Published 25th April 2017

The TEFL world is full of acronyms. You’ve probably heard about EAP (English for Academic Purposes), CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), but you might not be aware of a much more niche market – ESP, or English for Specific Purposes.

While an EFL class will focus more on General English and learning the four skills, an ESP lesson will concentrate on the language and skills needed for a particular sector or profession; general communication will not be emphasised as much as specialist vocabulary. Very popular ESP courses include English for Nursing, Financial English and Legal English.

Teaching ESP can be a daunting task. How are you expected to know enough about aviation or mining to be able to teach someone about it in English?

If you find yourself being asked to teach an ESP course, there are few things you can consider before freaking out.

The first is that your student is probably going to be at least Intermediate level, if not higher. It is impossible to learn specialist language without knowing the basics of English first, so your student has probably already had some tuition in English already. This at least gives you a basis from which to build.

Then remember that even though this is specialised language, it is still English. Chances are you already know most of the language that you will need to teach. The difficulty is not in understanding what you are teaching (which could be the case if you are teaching, say, Science) but in knowing what to teach.

Thankfully, there are loads of resources available out there to help your prepare effective ESP lessons. From coursebooks to journals to online videos, no matter which speciality you are required to teach, you will be able to find adequate resources for your lessons. Plus, because ESP lessons relate directly to the real world, there should be plenty of authentic sources you could utilise in your lessons.

The final cherry on the top for ESP lessons is that you are usually guaranteed to have motivated and dedicated students. For the most part, students need ESP lessons for present or future employment – as a waiter, tour guide, nurse or pilot, for example. Learning English is therefore not a joke, as their livelihoods depend on it, which means your students will be ready and raring to go every lesson.

So even if you have no idea of an ESP speciality, there is no need to panic about planning and executing an ESP course. In many ways you may find ESP lessons easier, or more rewarding, than General English lessons and you are sure to learn a lot from your own lessons!