ESP ConceptsThere is a major difference between ESL/EFL and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). The primary difference is that in teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language we discourage the language learner from bringing first language influences into the sphere of English. Those influences tend to interfere with learning language skills.

ESP, on the other hand, focuses on adapting the prior experience of the language learner and incorporating it into English use. Rather than being in conflict, the two different influences complement each other and in fact, enhance the language learning and ensure that the language and purpose of the training have mutual relevance.

The specific purposes for which the English language is taught include (but are not limited to) business, the medical & legal fields, academics, computer sciences, tourism and hotel/restaurant management. Each of these fields makes use of a specific collection of vocabulary and contexts within which the language is learned and used. Additional examples are listed below. These fields are often referred to as genres or registers.

In cases when English is being taught for a specific purpose, the language learner instructs the language instructor about the purpose to which English is being adapted. A doctor for example, needs to educate the English instructor about the language that will be needed. There is specific terminology associated with cardiology that isn't commonly used by an allergist. An accountant's need to know pharmacological terminology may be non-existent but there could be instances when legal terminology is appropriate. Likewise teaching a hotel maid how to relay an order for a medium-rare filet mignon to the chef wouldn't be suitable. For a dentist to know how to instruct a patient to spit may be entirely proper but for a marketing director, that same ability would rarely be used (properly, at least).

The word, file, is a good example of how a single, short, one-syllable, four-letter word can have completely different meanings given the context of different registers. When two (or more) words are spelled the same and sound the same but have different meanings, they are called homonyms. In fact, there are so many of these words in the English language that to list them all would be impossible. The number is infinite and grows everyday. File can be a verb, a noun or functionally it can be used as an adjective. As a verb or a noun, the meaning can vary widely.

As a noun, a file can be a container or cabinet, a rasp, a column or line, a record or a collection of bytes. Likewise the verb, to file, can mean to register, to march, to smooth, to place or even to accuse. When file is functioning as an adjective, such as 'in a file folder', the extent of the simple word's possible meanings is staggering. The appearance of the word doesn't change but its meanings are as varied as the registers in which it is used. Without being aware of this, finding and using any word appropriately can be very difficult and frustrating; even embarrassing at times.

Specific Purposes
Below is a partial list of just some of the areas in which English for Specific Purposes can be useful:

This list is not exhaustive and certainly doesn't include all possible situations in which one could find oneself. It does however, illustrate the broad uses to which ESP can be put.

Feel free to make yourself at home here and if you find anything that needs improvement, correction or a better explanation, please contact me.

Thank you.


Last Updated: May 17, 2016