Textbook Evaluation Of Issues In Esp English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The aim of this assignment is to assess two Business English Course books, Business Opportunities (Vicki Hollett 1994 OUP) and English for the Financial Sector (Ian Mackenzie 2008 CUP), with a view to assessing their suitability for a group of adult intermediate learners in work, from professional backgrounds and from a number of different first languages, following a course at a Teaching Centre. Although the class in question is an 'open-access' one, an important source of candidates for the Teaching Centre, and for this class, is the local branch of an international bank. The context is that of a Teaching Centre which offers open access Business English (BE) courses on which students enrol on a termly basis. Classes are held three times a week and each class lasts two hours with a fifteen minute break. A published course textbook is preferred as the basis for the course for similar reasons as identified by Swales (1980). The textbook provides a structure for students (whether or not certain parts of the book are omitted). Publishers have writers and resources at their disposal which arguably allow greater design, research and trialling than the average teacher can devote to producing course materials for a particular learner group. (1)

The assignment is organised by reviewing recent key issues in ESP and ESP materials design. Each issue will be followed by a consideration of the course book for the needs of the target student group and an assessment as to the level of suitability of the course book. It should be noted, however, that there is some overlap between the key issues. (2)

Relevant issues in ESP and ESP Materials Design

Business Opportunities was first published in 1994. It has been reprinted ten times and remains a fixture in the Oxford University Press (OUP) catalogue. The book was an award winner in the English Speaking Union's Duke of Edinburgh book competition and has been a best-seller for OUP*. One issue which is likely to arise is the extent to which Business Opportunities may be said to have dated against developments within English for Specific Business Purposes (ESBP), such as the growth of interest in Intercultural Communication Skills, and developments within Applied Linguistics such as (Business) English as a Lingua Franca ((B) ELF) and Corpus Linguistics (CL). English for the Financial Sector (2008) is a more recent publication. The units alternate between practice of business communication skills and coverage of particular areas of finance. (3)

* information given anecdotally by OUP Sales Representative

Rationale for ESP and specificity of material

One rationale underpinning ESP is that it is motivating for students to study material that involves their specialist interest. As Dudley-Evans and St John (1998) pointed out, however, there are no studies which prove this. (4)

A separate but related issue is the specificity of the texts and vocabulary included in the material. The General/Specificity continuum has often been applied to ESP tests (see Figure 1 below). (5)

Figure 1: The concept of the 'specificity continuum' [adapted from O'Sullivan (2006)]


Increase in content knowledge

test/book targeted at a specific sector eg Air Traffic Controllers

'English for the Financial sector

general Business English test/book

The 'specificity continuum' may also be considered to be applicable to ESP textbooks in that the more specific the textbook, the less generalisable it may be held to be for the heterogeneous open-access Business English class. As a consequence, the less specific course book is likely to generate a higher level of sales to the publisher. The generality of Business English course books was noted by Robinson (1991) who suggested three possible explanations:

The wide range of students considered to be 'Business English' students

The open access/open door policy of many language schools offering BE courses

The nature of BE as a 'mediating language' between public and business. (6)

As far as Business Opportunities is concerned, the content is arguably of interest to the typical BE group, given that it includes material from a range of sector areas including car manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and publishing. English for the Financial Sector has a more specific content for half of the units in terms of Banking and Finance, but the remaining units focus on general business communication skills.(7)

Link with English for General Purposes (EGP):

A recurrent issue in ESP is its link with EPG: what is the relationship with the common core? Is it a core of language? Hutchinson & Waters (1987) have been among those casting doubt on the usefulness of subject-specific materials in general. While accepting the motivational value of such material to the student (NB see 2.1), their focus is on the underlying competences of the language to be acquired, rather than the specific language itself. This issue may be said to have been in the background of the development of materials for BE since the early 1970s, and continues to a certain extent today. (7)

However, Hutchinson & Waters' emphasis on the generality of language and importance of underlying language competence rather than on the specific lexis of a discipline needs to be put into perspective. Many writers (eg Dudley-Evans and St John 1998; Nelson 2000) believe that key lexis should play a role in the teaching content of any ESP course. Furthermore, research into the nature of Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) in terms of register or dominance of particular grammatical structures needs to be taken into account. Arthur (1983), in a review of Business English materials, raises the issue of whether materials should offer core General English in a business context or if materials should reflect specific discourse patterns and functions found in business. This is a view also shared by others (Ayers & Van Huyssteen 1996) who argue that an ESP textbook needs in-depth coverage of the communicative events which occur in a particular context and their linguistic realisations'. (8)

