English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a language approach whose goal is to provide learners with narrowly defined goals the language elements they need to function as professionals. Diane Belcher says,

“For those who are at all familiar with the approach to English language teaching known as English for specific purposes, or ESP (also known as LSP), the descriptors likely to spring to mind probably include such terms as needs-based, pragmatic, efficient, cost-effective, and functional: a view of ESP encapsulated by Hutchinson and Waters (1987) in the statement, ‘Tell me what you need English for and I will tell you the English that you need’ (p. 8)” (134).

It does not diminish the value of more general English-learning courses that ESP courses exist any more than a technical or vocational school threatens the values or existence of a traditional university. It merely acknowledges that not every individual or group has the same motivations driving them to learn a language. Magda Kourilova writes,

“Few would dispute the need for students of scientific disciplines to learn English. The teaching of English to scientists whose first language is not English is essentially utilitarian. The learners need English as a means of doing their work efficiently and of furthering their specialist education, and the language is not taught with a general educational aim in mind, as a cultural or social experience” (431).

Each ESP course should be tailored to meet the specific needs of the learners in that course. If the class consists of biologists, they should be learning specialized vocabulary from texts related to that domain; if the learners want to become engineers, then poetry and short stories will not meet their needs.


“English for Specific Purposes.” YouTube, uploaded by soo oo, 09 Oct. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eCj7iulp4A.


Belcher, Diane D. “English for Specific Purposes: Teaching to Perceived Needs and Imagined Futures in Worlds of Work, Study, and Everyday Life.” TESOL Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 1, 2006, pp. 133–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40264514.

Kourilova, Magda. “Teaching English For Specific Purposes.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 6187, 1979, pp. 431–433. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25433614.