Lewis Lansford explores some of the difficulties of teaching specialist content and vocabulary in ESP. His talk at IATEFL 2011 in Brighton, entitled ‘Mudmen and monkey boards: Coping with specialist content in ESP’, will this explore further.
I interviewed a handful of teachers of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) about the challenges of their job and how they’ve overcome them. All four of these comments were made by teachers during the interviews:
“I’m afraid I’m not up to it.”
“I’m at a loss.”
“I’m not a [content area] specialist.”
“The content teachers might disagree with what I say.”
Of course all teachers have felt these things at one time or another, especially newer teachers who are still finding their way. But all four of the teachers who made the above statements are highly educated, well-trained, extremely experienced professionals. And yet they had all felt The Fear.
ESP teachers work in an environment of constant challenge, often with a nagging sense of self-doubt. While general English teachers are trying to decide whether a discussion about Lady Gaga will hold their students’ attention long enough to get through a lesson on comparative adjectives, ESP teachers might be struggling with the question of whether someone could be seriously injured on the job if tricky technical vocabulary is mishandled in the classroom. It can be a huge responsibility.
When dealing with high-achieving doctors or super-ambitious airline pilots, teachers can begin to feel that they just don’t know much. They forget that teachers, too, bring specialist knowledge to the classroom. The same teachers who expressed the doubts above also came up with these suggestions for how to approach ESP.