in certain situations
  • Most likely designed for adult students, learning at either a professional, tertiary or secondary level
  • Primarily meant for intermediate or advanced learners
  • Most ESP courses expect the learner to have basic fluency in the language


How does ESP differ from other English language courses?

According to Hutchison & Waters, “ESP is an advance approach to language teaching in which all the choices related to content and strategy are supported on the learner’s reason for learning”.

In comparison to general English language training, ESP has an advanced approach as content is designed for adult, mature learners who are professionals or experts in a work situation. The content is based on the learner’s requirements and it teaches task/job specific vocabulary.

For example, the English language necessities of a salesperson or a construction manager would be completely different from each other. While the former would need to learn terms such as ‘return on investment’ or ‘price strategy’, the latter would need to learn key safety terms to carry out their job efficiently.

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What are the benefits of taking an ESP course?

  • Faster acquisition of the required English language terms: as the content is context-based, it allows students to learn in an accelerated manner.
  • Optimum use of their learning resources, all of which are pre-identified according to the goals and needs of the learner.
  • Effective content application as learners can use the appropriate language terminology on the job soon after the completion of the course.
  • Rapid increase in job productivity and efficiency as employees are better prepared to communicate with their clientele and colleagues.


Want to learn more about how an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course can benefit you and your team? Get in touch!

About the Author: Saania K. is passionate about language learning and cultural appreciation for business. She speaks English and Hindi and is considering learning Spanish. Powerful!.