Pilbeam, in an article published in 1987, listed eight criteria by which published Business English materials should be judged as being appropriate for classroom use: specificity; appropriateness; validity; flexibility; suitability; quality; length of production time; cost (Pilbeam 1987: 120-123). However, most of Pilbeam's criteria may be said to apply to published material in general, rather than solely to ESP materials. (9)

Turning to Business Opportunities, Ayers & Van Huyssteen (1996) are critical of the general approach taken in the book: 'it seems that a grammatical syllabus has been drawn up, and a list of business situations' 'matched' to those structures' (1996:74). This may be considered to be an overly harsh assessment. Unit 13, for example, has the topic of 'Meetings' and the input Listening text is rich in content (discussion of a production problem and how to solve it) and lexis ('prototype', 'specifications', 'alter the design'). The main structure in the unit is the conditional but this appears under 'hypothesising'. Although the course book displays a concern with language accuracy and proficiency, this is not always at the expense of language strategy. Unit 13, for example, also includes activities on clarification and checking understanding. Nonetheless, it is true to say that each unit in the book includes grammatical structure to be practised, and that there is a fairly familiar progression in the structures dealt with (eg Present Simple and Continuous in Unit 3 to 'Going to/Will' in Unit 4 to Past Simple and Continuous in Unit 5). In addition, the way the language focus is presented in the book may be said to lack consistency (see Appendix 2), in that it seems unclear as to what exactly should be listed under 'Topic', 'Language' or 'Skills Work': Unit 7, for instance, includes 'Checking and Correcting' under 'Topic', 'Correcting wrong information' under 'Language' and 'Placing an order' under 'Skills Work'. (10)

English for the Financial Sector does not have an explicitly grammatical syllabus. It includes two units devoted to meetings but neither of these includes a specific structure to be practised. The overall approach is functional with a strong emphasis on lexis. In the units devoted to Meetings, the approach is that of eliciting and practising the language needed to chair various stages of a meeting in one unit and participating in a meeting in the second unit. It also includes practice of vocabulary closely associated with running meetings and follow-up activity in writing action points.(11)

'International English' /' English as a Lingua Franca' (ELF)

Globalisation and deregulation of national economies has led to an increase in international trade and communication and a consequent growth in the use of 'International English'. Although much has been written attacking the cultural, social and political consequences of the adoption and use of English as an international language in general (eg Philipson 1992), as Nickerson (2005) points out, most research into the use of English in international business has been generally uncritical, choosing instead to see English 'as a neutral medium not associated with any one dominant culture' . In the same article, Nickerson outlines the extent to which English is used by NN speakers in the finance and business environments to make its 'dominance .....beyond dispute'. Estimates of the numbers of NNS using English to communicate with other NNSs vary but are estimated to be approximately 75% (Crystal 1997) or 80% (Graddol 1997). Furthermore, the term 'International English' is used to cover a number of differently named (and sometimes differing) concepts such as English as an International Language (EIL); English as a Global Language; (Business) English as a Lingua Franca [(B)ELF]; World Standard Spoken English (WSSE); World English; Offshore English and Globish. These concepts are also backed up, in part, by studies of NNS/NNS communication. This assignment will use the term ELF as it is the approach which is arguably supported by most research, undertaken primarily by Barbara Seidlhofer (2004) and Jennifer Jenkins (2000). (12)

Linguistic features of ELF

Seidlhofer (2004) among others has drawn attention to the linguistic features of ELF, that is, common features of English considered to be error in Standard English but which do not prevent intelligibility. These include: lack of third person singular; relative pronouns such as 'who'/'which' used interchangeably; lack of correct forms in tag questions ( eg 'isn't it?' or 'no?' instead of the correct tag); omission of definite and indefinite articles; misuse of countable/ uncountable nouns; little metaphorical language use; lower frequency of modal verbs; lower usage of phrasal verbs. Jennifer Jenkins (2000) has identified pronunciation features of standard native-speaker English which are not necessary for intelligibility and which therefore do not need to be taught or practised. (13)

As far as Business Opportunities is concerned, in addition to including a Grammar Bank, it also includes explicit practice in some of the features indicated above: practice of modal verbs (Unit 11); countables/ uncountables (Unit 14); relative pronouns (Unit 7). In addition, it includes practice of phonological features identified by Jenkins as being unnecessary for intelligibility: eg noun/verb stress (Unit 10); contractions (Unit 6). As far as Listening material is concerned, recordings appear to feature RP speakers only.(14)

