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Anthony, Laurence, Introducing English for Specific Purposes

London: Routledge, 2018
Dacia Dressen-Hammouda
p. 121-127
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Anthony, Laurence. 2018. Introducing English for Specific Purposes. London: Routledge. 209 pp., including bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 978-1-351-03118-9 (ebook).

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1In our era of increasing globalization, addressing the needs of non-native English speakers required to use English in the course of their professional and academic activities is of utmost importance. Laurence Anthony’s Introducing English for Specific Purposes is the latest contributor to a long line of research-based approaches intended to support teaching and learning in English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Anthony’s book, intended as an introduction to ESP for those with little to no experience in the field, aims to be as useful to first-time ESP teachers as it is to more experienced teachers interested in improving their effectiveness in the English language classroom.

2The book consists of ten chapters, organized into three sections. Section 1 provides background on the field of ESP, including its history, relationship to English language teaching, and presents the ‘four pillars’ of ESP: needs analysis, learning objectives, materials and methods, and evaluation. Section 2 reviews the theories and concepts underlying the four pillars. Section 3 describes applications of ESP to real-world settings, and concludes by reflecting on the field’s main challenges and the future of ESP.

3In alignment with his stated purpose, Anthony has carefully structured the book to facilitate reading strategies and enable readers to take away essential information without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. In each chapter, an introduction situates the importance of the chapter topic and provides a short preview of what readers can expect to learn, further framing it within relevant theories and practices. Another helpful strategy for the intended audience is to open and close each chapter with a reflective task as a way of stimulating readers’ thinking about their current understanding of ESP. Each chapter contains a number of helpful tasks readers can use to practice; these tasks are designed to help them think about how the topic applies to teaching contexts both familiar and new. Finally, each chapter concludes with a discussion of the various issues surrounding the chapter topic, and proposes related research ideas for carrying out small or larger-scale research projects, including further suggested reading and resources. Each section ends with a short glossary for ESP beginners and/or non-native speakers of English (NNSE).

4Chapter 1, ‘Situating ESP in English language teaching and learning’, opens by situating ESP as a highly practical yet eclectic discipline, grounded in over fifty years of research and teaching specialized English in both academic and workplace settings. Anthony notes that while ESP draws on Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) and Project-Based Learning (PBL), its own particularities include ‘a commitment to learner-centeredness, a close connection with specialist subjects, and a focus on collaboration in both planning and teaching” (p. 9). Another stated aim of this opening chapter is to establish a working definition of ESP to better contextualize the field for readers. Through explaining how ESP differs from other English Language Teaching (ELT) approaches, the author suggests that “ESP is about offering language support so that people can successfully accomplish current and perhaps future tasks in their studies or work that have a language component” (p. 10). As the discussion progresses, Anthony repeatedly revisits and refines his initial definition of ESP by incorporating a greater focus on learners’ needs in terms of language, genres, and skills.

5At this point, the author attempts to clarify what he feels may be “obtuse” concepts for non-specialists, such as academic and occupational needs, language, genres, skills, and so forth. It is at this junction that one can appreciate the author’s efforts to make the field more accessible to disciplinary newcomers, however tricky the task reveals itself to be. In effect, his attempts to define key terms in ESP interfere with his purpose of making the book accessible to non-specialist readers, because he relies on specialist concepts and terms to define the very terms he has set out to define. In this section, for example, language becomes a highly theoretical object more appropriate to advanced students in Linguistics or to instructors with prior academic background in language learning. Genres become “products of language” which “captur[e] the processes, agents, and contexts that govern how that product is created, interpreted, and acted on (Swales 1990)” (p. 11). At the same time, his description of skills confusingly combines references to both the learner (reading, writing, listening, speaking, planning, noticing, problem solving) and to teaching (evaluating, correcting).

6Fortunately, the way in which the author frames his discussion about the branches of ESP moves the non-specialist reader back to more solid ground, despite the complex distinctions and dichotomies in ESP’s various branches (EGAP, ESAP, EPP, EVP, ERPP, EBP, EMP, etc.). In the end, Anthony opts for simplicity and tightens the focus by choosing to use English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) throughout the remainder of the book. As he concludes the discussion, he comments that “What is important to remember is that all categories are abstractions; they are simplifications of reality that help us to explain and communicate complex ideas. In reality, there is no EAP or EOP. Instead, we have a continuum of needs” (p. 15).

