Sunday, January 13, 2013



Though there is hardly any fully fledged English for Specific Purposes (ESP) programme run in professional institutions in India, teaching of one of its better known forms English for Science and Technology (EST) in tertiary level has up to now practically limited service role for work and study, accommodating demands for ‘communicative’ skills and ‘needs’ of the rural students who have limited previous exposure to functional abilities in English. Despite years of teaching communicative skills and scientific and technical English, qualitatively, I am afraid, there has not been much improvement, as obvious from the fact that about 75% of the technical graduates have not been able to get employment. 

Perhaps most of them already know their ‘specialized’ subjects; that is, they already possess the knowledge and concepts of their subject, but they need English teacher’s help in their ability to function or perform in English. Their expectations may relate to social-cultural-education, personal and individual, and academic or occupational. If the (general) English teacher could take it as a professional challenge, s/he can use, with some extra effort and fresh commitment, the ESP techniques and prove genuinely helpful to them. These include conducting the necessary needs analysis, designing an appropriate syllabus, preparing suitable materials, meeting and getting to know the students, teaching the course and devising and administering appropriate tests. The teacher’s success lies in managing the learning strategies and promoting practice and use, or what linguists have mentioned as pragmatic function (language as doing) and mathetic function (language as learning). 

Need for international perspective 

Even as we talk about globalization, tertiary education in every discipline needs scholars and researchers who have good international perspective and ability to work in diverse settings. The common challenge facing us is: cultivating globally-minded graduates. How we do it may vary from institution to institution and region to region. Needless to say, language competence is basic to acquiring a global perspective via the graduation courses. And, no doubt, English has been the lingua franca, and apparently, there may not be any need to learn other languages, but it helps to learn a couple of foreign language (and/or other regional languages) for expanding professional networks and gaining cultural experiences which are vital for global learning.
As far as English is concerned, teaching the creative, pragmatic and interactional uses of English in our academic and professional context is important. These are essentially localized functions.

Multiple Englishes 

In his stimulating exposition of the spread of English, Braj B. Kachru emphasizes that English has not only acquired multiple identities but also “a broad spectrum of cross-cultural contexts of use.” During the last twenty five years or so, scholars have progressively acknowledged the reality of multicultural aspects of English a la linguistic interactions of three types of participants: native speaker and native speaker; native speaker and non-native speaker; and non-native speaker and non-native speaker. Resultantly, as Kachru points out, there has been “a multiplicity of semiotic systems, several non-shared linguistic conventions, and numerous underlying cultural traditions,” paving way for English as an International Language (EIL), which provides access across cultures and boundaries. The focus has shifted to the diverse users and language activities within a sociolinguistic context which is often localized rather than native-speaker oriented as far as aspects such as communicative teaching or communicative competence are concerned. 

Taking cue from international diffusion of English viewed as three concentric circles – an inner circle, an outer or extended circle, and expanding circle, we should recognize the institutionalized non-native varieties of English such as Indian English, Singaporean English, Indonesian English, Malaysian English, Chinese English, Japanese English, Nigerian English, Kenyan English etc and concentrate on English used in South Asian and South East Asian countries for reviewing the pedagogic developments in language teaching with an ESP bias as also for trying to integrate language and culture teaching. This is significant in that despite decades of activities in the name of communicative teaching or communicative competence, not much has been achieved in terms of methods and materials for international competence in English. The European parochialism continues to dominate the academics’ reasoning even as discoursal organization, both literary and spoken, reflects a certain regionalism. 

Against such a perspective, correct identification of language needs for ESP learners has become very important just as teaching the need-based courses continues to remain a professional challenge for teachers everywhere. Unless there is a flexible attitude with a user/learner-based sociocultural approach to course design and methodology, ESP teaching will not become interesting and enjoyable. 

Pragmatic communication 

One also needs to reflect on changes in the linguistic pattern in recent years following the developments in communication technology, networks, and data banks. Aside from writing and reading, spoken English might have become a core business English with ability to understanding different English accents just as listening skill is vital for improving communicative performance at work. The reality of the varieties of English one comes across in ones everyday working and social life cannot be ignored. 

In fact, during the past three decades the shift in linguistic centre has become more marked, more institutionalized, and more recognized. Therefore, we need to view concepts like communicative competence, or successful pragmatic communication from a realistic perspective of current world uses of English which is lexically and collocationally localized. With tolerance for localized discoursal strategies, lexicalization from local languages, and creative texts from local creative writers in English, it should be possible to promote international interaction and communication, or achieve international intelligibility, comprehensibility, and pragmatic success, as Kachru points out. 

The relevant material and method now, therefore, should meet the learners’ need to interact, understand, and respond with respect for different cultures and speakers in professional/business meetings, discussions, presentations, interviews, telephone conferences etc. Teachers can indeed exploit students’ creativity and the desire to relate to others with a task-based activity oriented methodology. 

Summing up 

Despite problems of theory and method posed by varieties of world English, the reality of multilingualism and adaptation to suit ESL communicative needs are too genuine to be ignored. We also need to accommodate new ‘text types’, accept different discourse patterns, and recognize local usages that are conventional and normal in the native cultures. If we think in terms of building global competency in the days ahead, we need to change and broaden our mindset, and be more tolerant to differences, shedding the ‘departmentalism’, the increasing ‘ghettoization’ in teaching and research, and sequestration of budget. The current emphasis on ‘money’ generation, I am afraid, will only corrupt teachers and administration, rather than create positive resources, innovations, or even skills development. 

--Professor R.K. Singh