April 2007 Volume 3 Issue 1
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Designing an ESP course for Chinese University Students of Business
Gao Jiajing works at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Beijing Normal University (Zhuhai campus) where she teaches college English to non English majors. She is interested in ESP, ELT methodology, and genre-based instruction. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Key words: ESP, course design, needs analysis.
Despite the growing demand for English for Specific Purposes (ESP) instruction in China, ESP courses are still limited to learning specific lexicon and translating texts. With the continued expansion and participation in the international business arena, much attention should be drawn to the design of ESP courses which can help to prepare learners for future professional communication. In response to these needs, this article is an attempt to provide a guided approach to ESP course design for Chinese senior business students at tertiary level. It first reviews current literature and case studies related to ESP course design. When designing an ESP course, the primary issue is the analysis of learners’ specific needs. Other issues addressed include: determination of realistic goals and objectives; integration of grammatical functions and acquisition skills; and assessment and evaluation. Although ESP contexts view these issues from their own perspectives, the proposed framework for ESP course development is argued as being of benefit to teachers who may encounter problems in ESP course design.
With the globalization of trade and economy and the continuing increase of international communication in various fields, the demand for English for Specific Purposes is expanding, especially in countries where English is taught as a Foreign Language. Even though ESP courses have become popular recently in China and many institutions and universities offer ESP courses for senior students, for years the instruction has been limited to specialized lexicon and sentence structures, an approach which fundamentally ignores the learners’ personal interests. This often leads to low motivation in their English studies and, in turn, poor performance later when they use English in their future profession.
In response to these problems, it is important to help students adapt to today’s competitive society, meaning that university English faculties need to design ESP courses that can best prepare learners for future professional communication. Designing a new ESP course involves issues such as what to teach, how to teach or where to start. Based on an integrated approach, this paper puts forward a sample ESP course framework and critically analyzes the core elements of ESP course design: needs analysis; course goals and objectives; course details; materials design; and finally, assessment and evaluation.
The growth of the ESP movement is a result of the fast development of the world economy and has been greatly influenced by ELT methodology and the development of Applied Linguistics. The first dominating approach to ESP course design focused on the grammatical and lexical items of a particular field of English. With the popularity of Communicative Language Teaching, language use became the key emphasis in the ESP world, known as the functional-notional approach. In the early 80s, it was found that there was a certain need underlying a particular language use and in addition, the process of learning and learning skills needed to be taken into account (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998).
Analyzing the specific needs of a particular learner group serves as the prelude to an ESP course design, because it determines the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of an ESP course. Chen (2006) also reached the conclusion that ESP course designers should explore and identify the learners’ potential needs in the first place. The current concept of needs analysis in ESP, according to Dudley-Evans and St John (1998, p.125), includes consideration of the following aspects:
A. Professional information about the learners: the tasks and activities learners are/will be using English for- target situation analysis and objective needs.
B. Personal information about the learners: factors which may affect the way they learn such as previous learning experiences, cultural information, reasons for attending the course and expectations of it, attitude to English- wants, means, subjective needs.
C. English language information about the learners: what their current skills and language use are- present situation analysis- which allows us to assess (D).
D. The learners’ lacks: the gap between (C) and (A)- lacks.
E. Language learning information: effective ways of learning the skills and language in (D)- learning needs.
F. Professional communication information about (A): knowledge of how language and skills are used in the target situation- linguistic analysis, discourse analysis, genre analysis.
G. What is wanted from the course.
H. Information about the environment in which the course will be run – means analysis.
In the ESP curriculum design for Greek EFL students of computing, Xenodohidis (2002) states that, in addition to needs assessment, the course development process should also include determination of goals and objectives. In order to avoid de-motivation, the goals should be realistic and the objectives should be appropriate to the goals (Nunan, 1988, as cited in Xenodohidis 2002).