English for the Financial Sector does not contain any explicit grammatical or phonological language work (see Appendix 3). Listening material includes speakers of British English (RP and regional), US English, Indian English and NNS European. (15)

Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF)

Building on work by Seidlhofer, others have investigated the use of Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF). Louhiala-Salminen et al (2005: 401-421) describe BELF as a 'highly functional form of communication' and as a 'code language' for business purposes but 'not necessarily culture neutral'. (In research conducted within Scandinavia, although a number of generic BELF characteristics were shared, cultural differences between Swedish and Finnish speakers were displayed.) However, the writers conclude that the BELF perspective should be at the forefront of language training and identify three main points to be taken into account:

The pragmatic communication aspects of language use should be emphasised and learners should be trained to see themselves as communicators with real jobs to perform and needs to fulfil.

Learners should be helped to use contextual clues to identify the situational presuppositions of the other interactants.

Learners need to be aware of their own and of their interactants' discourse patterns and conventions. (16)

As far as Bullet Point One is concerned, both course books include a number of activities requiring learners to play certain roles and to achieve certain goals. Business Opportunities (p150-159) includes role play cards for most units. Not all of these, however, require the learner to take on a specific role, but some only to 'Work with a partner to ...' Furthermore, there are other instances within the units themselves where opportunities may be said to have been missed to locate language use to within the world of work. Unit 10 (p101 Activity 2), for example, requires the candidate to work with a partner, taking it in turns to describe a graph. A more focused activity would be to give the learners roles with a meaningful communication task to perform (eg describing company performance by reference to the graph by a Senior Manager to an external consultant). (17)

English for the Financial Sector includes detailed role play or 'File' cards (pp115-136), all of which appear to give the learner a clear role. Roles include Head of Retails Operations/Head of Customer Services/Bank Team Member/PR Director/Risk Director and are not related only to Finance. (18)

Consideration of sorts is also given to Bullet Points Two and Three in English for the Financial Sector. Unit 21 includes a section highlighting 'Diplomatic Language', with a register transfer activity and follow up role-play task. The lead-in to Unit 18 asks learners to consider what their own negotiating style might be. Business Opportunities includes Role Play awareness- raising activities of other interactants' discourse styles. (eg p155) Bullet points 2 and 3 also relate to Business discourse (see 2.5 below)(19)

Business discourse and communicative genres in English

Related to BELF, is the study of the dominant discoursal features within business, although this may be NS/NNS rather than NNS/NNS only (as the case with BELF).

At the time of the publication of 'Business Opportunities', St John pointed out 'the need to understand more of the generic features of different events such as meetings, to identify common features of effective communications, to understand the role of cultural influences and the ways in which language and business strategies interact ' ((1996, p15). According to Nickerson (2005), recent studies of discourse within a business context appear to have focused on one of four genres: negotiations; meetings; email and business letters. (20)

Nickerson (ibid) also summarises how the focus of research has changed from analysis of language used in specific speech acts or written texts to a concern with effective language strategy in business, regardless of whether the speaker is NS or NNS. She cites work undertaken by a number of researchers into business meetings, which demonstrate the importance of interactive style and strategy in achieving successful meeting outcomes. One, Rogerson-Revell (1999 :55-70), cites Clyne (1994) in suggesting that successful intercultural communicators have cultural awareness (of themselves and their interlocutor[s]) ; express themselves in a culturally neutral manner; keep 'face' without threatening that of others and keep control of the communication. One of the conclusions for language teaching and training would therefore be the inclusion of activities which allow students to explore their own interactive styles and investigate their own attitudes to intercultural interaction. (20)

As far as Business Opportunities is concerned, Unit 4, 'Planning Ahead' has a sub-topic of International Meetings which briefly covers national cultural stereotypes in approaches towards meetings but this is not followed through by any development. (21)

English for the Financial Sector, on the other hand, has fairly extensive coverage both of language strategy and potential cultural differences. Unit 10 covers corporate and cultural attitudes towards meetings. It also includes a Listening exercise highlighting language used to control meetings, followed up by fairly extensive practice. This is complemented by Unit 12, the second unit dealing with meetings, which concentrates on language strategies for meeting participation. This also includes a role play activity on the possibility of setting up a call-centre in India. However, the phrasing of the role-cards may not necessarily encourage an appropriate approach. Role Card 3, for example, says 'You are tired of listening to ... weak arguments against this proposal and so you tend to interrupt ...' (p135) which may encourage the student to use 'face threatening' behaviour and language. Nonetheless, the book includes further work on language strategies for dealing with Presentations, Negotiations and Socialising, much of which has the aim of awareness raising of how effective communication can be achieved. (22)