7After reading this very dense and rich chapter, an experienced ESP instructor interested in using this volume to teach ESP methods to graduate students would likely be left with a positive impression about the book contents and structure. One shortcoming which slightly mars this largely successful effort, however, comes when the author omits the numerous ESP journals published throughout Europe, South America and Arabic-speaking countries when identifying relevant journals in the field of ESP. This oversight is likely due to the author’s current location (Japan) and would explain why he has unfortunately identified only Asian ESP journals as being relevant to the field: Asian ESP Journal, ESP Today, English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World), and the Taiwan International Journal on English for Specific Purposes.

8In Chapter 2, ‘Situating ESP in the world at large’, Anthony explains why having a strong English language ability is crucial in both academia and industrial and occupational settings throughout the world today. In this chapter, the author discusses the historical reasons why English has become the de facto global language (or lingua franca), tracing its emergence back to the 16th century and pointing to post-WWII rebuilding efforts and developments in the computer industry as being crucial to the globalization of the English language. He situates the rise of ESP’s importance by discussing ten factors (Friedman 2005) which explain why the world economy has effectively globalized: the rise of PCs, development of better communication protocols, growth of the Internet, online collaborative projects, growth of insourcing, outsourcing and offshoring, growth of search engines, wireless technologies and mobile devices. In this context, Anthony talks about how industrial growth in Japan, Korea and China encouraged the need to compete and attract foreign talent in an English-only environment. He mentions the necessity of English as a lingua franca in Europe where the interactions carried out between speakers of other languages tend to be in English rather than the language of the country. He also points to the growth of call centers and high expectations for ‘appropriateness’ despite cultural, situational and phonological differences. Finally, he addresses recent changes in the tourism and hospitality industries as a function of the growth of (cheap) international travel. For many of the same reasons observed in industrial and occupational settings, globalization has had a similar effect in the world of academia, especially since the early 2000s and the development of Erasmus exchange programs. The financial drive to attract NNSE overseas students has led higher education institutions “to provide language instruction to this body of students in the form of pre-sessional courses, writing center guidance, academic writing and presentation courses, graduate thesis support, and so on” (p. 33). In addition, universities’ English-language policies require developing quality education in English to NNSE students, which includes hiring faculty to teach in English and training NNSE faculty in the disciplines to teach English-Medium of Instruction (EMI) courses. To conclude the chapter, Anthony questions whether the globalization of English is truly a positive trend:

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the growth of English at a company or academic institution almost always goes together with a decrease in the importance of the local language. Local languages are usually learned during childhood, but the mastery of academic language, specialized terminology, industry jargon, business politeness forms, and other idiosyncratic language can only be gained through formal education and use in real-world settings. By adopting English-only policies in study and work, there is a high risk that these more advanced forms of local language use will be lost. (p. 41)

9The next five chapters provide the groundwork for creating a viable and theoretically-grounded ESP course. Chapter 3, ‘Introducing the four pillars of ESP’, covers the following four areas: needs analysis, learning objectives, materials and methods, and evaluation. These areas form a key basis for helping readers identify the main parts of an ESP course and create a supportive learning environment. After discussing each of the four pillars, providing good contextualizing background for instructors new to ESP, Anthony invites readers to build their courses around learner profiles and attitudes toward English. The end of chapter addresses issues about who should be teaching ESP and whether ESP instructors must have specialist knowledge. While the author concludes that some background knowledge is helpful, it is especially important to pair up with a subject specialist, suggesting that teaching ESP should not be considered as an individual endeavor but as a team project.