When designing an ESP course, another issue to take into consideration is that grammatical functions, acquisition skills, terminology, specific functions of discipline content are crucial parts of the ESP course. In the meantime, general English language content should also be integrated into the course since content-related language cannot function without general English language content (Chen, 2006).
Based on the professional experience developing the curriculum for Language Preparation for Employment in the Health Science, Gatehouse (2001) pointed out that when developing an ESP curriculum, three abilities need to be integrated into it for the purpose of successful communication in occupational settings. The three abilities encompass the ability to use particular jargon in specific context; to use generalized set of academic skills; and finally the ability to use everyday informal language to communicate effectively. Therefore, ESP course designers should take into account how to integrate the three abilities into the components of an ESP course.
Assessment and evaluation are also two important issues that should be included in the course design process. Assessment is a process of measuring what learners know and what they can do, whereas evaluation reveals how well the ESP course works with emphasis not only on successful factors but also on modifying less successful aspects (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998).
Background to the Business English course
Chinese is the national language in China and English is taught as a foreign language. All subjects are taught in Chinese at the majority of colleges and universities, while English is included in the school curriculum as a compulsory subject. With the adoption of English as the international language for communication and its wide use all over the world, more and more colleges and universities place an emphasis on running different kinds of English courses for their students to enable them to become competitive and competent enough in their future career.
At the Guilin Institute of Technology in China, there is a compulsory undergraduate course in Business English for senior students at the Department of International Business. The purpose is to raise their English proficiency in business settings as well as to prepare them for successful communication in their future profession. After three years’ study in International Business and general English, students have a professional understanding of International Business and their English level is sufficient to start the Business English course. Following this pathway of study, it is an appropriate time in their university studies for them to embark upon English studies which meet their future business needs.
Overview of an university English for Business Purposes course
The Business English course is conducted extensively and is oriented towards pre-experience learners because they usually have no experience in international business upon course entry. Since the Business English course runs parallel to those subject courses, students can relate their subject knowledge to the Business English context. The target learners’ performance is assessed at the end of the semester because the course is compulsory along with other subjects. It focuses broadly on the four basic language skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking because it is unrealistic for the students to predict which specific skill their future jobs will require.
It is the school regulation to use textbooks in class, however, there does exist the freedom to choose a suitable one for the target group. The resources that are used in class mainly focus on one textbook with some extra in-house materials selected as supplements. For example, the latest business newspaper articles and some visuals are often used for listening practice.
Most of the materials are authentic because students’ language proficiency is sufficiently advanced (all students passed College English Band 4 and most of them even passed Band 6). All the dialogues in the textbook are recorded from real business contexts. Meanwhile, the reading texts are samples from international company brochures and newspapers, not written for language teaching purposes, yet nevertheless very interesting for the learners due to their relevance to the content-based instruction they study at university. It is possible to conduct a pre-course needs analysis directly with the participants through questionnaires and informal discussions and interviews. Course evaluation can be done by means of tests, student feedback, teacher self-reports and documents.
Before the course starts, students have acquired specific content-based knowledge. From the first year to the third year they take a compulsory general English course and most of them have passed the College English Test (Band 6). This Business English course serves as the bridge between their professional knowledge and their English proficiency to further develop their English competency in the real business context.
Goals and objectives
The overall aim of the course is to fully prepare the senior students for their future career because after the graduation they are likely to seek employment in international companies. Before recruitment, resumes are sent out to companies and interviews are conducted, therefore, job application constitutes a vital part of the course. In their future business career, they may find themselves working in a company where English is widely spoken, or using English as a medium of communication with other business people from all over the world.
By the end of the course, learners should be able to familiarize themselves with business terminology and write competently in English. For example, they should be capable of writing appropriate business letters, e-mails as well as a good resume. They must have the ability of understanding intermediate business articles and newspapers, understanding and conducting general business conversation as well as maintaining relationships with the target community.