Role of the teacher

ESP is usually not considered to have its own methodology (Hutchison and Waters 1987). In general, this may be said to be true, although team teaching as described by St John and Dudley-Evans (1998) at the University of Birmingham could be seen as a specific methodology. However, the role of the teacher in acquiring knowledge of ESP subject context and disciplinary culture has been more extensively discussed. Ewer (1983) suggests that an ESP teacher should be prepared to acquire the intelligent layperson's knowledge of the area he/she is teaching. This may also involve learning the culture associated with it, for example, the market system, and may involve the willingness to engage with content experts. Dudley-Evans (1997) and Robinson (1991) have suggested than rather the acquisition of deep content knowledge, the vital quality for ESP teachers is respect for learner knowledge and perspective. This learner-centred approach to content appears frequently in Teacher's Books as a strategy to be used in the classroom, with the suggestion that the teacher uses the learners as a content resource. Both Teacher's Books recommend this ( p5 Business Opportunities; p9 English for the Financial Sector). (23)

As far as equipping the teacher with a certain degree of content knowledge, English for the Financial Sector identifies resources in the form of Finance websites to which teachers may refer (p9). Notes on different aspects of finance dealt with in each unit are also included (eg p30 on Corporate Lending) which may be familiar to learners but less so to the teacher. Furthermore, the Teacher's Book draws attention to vocabulary items, arguably corpus-derived, which to highlight to learners (eg pretty well'/'pretty much' p13, 'meeting with' p27).In addition, the Teacher's Book includes reference to general beliefs about intercultural communication styles (eg p86). (24)

The accompanying Teacher's Book for Business Opportunities is thorough and supportive, advising on Learner Training (p5) and setting up of activities. It also includes useful tips for adapting the activities to a pre-service group of learners. (25)

Relevance of text analysis and Corpus Linguistics (CL)

Text analysis has traditionally been considered to be an important feature of ESP. Initially this was in the role of 'lexicostatistics' (Swales 1988:189) meaning the counting of key lexical items or grammatical features. More recently corpora and concordancing have shown the frequency of lexical items and the contexts in which they appear. Nation and Kyongho (1995) attempted to identify the point at which learners should begin to learn special purposes vocabulary and concluded that a 2000-word general purpose vocabulary should be learnt first. For learners with specific interests, this should be followed by specialising in specific purposes vocabulary. The question for course book writers is how to identify lexical items for a context-specific vocabulary list. The writers suggested s that this should be done by looking at the frequency and range of words, and identifying words of high frequency within the relevant area of specialisation. Advances in technology have led to corpus-based techniques leading to this possibility. The word corpus today usually refers to a database of language stored in a computer which is available for analysis. The two largest corpora, the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Bank of English, include hundreds of millions of words. There are also smaller corpora, including some held by publishers. Corpus research has called into question some long-held beliefs about language, in particular, how language is used . In some branches of applied linguistics, in fact, corpora play a key role in the current methodology. Krishnamurthy, for example, claims that corpora have brought about a 'revolution' in the field of EFL lexicography, to the extent that 'all of the current EFL dictionaries make some claim to the use of corpora in their compilation' (2002:4). (25)

As far as BE is concerned, Nelson (2000) examined how Business English lexis differs from that of General English. He found that some words appeared with unusual frequency and represented lexis that is core to Business English and concluded that Business English differs from General English, not only lexically, but also semantically.(26)

To what extent do course book writers make use of corpus studies when producing their work? Neither Business Opportunities nor English for the Financial Sector make reference to being corpus-based. (But see reference in 2.6 above to Teacher's Book.) As Business Opportunities dates from the mid-1990s, this is possibly unsurprising. English for the Financial Sector, however, is a far more recent publication, and there are, moreover, earlier products from the same publisher which are promoted as being corpus-based (see CUP website). (27)

Although neither book is corpus based, both, however, make reference to the authenticity of the material included. It may be assumed, therefore, that the writers have considered what is specific about the language of work. Drew and Heritage (1992 cited in Koester 2006) concluded that work or institutional talk differs in a number of ways. These are:

goal orientation: there is a focus on specific tasks or goals;

turn-taking roles or restrictions: in some professional contexts, there are special turn-taking roles in operation or there may be unwritten restrictions;

turn-taking tends to be much tidier: there is some overlapping speech but roles of speaker and listener are much more clearly distinguishable;

there are restrictions on what is allowable and there is less likelihood of the speaker straying from the topic;

the discourse may be asymmetrical: one speaker may have more power ort special knowledge;

use of professional lexis: specialised vocabulary is often used by the speakers.

