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Current Developments in English for Academic, Specific and Occupational Purposes

A valuable source of classroom ideas and inspiration for EAP and ESP teachers
Reviewed for Teflnet by Dave Allen

Apart from boasting one of the longest, most acronym-heavy bibliographic references in the history of TEFL.net reviews, this collection of 22 articles is brimming with ideas and experiences of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) practitioners from across the globe.

As you may well be aware, the International Association for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) does its part in serving the international community of English teachers, lecturers and researchers worldwide by organising annual conferences and producing various publications. This particular offering is a product of the members of the ESP special interest group (SIG).

As an overview, each article tends to be practically-oriented and is clearly written by teachers ‘on the ground’, teaching ESP, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) in a wide variety of contexts. The articles have clearly been selected to represent the diversity of members of the SIG, their interests and their teaching contexts. To give some examples, this collection includes contrastive linguistic analyses of EAP writing in China, socio-cultural considerations of teaching English in Pakistan, and EAP reading comprehension using African literature in Nigeria. In this review, I will avoid commenting on the highs and lows of the individual articles but will try to give an overall summary of the quality, applicability and contribution of the text as a whole to our knowledge and practice of these branches of English language education.

The content of the articles deals directly with issues faced by practitioners on a daily basis. For example, the ‘10 steps to better academic writing’ article provides useful questions which teachers can use when designing in-class tasks and materials. The insights offered by a questionnaire study of students’ views on their reasons for plagiarizing is informative and valuable, summarizing a variety of factors which influence this negative, and sometimes prolific, learner behaviour. Articles which introduce classroom methodology such as coaching, dialoguing, using vocabulary journals and global simulations make stimulating reading which offer those much needed ‘breaths of fresh air’ – inspiration for trying out new techniques in the classroom to keep things interesting for both student and teacher alike. The variety of teaching contexts also adds an element of discovery to reading the articles and even more prominent is the realization that we all belong to a global community of teachers often with location being the primary difference. In terms of weighting across the three branches of English teaching indicated in the title, the majority of articles focus on EAP issues with a minority of ESP-related articles (e.g. English for medical purposes). I couldn’t locate any articles which are directly related to occupational purposes.

In terms of quality there is considerable variation across the contributions. Some articles are suitably rigorous in their academic pursuit of answers to research questions, offering results which can be applied to further research and can be trusted as being generalizable to a useful degree. On the other hand, numerous articles rely far too much on subjective interpretation of the value of particular teaching methods, with recommendations made without recourse to previous research or detailed examination. Similarly, sweeping generalizations made about learner groups are unhelpful and caused me to doubt the validity of certain studies and their applications. Having said this, the over-generalization and subjectivity displayed in the text should probably not be judged too harshly: as a text for practitioners, the ideas, materials and suggestions can be utilized as necessary and for this reason the articles still maintain their value. At the level of academic research, however, many articles do not really make the grade; that is, they would not be useful as citations of previous research.

So who should read this book? Teachers of EAP and also ESP will no doubt find something of relevance and use in this publication. As a source of ideas and inspiration for the classroom and for understanding better the worldwide community of practitioners this is a valuable addition to the literature.

Reviewed by Dave Allen for TEFL.NET October 2009

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