The objectives for each skill are as follows:
To understand telephone messages and conversations in business settings
To understand relevant business news reports.
To communicate effectively with native speakers in job interviews as well as business settings.
To respond effectively to telephone messages and job interviews
To understand a variety of texts, such as business reports, documents and newspaper articles.
To write resumes and business-related letters or e-mails.
The course takes place over two academic semesters, a duration of 30 weeks and the total length is 120 hours (2 hours/day; 2 days/week). Group sizes are usually between thirty and forty students. The ‘target learners’ are senior undergraduates at the Department of International Business and the content of the course is made up of textbook and in-house materials and visuals.
Outline for the whole course
The course covers four language areas - listening, writing, speaking and reading in which the following are taught:
Speaking: Introductions; job interview; using the telephone; conversations.
Writing: Resume; job application letters; business letters; e-mails; notes; memos.
Listening: Telephone messages; conversations with business contacts; business news.
Reading: Business documents; newspaper articles.
Considering the target learners’ overall language proficiency, the authentic materials are considered to be appropriate although they may find the vocabulary unfamiliar. The career content is not a problem because they possess sufficient background knowledge of international business taught in Chinese.
In order to conduct a thorough needs analysis, a triangulation of questionnaires, informal discussions with learners and other lecturers, interviews with ex-students and lecturers, and observation of former students’ actual workplace experiences is conducted before the course. During the course, learner performance and assignments are assessed, whilst tests results are analyzed after the course. This combination of pre-course, mid-course and post-course analyses is conducted in order to see what students need to learn and improve upon through this course. The amalgamated feedback is then used as a basis for consideration of how the following year’s course should be designed.
The use of questionnaires is one of the most common research methods because it can produce a large amount of information about many different issues such as communication difficulties, preferred learning styles, preferred classroom activities, attitudes and beliefs (Richards, 2001). In this particular research context, questionnaires are initially used to elicit information about learners’ attitudes towards this course, and what they want to learn in this Business English course before the semester commences. The content of the questionnaire is crucial for the course designer because it has direct influence on whether the real needs can be identified.
Interviewing the teachers who taught the general English course in the previous year, the course designer can gain insights into the learners’ current English proficiency, their specific weaknesses and strengths in the four skills. Moreover, informal discussions and interviewing can be adopted as follow-up sources of information to be conducted individually or in groups. Informal discussion allows students to convey their ideas and thoughts spontaneously and does not take much time to plan or prepare. More in-depth exploration of information can then be obtained by interviews before the design of the questionnaire, which may help designers to get a sense of what the focus and topics should be in the questionnaire (Richards, 2001). Therefore, interviews can be conducted throughout the semester when the learners encounter new problems. Last, but not the least, with carefully prepared questions, interviewing the ex-students is another effective way of gathering data and it could be very valuable to observe those ex-students in operation because they have a profound understanding of the effectiveness of the course. Assessing learners’ performances and assignments during the course can be very effective to know their real problems during this course. After analysing the feedback, readjustment to the following course could be valuable for both teachers and learners. Furthermore, a mid-term test and end of semester examination are also important to check their progress, to ascertain what they already know as well as what they do not know.
A combination of pre-course, mid-course and post-course analysis is conducted in order to see what students need to learn and improve upon through this course. The following (Table 1) shows the structure of the needs analysis:
Pre-course Needs Analysis
|Mid-course Needs Analysis
Feedback from learners’ performance and assignments
Mid-term Test Results
|Post-course Needs Analysis
||Final Test Results
Table 1. The Structure of the Needs Analysis
Pre-course Needs Analysis
The use of questionnaires can produce a large amount of information about many different issues such as communication difficulties, preferred learning styles, preferred classroom activities, attitudes and beliefs (Richards, 2001). In this particular research context, questionnaires are initially used to elicit information about learners’ attitudes towards this course, and what they want to learn in this Business English course before the semester commences. Moreover, informal discussion allows students to convey their ideas and thoughts spontaneously and does not take much time to plan or prepare.
