Tuesday, April 10, 2007

TEACHING ENGLISH FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES: AN EVOLVING EXPERIENCE-- A review

Teaching English for Specific Purposes: An Evolving Experience by R.K.Singh, Book Enclave, Jaipur, 2005, pp. xii +289, Rs. 725/-.ISBN 81-8152-118-8

Reviewed by RAJNI SINGH

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a needs based concept to determine which language skills should be profitably developed for academic and professional success of students. It takes into account certain basic questions like: “who the learners are, what their linguistic background or level of competence is, what their view to language learning is, what their purpose and expectations are, what particular skill they will be needing in their actual, on- the- job situation etc.”

English as a medium of instruction is integrated into a subject matter area important to the learners, enabling them to use the English they know to learn even more English for all sorts of transactions. It is assumed that the ESP learners already have the basics of the English language and are learning the language in order to communicate a set of professional skills and to perform particular job- related functions.

Thus the ESP approach provides opportunities to the learners to acquire English naturally, by working with language in a context that they comprehend and find interesting.

Teaching English for Specific Purposes: An Evolving Experience by R.K.Singh is a useful resource material for aspirant scholars, teachers and especially for any beginner of ESP practices, particularly in technical institutions where English is both ‘a reading language’ and ‘teaching language’. The book is a compilation of the author’s 18 Research Essays followed by 22 Review Essays that have been already published in reputed national and international journals during 1970s-1990s.These essays unravel several facets of ESP from 1970s to 1990s in India and abroad.

The first section that comprises Research essays is a blending of theory and practice that should help the readers to understand the role of ESP in India and its future prospects in the ever-changing socio- linguistic scenario whereas the second and the final section of the book should help in taking the readers to the larger domain of language learning, in particular ESL, EFL and ESP. The ease with which the author links the two sections makes this book a convenient first book for aspirant scholars who have little or no background in ESP or EST.

The Research Essays are the outcome of the classroom experiences of the author as a teacher featuring the ESP approach at ISM, the role and the responsibilities of the ESP teachers and effectiveness of ESP programmes in techno-savvy modern society. The first two essays throw ample light on the role of English in the educational system of India. The third essay raises a pertinent question ‘Whether teaching of English should be for communicative competence, or for performance?’ The notion of re-viewing the conventional pedagogy is also elaborated in this article. The author advocates ‘Communication’ as the aim of English teaching and asserts that communicative competence and performance can’t be viewed separately. Both are indispensable part of any language teaching and the ultimate criterion of language mastery. Singh also feels that now the time has come for the teachers to adopt unconventional teaching techniques and seek ways and resources of making the contents of their textbooks relevant, meaningful and of interest to the students.

In the two essays “Exploring Possibilities: Why Technical English?” and “Exploring Possibilities: Why not General English?” the author sounds self contradicting given his performance for EST. Perhaps the author intends to show that like most teachers of English with literature background, he too had reluctance for content- based Technical English teaching. But it is also true that he views his ‘retrospection’ as part of a teacher’s evolution as an ESPist.

The next article “Reading Development: Some Questions”, deals with the significance of reading. In second / foreign language teaching and learning situations for academic purposes or other programmes that make extensive use of academic materials written in English, reading is paramount. But there are certain issues- Machine words reading vs. printed words reading; printed text vs. video text, computer reading skills vs. traditional reading skills; effects of new technology on spoken/ written language etc., which are still relevant.

In the seventh article Singh shares with the readers his experiences at ISM to suggest that a language teacher along with his literary sensibility and nuances of technical and scientific writing should develop skill-oriented syllabus to cater to the needs of his students.

The tenth and the eleventh articles “ESP: Communication Constraints” and “ESP: A Sociolinguistic Consideration” expose the problems of ESP teaching in Indian technical institutions where the students are from varied socio- linguistic backgrounds. The articles focus on the problems encountered by the learners and ESP practitioners and the ways to combat those challenges. The author traces out the constraints of ESP that are unfulfilling in Indian situation and pronounces that although an ESP course can only follow on from a thorough grounding in basic English, the teacher should not “close his eyes to the classroom actualities.” He should be sensitive and sympathetic to the actual/ changing needs of his students. The author shows his concern on the failure of Indian students in communicating effectively in English in social, cross- cultural, interdisciplinary encounters and in mutual communication with proper linguistic etiquette. The author points out that now there is a need for identifying the socio linguistic needs of the ESP learner and “ to restructure the needs- based ESP curriculum, accommodating socio-linguistic instructions which will develop his ability to function linguistically in society beyond the technical institution.”

The article, “Some Reflections on Terminology” stresses on the need to tackle with the terminological difficulties, which is the by-product of rapid advancement in varied academic disciplines. The author’s thrust is on the growth of research in Terminology, which can be possible, when the scientists and technologists, and the linguists work together.

The next article “ESP in India: Developments in 1984-1985” carries a profound investigation into the development of ESP in India in a single year. The year can be called an experimental phase of ESP in India as General English cause had to face open criticism from several quarters. However, despite an awareness of the students’ specific needs language teachers could attach only peripheral importance to ESP. But even in this state of upheaval the ESPists carried out different projects across the country. Some of the note worthy projects of that period were The Communication Teaching Project, Bangalore, The TITI Project, Calcutta and The ISM Project Dhanbad. The projects helped in establishing the ESP approach in India to a great extent.

In fact, as the essay on “Communicative Teaching in Technical Institutions: A Needs Assessment” indicates, Indian School of Mines is possibly the first institution to have gone in the ESP approach to English language teaching. The essay on “Interactional Process Approach to Teaching Writing” is R.K. Singh’s major contribution to ELT/EST practices in the world.

The first section of the book is kaleidoscopic in nature as it mirrors the emergence of the author from an EGP practitioner to an ESPist.

The second section of the book Review Essays provides readers with the alchemy of English and its different aspects. The essays of this section that concentrate on the tools of language, communication skills, intercultural and intracultural communication, teaching translation and translation and power will help teachers and researchers to become aware of what is new in language and literature practices. The author has been conscious in selecting his material for this section. Most of the essays are intended for classroom teachers to guide them and help them apply their mind in their actual teaching situations.


Teaching English for Specific purposes: An Evolving Experience, is the author’s journey through his career as well as his academic research from EGP to ELT and finally to ESP. The book is a store of experiences and even an ordinary reader can correlate himself with the practicing teacher’s evolutionary phase. The readers will find themselves with the author questing, analyzing, establishing and re-establishing his ideas on language teaching and finally firmly grounding his belief in ESP.

The experiences of R.K.Singh as an EST practitioner have opened up new vistas of academic possibilities for language teaching in the immediate future. The articles in the volume are reflective, analytical, informative and coherently organized. The book is written in a clear, lucid language making it a user-friendly reference material and a historical document.

A must read for a better understanding of the history of ESP and EST in India.

--Dr. Rajni Singh

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