10Chapter 4, ‘Identifying needs in the design of ESP courses and programs’, presents the foundation of needs analysis, and explains how to conceive of needs at various levels, depending on whether they are learner-based, instructor-based or administration and stakeholder-based. The author helps frame course-developers’ thinking about needs analysis in both small-scale and ‘just-in-time’ contexts as well as in situations where the course developer has more time and resources to spend. In this latter case, Anthony provides a good list of ways to gather needs-based information to develop a course project: carrying out a literature review, determining best practices and reviewing existing textbooks, or using questionnaires, interviews, observations, and learner testing. For those situations where course developers have only a short amount of time to prepare, Anthony also gives useful tips and advice on how to manage such challenges. In conclusion, he discusses criteria for creating reliability in needs analysis and explains why relying on learner surveys as the sole source of information about needs is insufficient.

11Chapter 5, ‘Deciding learning objectives for ESP courses and programs’, describes how to transform the results of needs analysis into course objectives. The first order of business Anthony addresses is how teaching objectives can be decided at either the administrative level or the instructor level, and what that means for translating objectives into a course syllabus. The author goes on to explain that learning objectives in General English programs, concerned mainly with vocabulary and grammar, are very different from ESP programs which are more grounded in descriptions of situated language use, using the results of register analysis, rhetorical (discourse) analysis and genre analysis, and integrating a model of learning and metacognitive skills. He shows how to sequence a course’s learning objectives and how to situate them depending on the learning context (EAP, EOP).

12In Chapter 6, ‘Deciding materials and methods in ESP’, Anthony looks at how learning objectives can be operationalized in order to create classroom materials and choose appropriate teaching methods. Whatever the approach taken by the instructor – adopting previously used textbooks chosen or creating new materials based on authentic language samples from a target setting – the author argues that the ultimate role of ESP teaching materials and methods is to help learners understand ‘the what, the why and the how’ of the target language setting. Their purpose is also to actively build learners’ language skills and develop a positive emotional response. To this end, Anthony discusses how instructors might adopt, adapt or create ESP materials, depending on learner profiles, one’s resources, and the amount of time available to prepare. Once again, given the book’s aim of helping new ESP instructors transition into the approach, he provides several tips for adopting and adapting existing resources, and for developing a five-step approach to create custom materials. To conclude the chapter, the author considers how advances in technology also affect teaching methods, specifically in terms of how various technologies – image, audio, video in the classroom, online newspapers, blogs, Content Management Systems (CMSs), MOOCs, corpus tools and keyword frequency software and data-driven learning – are well suited and adaptable to ESP contexts.

13Anthony explains that while we often think of evaluation last, it is often the most important concern for administration and stakeholders, as well as for learners and instructors themselves. As a reflection of that opening observation, in Chapter 7, ‘Evaluating learning, instructors, courses and programs in ESP’, the author explores the relationship and differences between evaluation, assessment and testing, identifying the four characteristics of evaluation measures and explaining how to apply them in teaching. The aim of the chapter is to help readers design effective evaluation procedures for different purposes. To that end, he discusses criteria for creating reliability and validity in evaluation, and describes the different types of learner assessment, further suggesting ways to deal with issues like cheating and plagiarism.

14The final three chapters work to explore challenges involved in putting the ESP approach into practice. Chapter 8, ‘Implementing ESP in ideal, opportunistic and 'just-in-time' settings’, discusses the characteristics of ESP courses and programs developed within these three types of settings. This chapter provides guidance on how to get ESP administrators and instructors working together so as to ensure that the course or program effectively draws on the four pillars of ESP. After describing the features of the three types of setting (ideal, opportunistic and ‘just-in-time’), he provides a brief history of how past ESP course designers targeted course contents. In early ESP approaches from the 1960s and 1970s for example, the focus was on teaching domain-specific registers and rhetorical structures. During the 1980s and 1990s, practitioners realized that the value of ESP was less in creating discipline-specific language products than in supporting general learning processes and common transferable skills. More recently, with the popularity of corpus-based research and teaching, ESP practitioners have once again shifted the focus to the significant discipline-based differences that have been revealed through large-scale corpus analysis, with some (Basturkmen 2006) arguing that both should be implemented simultaneously. In conclusion, Anthony suggests that narrow, discipline-specific teaching can be useful for courses developed in opportunistic or just-in-time settings, whereas a wider integrative approach can better be exploited in ‘ideal’ course development settings.

