July 1999 — Volume 4, Number 1
New Ways in English for Specific Purposes
Peter Master and Donna Brinton, Eds. (1998)
Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Pp. xxii + 337
ISBN 0-939791-49-8 (paper)
US $29.95 (members $24.95)
New Ways in English for Specific Purposes is the second volume that Peter Master and Donna Brinton have edited in TESOL’s New Ways series, the other being New Ways in Content-Based Instruction (Brinton & Master, 1997). After the birth of English for specific purposes (ESP) in the 1960s, this discipline has become quite well known, especially because English has acquired the status of an international lingua franca in almost any field of study, and linguists have moved toward a contextualized notion of language. If on the one hand the success of the English language has turned it into a vehicle for international communication, on the other hand the orientation of linguistic studies toward language as communication in social contexts has largely contributed to enhance the dignity of ESP studies. The first studies on special languages were in fact those on register, which developed in a Firthian environment. Following strictly in Halliday’s footsteps (Halliday, 1978), British linguists identified special registers on the basis of lexical aspects, which they considered sufficient in themselves to distinguish them from common language. For example, the presence of a lexical item such as tablespoonful was enough to presume that the register was that of recipes or prescriptions (Halliday, McIntosh & Strevens, 1964; Strevens, 1977). However, as recent approaches to special languages have pointed out, differences do not apply to the lexical level only, but also concern morphosyntactic choices and textual and pragmatic organization (Swales, 1990; Gotti, 1991; Bhatia, 1993). The social context (and therefore the aim) of each of the subdivisions of ESP exerts a strong influence on the linguistic strategies which are to be adopted. Therefore situational and functional requirements direct linguistic choices such as lexical density, the complexity and the length of clause structure, the degree of formality and the management of information, to name but a few. [-1-]
The current work starts with a theoretical premise in which the authors fix the boundary between ESP and CBI (content-based instruction). The latter is in fact a type of syllabus, whereas the former is one of the two subcomponents (together with EGP, English for general purposes) of ELT (English language teaching). It is therefore clear that ESP may use CBI as well as other types of activities drawn from other syllabi.
The contributions in this volume are arranged in sections according to specific subdivisions of ESP: General English for Specific Purposes, English for Academic Purposes, English for Art and Design, English for Business and Economics, English for Legal Purposes, English for Science and Technology, and English for Vocational Purposes. All activities have the same layout: each of them provides the reader with information concerning the level of the students for whom it is designed, the aims in terms of the linguistic and social skills it is meant to develop, the estimated time of preparation for the teacher and the time needed for classroom performance, and the resources required. This type of information is placed in the left margin. The central part of the page is occupied by a summary of the activity that is in turn followed by a detailed, step-by-step description of the procedures. Extra suggestions are placed in the Caveats and Options sections, which are followed by bibliographic references and suggestions for further reading. The activity may sometimes have one or more appendixes, where classroom material is included. At the end there is a short biographic sketch of the author(s).
Three distinct tables of contents offer the user three ways to access the activities. The first one divides activities according to subject, arranged in the seven ESP subdivisions listed above. The second classifies activities according to forms of communication (academic text, advertisement, catalogue, interview, meeting, research report, and so forth). The third rests on the criterion of focus (conversational gambits, culture and values, game, note-taking, and so on).
The activities in the General English for Specific Purposes section are designed to favor practice and learning of general skills that might be used in a variety of contexts. Among many different abilities, special attention has been paid to rhetorical strategies in both written and spoken interactions (e.g., give instructions, write definitions, develop awareness of various argumentative strategies), and to instructions on how to use e-mail exchanges and other Internet resources.
Part II deals with English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which has been thoroughly investigated by Swales (1990). The activities that are put forward in this section aim mainly to achieve a certain proficiency in academic reading and writing, and therefore concentrate especially on graduate thesis and dissertation writing. As Swales has advocated, EAP can largely benefit from a genre-based approach, which can be used as a conspicuous learning tool in both reading and analyzing texts, and in writing new ones. Many of the activities focus on the development of a balanced argumentation by way of evaluating alternative viewpoints and anticipating possible objections. Once the basic rules for writing academic texts have been established, subject-specific texts may be approached, depending on students’ interests and requirements. Among many interesting activities, “How’s Your Genre Awareness?” is one of the most theoretically grounded. It proposes close text investigation in [-2-] order to identify the generic features of a certain text type and differentiate between it and other common genres on the basis of some relevant parameters, such as communicative purpose, audience, register, structure and stage (p. 79). Another stimulating proposal is presented in “Creating Lifetime Genre Files,” where students are asked to collect samples of different genres and to create profile files for each of the genres, which can be regularly updated, in order to “build a useful reference for future writing needs” (p. 88). Since much ESP writing involves reporting other people’s words, some sections are also devoted to teaching how to quote, paraphrase, or summarize.
