A distinction is often made between EGAP and ESAP (Blue, 1988). EGAP – English for General Academic Purposes – deals with the language and practices common to all EAP students, whereas ESAP – English for Specific Academic Purposes – is concerned with the specific needs of students in particular disciplines.
English for Specific Academic Purposes could mean, for example, English for law students or engineering students. It is becoming more popular as the different requirements of the subjects are becoming better understood (Blue, 1988). As far as possible in regard to all EAP teaching, we need to be as specific as possible. However, for practical – management & finance – reasons it is sometimes not possible.
EGAP is becoming less popular as EAP comes to recognise the different practices involved in the different subjects (Blue, 1988). However, there is actually no such thing as a general academic purpose as all purposes are, by definition, specific.
Furthermore, it is difficult to know how we teach EGAP. Of course there are aspects of language – academic words, text structure, grammar etc. – which are common to many academic fields. But these cannot be exemplified by EGAP texts as there is no such thing. An EGAP course will therefore take language and texts from a range of academic sources, not those of specific interest to the learners.
This may be problematic for several reasons:
- it may not be motivating for the learners to read texts unrelated to their specialisms;
- some of the language taught may be used differently in the learners’ specific fields of interest;
- the learners might waste time studying aspects of the language that are not necessary for their use.
The EGAP approach also assumes that students will be able to transfer the general knowledge they have learned to their specific contexts and I do not think that happens. IN fact, it is more likely to happen the other way round. First students learn the specific language for their fields and then – possible – later, they learn to generalise to other areas.And that is the way teaching needs to happen.
In some contexts, because of the range of learners involved, or because of financial constraints, it may not be possible to organise classes around ESAP areas. But there is no academic, linguistic or educational justification for this action.
Blue, G. (1988). Individualising academic writing tuition. In P. C. Robinson (Ed.), Academic writing: Process and product (ELT Documents 129, pp. 95-99). London: Modern English Publications.