Interviewing the teachers who taught the general English course in the previous year enables the course designer to gain insights into the learners’ current English proficiency, their specific weaknesses and strengths in the four skills.
Finally, with carefully prepared questions, interviewing former students is another effective way of gathering data. It is very worthwhile observing their actual performance in the workplace because they have a profound understanding of the effectiveness of the course.
Mid-course Needs Analysis & Post-course Needs Analysis
Assessing learners’ performances and assignments during the course can be an effective means in ascertaining their real problems during this course. After analysing the feedback, readjustment in the subsequent course is useful for both teachers and learners. Furthermore, a mid-term test and end of semester examination are also important to check their progress, since this shows what they already know as well as what they do not know.
Table 2. Course grid for GIT Business English course
The starting point for this Business English course framework are the target events in the four language skills in which the senior Business students need to perform in their future professions. These target events are broken down into rhetorical awareness and related skill areas, along with associated functions. The framework also considers linguistic aspects-grammar and vocabulary involved in each target event. However, the course does not simply concern linguistic items and micro skills, but also materials and career content topics for each individual class.
Self-assessment and peer assessment result in increased motivation, autonomy, direct involvement through the implementation of the following: oral production (student self-checklist; peer checklist; listening to tape-recorded oral production to detect pronunciation or grammar mistakes); self-revision or peer editing; and listening comprehension (Brown, 2001). Dudley-Evans and St John (1998) also state that peer assessment is greatly effective as a learning aid which is beneficial in large classes because teachers are frequently burdened with grading assignments. A range of class activities focusing on achievement, involvement and progress can be provided for assessment such as asking them to grade their efforts made in class and attitude to learning. Students can also be requested to reflect upon how well they use the target language to fulfill tasks, and identify what they are not able to do (Graves, 2001). Achievement assessment can be used to examine the extent to which learners have learned what has been taught. Furthermore, the result of the assessment can inform teachers about individual learner’s achievement of the learning objectives as well as provide the feedback on the effectiveness and quality of this course (Brown, 1996).
Robinson (1991) points out that observing past students who are working may be an effective means in seeing to what extent the ESP course has fully prepared them for workplace needs. After such observation, the course designer is then able to reorganize the course materials for the following year students.
Mid-course and end-of-course evaluation
Since this course lasts two academic semesters, a mid-course evaluation questionnaire can be given to learners in order to fine-tune the course before it finishes(Feez, 1998). End-of–course evaluation can be achieved through analyzing learners’ outcomes, particularly, their final examination results and performance. They can also be asked to review their work and keep diaries of what they think easy/hard, interesting/uninteresting. The findings from such diary input can be analyzed periodically (Hedge, 2000).
Student feedback and teacher self-evaluation
After each class, it is helpful to ask the learners to evaluate the class to provide feedback to the teacher (Hedge, 2000). However, informal discussion with individual students could be a more appropriate and spontaneous means for students to express what they really think about the course because in a more formal situation such as interviewing a group of students may feel inhibited. It could also be valuable for teachers to evaluate themselves by filling in a self-assessment sheet or keeping a log book (Hedge, 2000).
This paper has investigated the origins of ESP development and then discussed some key issues relevant to ESP course design on the basis of the empirical studies by ESP professionals. ESP course design should start from analyzing learners’ particular needs and wants. Based on learners’ needs and their future language use, goals and objectives of the course can be determined, a process which involves consideration of specific grammatical functions, terminology comprehension, and the abilities required for future workplace communication. Last but not least, assessment and evaluation should also be integrated into the design process to ensure that these goals and objectives are achieved. This article finally puts forward a proposal for an ESP course framework targeted to senior students of International Business in Guilin Institute of Technology. It is hoped that this study may bring benefits to other ESP course designers involved in developing similar courses in Chinese universities or similar contexts.
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