Part III deals with English for Art and Design, which is taught in art schools or departments. Its primary concerns are art history and the language of the studio. Once again genre theory is the frame of reference for activities in this area. After closely analyzing promotional art catalogues and studio projects, students are stimulated to develop and defend their own artistic projects. Art activities may also include visiting art exhibitions and shows, which can offer material for later classroom discussion.
Part IV is devoted to English for Business and Economics (EBE), by and large the most popular form of ESP. As the editors point out, EBE is taught in both private settings and official institutions. It undeniably encompasses a range of actions that are essential in everyday interactions: negotiation and communication in different environments, letter writing, workplace jargon, and business culture. The common aim of all activities is first of all to learn something about the cultural institutions that are often referred to in business programs, and then to concentrate on proposal writing, so that students might attain proficient communicative skills. Some of the lessons center on the expansion of specialized vocabulary, whereas those designed for more skilled learners try to activate higher level competence, e.g., decision making skills, persuasive strategies, and also general conversational competence (cf. “Charm Your Way to Success”). A common feature to the tasks in this section is the fact that they use authentic material.
English for Legal Purposes is the theme of section V. Activities are varied, yet they all hope to broaden knowledge of different legal systems, and to teach learners to behave professionally, for in this area the client-lawyer relationship strongly influences the strategies that are adopted.
Activities with English for Science and Technology concentrate chiefly on the language used in engineering departments or similar technical settings and seek to improve technical communication (e.g., report reading/writing, oral discourse). Some tasks are designed to expand and contextualize lexis (“Techno Jargon”), but [-3-] the majority are concerned with the identification of the discourse features of a specific text type, e.g., the research article. In some chapters, especially in those that are indicated for upper-intermediate or advanced learners, specific forms of textual organization are discussed, for example, the use of inanimate subjects with active verbs (“Let Your Subject Do the Work”).
The volume ends with a section on English for Vocational Purposes, which encompasses settings where English is used for finding or keeping a job, or, more generally, any activity that is related to work. The tasks aim to create a set of practical abilities, consisting first of all of job-related vocabulary, and then of efficient self-presentations and dynamic interactions in job interviews. These latter aims obviously entail awareness of a whole series of verbal and nonverbal signs, related to linguistic, social, and cultural values.
On the whole the volume offers a wide range of activities, which are easily accessible thanks to the three different tables of contents. The tasks are devised for learners with different profiles, but almost all of them can be easily adapted to fit other settings and requirements. In fact, although they present structured material, they often suggest how to adapt the format to suit personal needs. The majority of them seem to be suitable for an audience of high school students and undergraduates, with only a few activities being specifically addressed to adult learners. Not all the activities proposed are in fact suitable everywhere, in any kind of class or cultural background. The book claims only to present some working material and encourages readers to experiment and explore in other directions in order to find their own way to teach their learners. It is nevertheless very careful in trying to satisfy the needs of students. Furthermore, one of the volume’s strengths is that it presents activities that need minimal preparation and equipment. What strikes one most is that despite being very specific, all the activities tend to strengthen general linguistic skills and interactional competence. As Sutherland (1995) claims, “to succeed, an ESP teacher must master more than a specialized vocabulary. Thinking styles, problem solving methods, and communication strategies within professional groups differ as well” (p. 6). [-4-]
Bhatia, V. K. (1993). Analyzing genre: Language use in professional settings. London: Longman.
Brinton, D. M., & Master, P. (Eds.). (1997). New ways in content-based instruction. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
Gotti, M. (1991). I linguaggi specialistici. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.
Halliday, M. A. K., McIntosh, A., & Strevens, P. (1964). The linguistic sciences and language teaching. London: Longman.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London: Edward Arnold.
Strevens, P. (1977). New orientations in the teaching of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sutherland, J. (1995). Thoughts on the need to (re)claim, explain, define ESL/EFL/ESP. TESL-EJ 1(4), F-1.
Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis: English for academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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