15In Chapter 9, ‘Dealing with challenges in ESP’, Anthony describes the issues that can affect needs analysis, learning objectives, materials, methods, and evaluation, and provides suggestions on how to mitigate them. Throughout the chapter’s thoughtful discussion about the various challenges ESP instructors face, he proposes multiple tools and content that instructors can use (websites, platforms, videos, online corpora), and provides suggestions on how to find relevant authentic source materials. He also provides tips on how to deal with domain-specific vocabulary and how to work with domain specialists in a team. Also interesting for the book’s audience are the author’s reflections on how instructors can more easily transition from a traditional English language teaching classroom to a learner-centered classroom environment. Such reflections are relevant for both experienced teachers new to ESP and for younger colleagues and students learning about ESP teaching. To conclude, Anthony describes how instructors can design authentic evaluation procedures and integrate standardized tests into their evaluations.

16In the final chapter, ‘Moving forward in ESP’, Anthony considers the future of the field from four angles (context, curriculum design, classroom practices, and ESP research) in hopes of helping instructors better position learners within the target discourse community. He frames the final discussion in terms of the globalization of ESP, and recent curricular changes due to the rise of MOOCs, the multiliteracy movement, and EMI courses. He describes how classroom materials and methods have come to increasingly rely on discipline-specific corpora, giving better access to the language of the target community, and discusses how virtual reality and multimodal applications to real-life tasks have made ESP teaching materials and methods richer and more complex. In terms of ESP research, he points to the steady growth of mixed method approaches, combining quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic methods to produce ever-richer descriptions of authentic language use in context. Another trend he identifies is the use of multimodal corpora, which indicates an interest in shifting focus away from written genres as the main object of teaching to include other types of genres. He concludes the chapter with final reflections on the nature of ESP, which he has endeavored to present as a “force of good”: a pragmatic approach which aims to address learners’ actual, situated need(s) with the hope that the teaching leads to learner autonomy and empowerment. At the same time, he wonders whether the approach could be doing unintended harm, “ultimately restricting the opportunities of learners” (p. 190). As he reflects, “Perhaps ESP should not be encouraging learners to adopt or adapt to the norms of the target discourse community, especially when those norms and practices serve as a barrier to entry. Instead, maybe ESP instructors should be providing learners with the knowledge and skills to actively challenge how the discourse community operates” (p. 191). Such questioning is part of a still ongoing discussion in the ESP and ELT communities (cf. Blommaert & Horner 2017). It is likely that one answer would be to take greater interest in the role of local norms and customs in shaping learners’ identities and literacy experiences. In the end, acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ESP teaching, the place of learner empowerment must be considered carefully with regard to the institutional norms and cultural expectations in which the teaching environment is situated.

17In terms of back matter, the book includes a thorough and usable index as well as an excellent, up-to-date list of key references in ESP, which can be used as the basis for carrying out further documentary research. Two minor issues concern the absence of annotated bibliographies at the end of chapters, which would have been helpful in guiding readers to a better understanding of why suggested readings are important to the field of ESP. Likewise, although the various exercises proposed at the end of chapters appear rather abstract and hard to work with on one’s own, they could become useful resources when recontextualized by a course instructor.

18Overall, the book is successful in keeping its promise of being easy-to-read and engaging; similarly, it effectively presents a contextualized, wide-ranging but nuanced understanding of the field of ESP. As a result, I believe that it could be quite usefully adopted in a graduate-level TEFL course to accompany the training of new ESP teachers, whether they are themselves native or non-native speakers of English.

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Basturkmen, Helen. 2006. Ideas and Options in English for Specific Purposes. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Blommaert, J. & B. Horner. 2017. Mobility and Academic Literacies: An epistolary conversation. London Review of Education 15/1, 2–20.

Friedman, Thomas L. 2005. The World is Flat: A brief history of the globalized world in the 21st century. London, UK: Allen Lane.

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Dacia Dressen-Hammouda, « Anthony, Laurence, Introducing English for Specific Purposes »ASp, 79 | 2021, 121-127.

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Dacia Dressen-Hammouda, « Anthony, Laurence, Introducing English for Specific Purposes »ASp [En ligne], 79 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2022, consulté le 22 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Dacia Dressen-Hammouda

Université Clermont Auvergne

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