English for Specific Purposes

Find an English Language Program (ESL)

The world is becoming more of a global community through air travel, Skype, Facebook and other social media. This is making the need to increase understanding and improve communication among all citizens more urgent. An international exchange of ideas addressing crucial issues is essential.

Affecting all of us are environmental issues, such as global warming and the thinning ozone layer; health and medical issues, including research, genetic engineering and the distribution of modern drug therapies; and finally the political challenges of a global economy.

For this reason, more and more individuals are seeking to improve their English language skills for highly specific academic or professional reasons. Courses that fall under the heading English for Specific Purposes (ESP) hold particular appeal with these students. These types of English courses are designed to meet the specific academic or professional needs of learners. Examples of ESP are courses in English for business or law. Each curriculum is centered on the language and culture specific to the field, while teaching grammar, vocabulary, communication style, and study skills.

Who Should Enroll in English for Specific Purposes Programs?

Generally, advanced students who have a specific area of academic or professional interest should consider these programs instead of a general English language course. Many programs require that applicants’ English be at a high-intermediate or advanced level.

Learning by Example

Yale University English Language Institute Yale Summer Session

Yale University offers a Law Seminar for non-native English speakers who are planning to enter a U.S. law school, or who are working in the field of law in an international context. Taught by attorneys and professors of law, Law Seminar students learn to analyze cases, identify issues, and understand the precedents formed in “case law,” as well as the reasoning of a court.

Seminar students have a variety of field trip opportunities that give them a direct glimpse into the world of law:

  • Trips to federal and state prisons
  • Visits to state and federal courts that often include meetings with judges, prosecutors and public defenders
  • A visit to the United States Mission to the United Nations and a meeting with its lawyers, followed by a tour of the United Nations
  • A visit to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where students meet with its lawyers and with a representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, instructors of Yale’s Business Seminar focus on readings and cases that deal with international and cross-cultural issues. This encourages the sharing of insights across nationalities and the examination of culturally based assumptions about behavior in organizations. Business Seminar students take field trips to small businesses and the New York Stock Exchange.

Custom Designed Programs

Often U.S. universities, usually through an intensive English language institute, will arrange short- or long-term specific English programs for groups. If a university does not offer English instruction focused on the field you seek, inquire about the possibility of developing such a program.

As we are brought closer together, closing the gap of time and distance, communication through a common language is becoming a pressing need. English for Specific Purposes programs present one of the unique ways to address that need.

How is ESP different from general English language courses?

  1. The English words and sentences learned, the subject matter discussed, all relate to a particular field or discipline, for example, a lawyer writing a brief, or a diplomat preparing a policy paper. The courses make use of vocabulary and tasks related to the field, such as negotiation skills and effective techniques for oral presentations.
  2. English for Specific Purposes programs use materials that are specially designed to meet the needs of a specific group of learners, usually adults.
  3. Tuition for an ESP course may be somewhat higher than that of a general English language course. (The specialized teaching, requiring professionals, the broad range of supporting activities and facilities explain this higher cost.) In general, the course will conform to the length of a school's regular English language programs, although a highly specialized course lasting only two or three weeks might be designed to meet the needs of a specific group.

Apart from differences in ESP programs' duration and cost, these courses have a common purpose: to increase students' skill and confidence in using English.

Business English for Career Advancement

University of Pennsylvania, English Language Programs

The University of Pennsylvania English Language Programs’ International Business Communication Program (IBCP) is designed for international professionals who want to improve the way they communicate in professional situations in English. The IBCP includes instruction in areas such as: social interaction; the language and strategies of meetings and negotiation; written and telephone communication; and presentations.

The program also organizes activities that encourage learning through real-life situations. International students enjoy business receptions with the Philadelphia International Visitors Bureau, lectures from Wharton faculty and going to Phillies Baseball games. Students learn how to use Business English through simulations such as working with a team to develop solutions for a company to determine where to relocate and how to negotiate with the local government.

Penn's intensive English program offers business English electives, such as Issues in Business, Financially Speaking and Communicating about Business. International students are also taught job skills, such as writing resumes and interviewing. Students participate in a simulated business lunch and plan a business trip, complete with budget.

Like many young people, Lisandra Maioli, from Sao Paolo, Brazil, interviewed for a job with an international company—her dream. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the job because her English was not good enough. She needed to improve her English.

English has become a requirement for international people seeking career advancement. Worldwide, employers want to hire workers who can speak English—the international language of business, science, diplomacy, and media.

Students must be able to speak more than conversational English. They must have the specific vocabulary and writing skills for a professional environment.

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By Margaret-Mary Palladino
Director of the English Language Institute at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.