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In solving the problem of improving the quality of higher economic education, special attention has been paid to the development of economists’ professional competence, consisting of cultural, social, linguistic and humanities components. In this context, learning English for Specific Purposes (ESP), which enables students to adapt quickly to new challenges of academic and professional communities, is becoming very important. In this article, the historical background of ESP study is presented, its development as a branch of applied linguistics, and potential areas for further investigation.
Keywords: English for Specific Purposes, professional competence, higher economic education, future economists, professional-orientated abilities, professional skills.
The actual professional capacity of an economist implies not only professional knowledge, but also a number of social-humanities skills, which are alternative for an economic education and fall into the category of soft skills while forming the social-humanities competence of an expert. The qualifying standards made by employers of economist graduates directly refer to their ability to work in a diversified team; the possession of methods of effective argumentation; realisation of professional communication; comprehension of professional and ethical liability; and critical analysis of decisions made, with flexibility in a variable economic, social and political environment . It becomes obvious that economic universities will reconsider their educational policy and, thereby, eventually abandon traditional approaches to teaching economist, such as narrow-purposed teaching, targeting a labour-market of only one country, and discontinuity of education processes. To fit the times, as in educating a highly qualified economist, the university shall develop and introduce such training courses which would promote development of the extra professional-orientated abilities of the students . Among these abilities can be, for example: self-education, critical or lateral thinking, self-discipline, professional communication.
One can look at three definitions of ESP found in the literature, and then, based on them an understanding of this notion will be built up, in order to make a methodological foundation for the proposed model of ESP teaching at the economic university [5-7].
The first definition was produced by Hutchinson and Waters in 1987. They suggested that the foundation of ESP is the simple question: Why does the learner need to learn a foreign language? The answer will determine the language required and the learning context, and thus establishes the primacy of need in ESP. Need is defined by the reasons for which students are learning English, which can vary from study purposes to work purposes: applying for an academic exchange programme or participating in business negotiations .
Another definition of ESP was offered by Strevens in 1988, who provided four absolute and two variable characteristics of this notion. The absolute characteristics are that ESP consists of English Language Teaching.
The third definition of ESP proposed by Robinson was also focused on the primacy of a needs analysis, which aims to specify as closely as possible what exactly it is that students have to do through the medium of English . She mentions homogeneous classes as another characteristic of ESP in terms of the work or specialist studies that the students could be involved in.
However, each definition has validity but also weaknesses because none of them can be considered universal and can cover all aspects of ESP teaching. Strevens’ definition is the most comprehensive of the three quoted, but it can lead to a certain confusion among teachers, providing a false impression that ESP is always related directly to a subject-content .
Moreover, no definition reflects the nature of the interaction between the ESP teacher and the learners, but meanwhile this feature can differentiate ESP teaching from General Purpose English teaching. Traditionally, in ESP classes the teacher acts more like a language consultant, emphasising the equal status with learners who have their own expertise in the subject matter.
In this article, ESP cannot be considered as just a set of specific themes or topics; specific vocabulary directly related to subject-content; or specific language skills such as reading, writing, etc. The ESP course should reflect structural characteristics of the learner’s special purposes and should be geared to the specific needs of the target situation. The choice of register, genres and associated language will depend on situations, which students need to manage when carrying out the activity. When designing the structure and content of an ESP course, account should be taken of the global goals of future economists that reflect the requirements of international economic associations and the social demand of society towards the experts of a particular economic field.
The content of an ESP course should be designed with focus on the development of the skills and abilities mentioned above, otherwise the disharmony between the goals of the education and its content can demotivate students, and could result in knowledge that is impersonal and out of context . Besides, foreign language is now regarded as not only a tool of professional communication but also a tool to extract professional knowledge. A good command of the English language for future economists implies the development of additional focused professional skills which, in authors’ opinion, can be:
• self-management and self-education skills that can be applied in independent students’ work, with different sources to collect necessary information;
• general scientific skills focused on study strategies development;
• management and creative skills applicable to team-work;
• critical or lateral thinking that implies the ability to analyze the result or the product and to find the alternative and non-standard way for problem solving.
Students’ focused professional skills can be formed and developed on the basis of general-purpose skills. The efficiency of their development will depend on the organization and the content of the courses offered to study. Taking into account the aforesaid, ESP is considered a foundation for professional skills development.
In order to determine the needs of future economists in ESP learning, a survey was carried out with a target group. The survey was restricted by the questions related to students’ necessities, lacks and wants in an ESP course. By necessities, it is implied that the information a learner has to know in order to function effectively in the target situation, for example, lectures, seminars in English, etc, and the discourse components and linguistic features commonly used in them, for example, functions, structures, vocabulary . Wants mean a learner’s motivation in the learning process and usually imply what a learner wants from the course. Lacks represent the gap between the target proficiency and that which a learner knows already . In other words, lacks analysis is the analysis of deficiency in a learner’s knowledge.
ESP teaching should not be considered a separate subject-content study. As mentioned above, the professional activity of the specialist in economics includes oral and written communication, participation in international projects, and formation of self-work strategies that can be a tool in acquiring professional up-to-date knowledge. Therefore, it was proposed that the alternative approach to ESP course development was carried out, when the focus was on the ESP tasks (project and research exercises, text-analysis, discourse and genre analysis, technical vocabulary) but the EAP components (academic writing, reference skills, listening and note-taking) were also included as a parallel course or as a part of the whole course, so each subject-content unit could be integrated with EAP components according to needs, lacks and wants the students feel.
In this article, a case study was introduced which aims to improve the level of ESP teaching in economic universities. Highly developed communication skills in English enable future economists in the economic sphere to be in demand, not just in their home country but all over the world, because of expansion of international contacts in science and economy. To achieve efficiency in teaching professional communication, the economic universities need to review the traditional approaches to ESP teaching, as well.
The English teachers need to gather information about a student’s subject course, how English fits into their course and what the department and students see as priorities. The development of the course should be based on strong collaboration between the subject specialists (economic experts) and the language teachers. Also, it is very important to establish the balance between the department’s expectations and the students’ wants. The teaching material for the ESP course should be selected by the economic experts, and then composed in the form of different communications exercises by the English teachers.
This article states the position that the ESP course should be compulsory for the future economists and needs both its general components (EAP) selected individually by students according to their lacks and needs, and its specific component reflecting the actual way the language is used in the professional sphere.