Languages for Specific Purposes: Review.

Language for Specific Purposes. Sandra Gollin-Kies, David R. Hall, and Stephen H. Moore. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Theoretical and practical books about ESP teaching are rare, so I was happy to see this book available recently. Although the title is “Languages for Specific Purposes”, most of the examples are from English and as well as that useful research from other languages is included. The book is highly recommended to all ESP, including EAP, teachers.

In Language for Specific Purposes, Gollin-Kies, Hall, and Moore provide a good overview of the history, concepts, application, pedagogy and research of language for specific purposes (LSP).

The book starts with an introduction and is then organized into four parts: Part I (Chapters 1-3), Part II (Chapters 4-9), Part III (Chapters 10-12) and Part IV (Chapter 13).

The Introduction usefully tries to define LSP by discussing the meanings of the words “Language”, “Specific” & “Purpose”. The authors conclude that the word “Language” in the phrase “Languages for Specific Purposes” refers to language in context and therefore a functionalist approach to its study has usually dominated in LSP. The degree of specificity needs to be determined in each case and depends on the degree of effectiveness and efficiency required. ESP is traditionally divided into EAP, EOP and EPP, but each one of these categories can be narrowed down until we reach a single person or group. Purposes is discussed from the point of view of the various stakeholders – whose purpose? As well as this attention is drawn to how immediate the purpose is.

In Part I (Chapters 1-3) the authors introduce concepts and issues relating to LSP, proving useful background information on the history of LSP and theories while highlighting important developments. I have often said – without much evidence – that the first language learning/teaching that took place was probable LSP – for trade and business. The authors point out that rhetoric and its power have been studied since classical Greek and Roman times in the west and for at least 24 centuries in the east. In Chapters 2 and 3, the authors explain the social constructionist ideas that have underpinned genre-based approaches to LSP teaching. This includes the blurring of the distinction between native and non-native speakers of English and the question of standards, as well as the development of new technologies.

Part II (Chapters 4-9) addresses LSP in the classroom. In Chapter 4 on course planning, the authors outline the different contexts in which LSP can take place and LSP practitioners are advised to always keep the context and needs in mind and also see needs analysis, teaching and course evaluation as a continuous process, not as an end in itself. Chapter 5 focusses on course design and its connection to organisational structure, resources, and the importance of language analysis. Chapter 6 draws attention to the importance of reliability and validity in assessment of LSP, different reasons for testing and the relationship between teaching and testing. Interdisciplinarity is the focus of Chapter 7. The practices of LSP teachers and the importance of research-informed pedagogy are discussed in Chapter 8. The authors point out that LSP practitioners need a combination of research and pedagogical competences compared to teachers of General English. Chapter 9 concentrates on issues related to working in an LSP environment. This involves managing classrooms and dealing with professional development. As far as managing LSP classrooms is concerned, the main issues are presented as (i) who the learners are, (ii) how proficient they are in the language, and (iii) how knowledgeable they are in the specific purpose area. From a teacher point of view, the authors feel that practitioners do not need to have been professionals in the area, but do need to have a “threshold” level of knowledge of the subject. For that reason, team teaching with a subject expert can be a valuable learning experience. Sharing an accounting class with an accounting teacher for several years is an experience that I will always value

Part III (Chapters 10-12) focusses on understanding and carrying out research in LSP. In Chapter 10, research practices in LSP are discussed. Trends mentioned include the importance of corpus-based research and genre studies, as well as attention given to ethnographic methods. Chapter 11, on case studies in LSP research and projects, is particularly valuable for anyone hoping to carry out projects and research.

Part IV (Chapter 13) gives some valuable information on resources, including a list of recommended LSP publications and software that can be used for data analysis in LSP teaching and research.

The book is comprehensive, clearly organised and user-friendly throughout. Each chapter begins with a summary of the chapter and concludes with a series of discussion points. Quotes from well known authors are included throughout. Language for Specific Purposes is highly recommended to all teachers and researchers interested in learning more about LSP, including EAP.

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