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This blog post discusses ESP as a type of English class. The blog is not at a beginner level and will be too difficult for beginners unless you take your time using your dictionary and the vocabulary words at the end. I do hope that upper intermediate readers will be able to understand this topic easily.

ESP stands for English for Specific Purposes.  It is sometimes called English for Special Purposes which means the same. 

ESP describes English classes designed to teach specialized or technical English to students who need some specialized vocabulary to help with their jobs or their education.  English for Academic Purposes, Medical English, English for Air Force Cadets, English for the Hospitality Industry , English for Oil and Gas Workers and English for Flight and Airplane Cabin Crews are some examples of specialized English.  The list of possibilities is endless.

Why would a teacher prefer to teach ESP classes over ESL?  One reason is that typical ESL classes need to start with basics or foundation and have a mixture of students with different needs.  If you really love teaching all of the basics and have no interest in specialized vocabularies then teaching ESL is best. That is because ESL or General English, typically means working at acquiring a second language.  And this means that reading, writing, listening and speaking are all taught along with grammar and language structure.

ESP classes usually start with students who already have some foundation knowledge of English.  A class of ESP students are also interested in a similar field of study and can benefit from examples which tie in with their professional experience or their future studies.  Specialized English will be needed most in jobs where communication in the workplace is all in English and in jobs where advanced training and books will be in English. 

Experts from other countries often will have to communicate in English so other employees will need to understand and communicate with them.  Hospitals in Saudi Arabia are an excellent example since doctors and nurses are recruited from all over the world and have only English as a common language to save people’s lives and communicate effectively.

If a student will be responsible for the defense of his country against air attack, will he benefit more from classroom examples relating to a hair salon or to an air defense missile battery? 

PATRIOT Missile Battery in Germany

(All Photos credited to

If the student is going to work in a hospital, doesn’t it make sense to work in class on words and situations common to a hospital setting? 

ESP teachers say, yes, it does make good sense to train with language situations that the students may encounter at work.

Is teaching ESP difficult?  Yes and no.  ESP requires some extra work if the teacher is not familiar with the specialty and curriculum but there are excellent textbooks in many fields to help teachers provide what the students need.  The greater challenge is creating an ESP class from your own experience.  This is what makes ESP appealing to me.

Can you think of reasons that English must be used at airports and other places where international transportation and communication is important?

When teaching Engineers from water treatment facilities, we can use some of their technical knowledge to help them explain work related processes in English.  We need to work with all of the common abbreviations like BOD, technical terms like activated sludge and the various chemical names like Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Hypochlorite  and HCl.  We also need to set up situations in class where the students pretend there is a problem at work and communicate in English to solve it. For example, water treatment engineers may need to ask:

Is the inlet closed?  Yes, but we are still in overflow and going into emergency by-pass. What could be the problem? Do we know when the filter media was last changed or last cleaned? Check the automatic valves.

ESP is more challenging because the teacher must always be evaluating the student’s needs beyond his/her basic communication.  This requires tracking each individual in the class, assessing his/her ability and providing for his/her own needs.  The teacher should always be improvising with new ideas and classroom approaches.  Since students in ESP classes have the same specialized focus as their classmates, it can be easier to get them to collaborate and work on projects together which use English along with their own technical jargon.  Their motivation to learn is usually much greater also, since they can see an immediate benefit to improving their English.  Motivated students want to learn and are a real joy to teach.


* Academic Purposes is used to describe classes that help students prepare for higher education such as university study (academics).

* Cadets  are what we call students in a military school.

* Hospitality Industry is used to refer to those businesses like hotels where people are shown hospitality.  Some people also include restaurants under this term but it is also called the Food Service Industry.

* If we say a list is endless, that means there are too many possibilities to easily list or count.  We can also say that a very long trip seemed endless.

*ESL stands for English as a Second Language and ESP stands for English for Specialized Purposes.

*Foundation knowledge can be used to refer to the student’s knowledge of the basics of the language.  The foundation of a building is what the building is built on and supports it. The foundation if a language is equally important to support further learning.

* BOD Biochemical oxygen demand (way of measuring how much organic material is in water)

Additional Vocabulary you should look up yourself:



purposes or purpose


1. Would the pilot of an airplane benefit from a specialized English course? 

2. Would a bank employee?

3. What about a worker in an international hotel? 

4. Why would English be important in a hotel or a bank?

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Tags: Battery, ESL, ESP, Missile, PATRIOT, TOEFL, TREATMENT, WATER, specialized, teaching

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Comment by Mr. Bob on April 14, 2013 at 15:08

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign language) has become very popular because so many universities require students to make a good score on it for admission.  Some companies and agencies here in Saudia Arabia are now requiring a certain TOEFL score to be considered for employment or even for advancement.

Since TOEFL is important many books on how to prepare for the exam are available.  This is an example of English for Academic Purposes and and classes offered to prepare for it fall into this category.  I think a TOEFL class may be a good place for Nissa to bring her English up to a higher academic level.  A high TOEFL score means you should be able to compete with native English speakers in an American or Canadian university.

There are many word lists and study guides to help prepare for TOEFL and you can spend many weeks just using the free ones.  Search under TOEFL and you will find many thousands of entries to look at.  Don't give your private information or banking information to web sites because some may not be good people and might want to exploit you.

Comment by Expector Smith on April 14, 2013 at 0:19

I just could use such a medical English course!

As an ESP teacher, you should have some specialist knowledge besides a good English. I wonder if I could make a medical English teacher. :))

Comment by Esma on April 14, 2013 at 0:09

Very interesting blog!

You have explained how important is the ESP classes for some specific students on all the walks of life.

Thanks for sharing it :)

Comment by vvquang on April 13, 2013 at 17:52

Thank you Mr. Bob for your beneficial topic. I am a lawyer in Vietnam and have tried to seek some online materials source to study English for Laws before but still not found it out yet so far. Could you give me some suggestions about this? Where could I find it or how could I do to improve my legal professional English? 

Comment by Mr. Bob on April 13, 2013 at 15:52

I encourage every bank in my city here to send people to study English.  Some banks have employees that can understand English and help international customers. Others are difficult to cash a check or even open an account.  We hope to see more bank employees taking advantage of my English for Banking and Business course.

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