Learning or teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), aka English for Work, is always an adventure. Here’s mine. I hope I get to read yours too.
Engaging students in planning
I had a strong belief that engaging learners in the planning of their own learning activities would be the key to all my problems; however, it usually only works perfectly with one-on-one lessons. If you teach groups too, you will probably get participants from different professional backgrounds. Even then, I still feel that asking learners what they need for their job is an important step to take.
Because I do try to take that step, here are some conclusions I was able to draw:
(1) most students find it difficult to pinpoint what they need;
(2) some have been known to pinpoint areas of study never heard of before.
Using a Test to assess previously acquired language skills
After gathering their specific technical needs, I find it useful to conduct a quick multiple-choice language assessment of my own at a very early stage, usually in the very first lesson. Having the students take a quick English language placement test gives me a rough idea of the participants’ level range.
Here are two video previews of an English Placement Test that you might find useful. I have created multiple versions of the test, these are just two examples: (1) an editable Word file and (2) a fillable PDF file, both ready to use.
Check different options for English placement tests at
Feeding the Gemini in me
Planning Stage: the adventure in a nutshell
Assessing the students’ level actually becomes the easy part. Then, comes the planning stage. That’s when the real adventure starts.
Teaching English for Specific Purposes requires abilities that go beyond most (if not all) language teachers’ technical skills. It certainly requires skills beyond those I was able to acquire throughout my academic journey. Despite having no doubts on the importance of technical know-how, I believe that a successful lesson doesn’t depend solely on the knowledge teachers have on a certain field. Another key ingredient is how they communicate what they have managed to learn and prepare even if just for a very specific lesson.
One of the most time-consuming obstacles though is finding the right resources. I often find myself spending money on more than one coursebook for the same field in order to gather resources that will help all my students achieve their goals, especially those in mixed ability classes. Finding the right middle ground has never been easy and the hardships don’t stop there. Worse than spending money on coursebooks is not finding any educational resources at all and having to come up with entire courses from scratch.
I have been teaching technical English for quite some time. I must confess that becoming an adult education teacher of different technical fields was a fulfilling fit for me. It helps me feed what I’ve been told is my Gemini curiosity. I am not very fond of repetitive work, and despite having had the same job all these years, having to prepare myself to teach a field outside my comfort zone feels as if I were changing careers every time.
It was the willingness to try something new that brought me to fields I had never dreamt of teaching, such as Maritime English (though I can’t even swim) or English for Mechanics (I must confess that learning the difference between a crankshaft and a camshaft did not help me the car I had at the time). I have had the chance to be an engine operator in a container ship, a nurse, a fisherwoman, a sales rep, a sailor, a hairdresser, a carpenter, an electrician, a receptionist, a waitress, a deckhand, a CEO… Imagine that!
Are some of these jobs new to you? Well, some were new to me too.
Fellow teachers, please feel free to check the links below. You’ll find some affordable resources to use in the classroom. I hope they offer you a head start:
Feeding the Gemini in me
And learn from your students
As if researching new fields of expertise every other month wasn’t enough to feed my constant need to engage in new projects, I get to talk for hours about my findings and pass on knowledge to ripe minds.
Besides teaching adults basic English skills, taking part in vocational courses has sometimes put me face to face with learners who have a long work experience in the very same vocational field I am supposed to be teaching them something new. It was scary at first. How would I be able to teach something new to a pro?
Embracing my students’ technical skills and putting them to good use in the classroom rather than ignoring or fearing what they were able to share has created fulfilling learning experiences for me and hopefully for them too. I always end up learning so much more than I could ever learn or teach by myself.
It’s your turn to share
And make my day
Whether you’re a student or a teacher, I would love to read your thoughts on any of these topics. Please, leave a comment below.
If you’re a fellow educator, how many parts have you had the chance to play in the classroom? Did you experience any awkward moments on ‘stage’? I’d love to read about those.