How do the books stand up to what is known about the language of work? All but two of Business Opportunities dialogues are goal oriented and all have neat turn-taking. There is a dominance of monologues in English for the Financial Sector - many are authentic broadcast recordings. Of the remaining dialogues, all but one is goal oriented. All have clear turn-taking patterns and clear roles. (28)

3. Conclusion

This assignment has set out to examine two course books with a view as to evaluating which would be most suitable for a particular group of students (see introduction). The books have been assessed against current issues in ESP/LSP.

The choice of book for the class in question is English for the Financial Sector. It combines content-rich material in business and finance with language strategy work, and a supportive Teacher's book which includes finance references for the teacher. These meet the general needs of the learners and teacher in question. In addition, the language strategy activities come closer to reflecting current research in ESBP (English for Specific Business Purposes). ESBP shows the need for the teaching of rhetorical strategies and their linguistic realisations rather than the traditional focus on language proficiency. However, in general, this need has not yet had a major impact on teaching materials. Writing in 2005, Nickerson acknowledged that there had been a move in research interest to investigating language strategy, but commented that 'the divide between teaching materials on the one hand, and research on the other, may in fact have deepened' (p374 2005). Taken against this background English for the Financial Sector may be considered to be ahead of other publications in the field. A surprising way in which it is not, however, is the lack of explicit corpus-informed material within the book, or lack of mention of this, given that other publications by the same publisher are corpus based. (29)

Although Business Opportunities was first published in1995, it appears to have dated less than might be imagined and would not be an unsuitable book for the learners in question, although it does not reflect recent research in the area of ESBP. However, in describing the market for BE in the 1990s, St John (1996, p15) defined BE as 'a materials-led movement rather than a research-led movement'. If one accepts this, there is likely to be a significant time-delay before research findings have a significant impact on most BE materials. (30)

(Number of words = 4,089 not including Bibliography or Appendices)


Ayers, G and Van Huyssteen, M (1996) Review of Business Opportunities in English for Specific Purposes Volume 15 pp73-75 1996

Crystal, D (1997) English as a Global Language Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Dudley-Evans, T and St. John M-J (1998) Developments in English for Specific Purposes Cambridge; Cambridge University Press

Graddol, D (1997) The Future of English? London: British Council

Hollett, V (1994) Business Opportunities Student's Book Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hewings, M. and Nickerson, C (Eds) (1999) Business English: Research into Practice Harlow: Pearson Education

Hutchinson, T and Waters, A (1987) English for Specific Purposes Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Jenkins, J (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language Oxford: Oxford University Press

Koester, A (2006) Investigating Workplace Discourse New York: Routledge

Koester, A (2004) The Language of Work New York: Routledge

Krishnamurthy, R (2002) The corpus revolution in EFL Dictionaries in Kernerman Dictionary News 10: 1-6

Louhiala-Salminen, L, Charles, M, Kankaanranta, A (2005) English as a lingua franca in Nordic Corporate Mergers: Two case companies. English for Specific Purposes 24 381-89

Mackenzie, I (2008) English for the Financial Sector Student's Book Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mackenzie, I (2008) English for the Financial Sector Teacher's Book Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Nation, P and Kyongho, H (1995) Where would general service vocabulary stop and special purposes vocabulary begin? System 23 (1), 35-41

Nelson, M (2000) A corpus-based study of Business English and Business English Teaching Materials, unpublished Phd thesis, University of Manchester

Nickerson, C (Ed) English as a Lingua Franca in international business contexts English for Specific Purposes Volume 24, 4/2005

O'Sullivan, B (2006) Issues in testing Business English Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Phillips, A and Phillips, T (1994) Business Opportunities Teacher's Book Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pilbeam, A. (1987) Can published materials be widely used for ESP courses? ELT Documents 126, 119-124 London: British Council

Philipson, R (1992) Linguistic Imperialism Oxford: Oxford University Press

Robinson, P (1991) ESP Today: a practitioner's guide Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall

Seidlhofer, B (2004) Research perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca Annual Review of Applied Linguistics Volume 24 p 209-239

Swales, J M (1990) Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings Cambridge: Cambridge University Press