Domain Knowledge and English Capability: A Balancing Act
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Domain Knowledge and English Capability: A Balancing Act Mark R. Freiermuth Gunma Prefectural Women’s University Teaching ESP in EFL Settings TESOL Annual Convention Tampa, Florida. Problems. Content Specialists. Cooperation. ESP Teacher. English Needs of Students. Problems. Uncooperative.

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Domain Knowledge and English Capability: A Balancing ActMark R. FreiermuthGunma Prefectural Women’s UniversityTeaching ESP in EFL SettingsTESOL Annual Convention Tampa, Florida


Content Specialists


ESP Teacher

English Needs of Students



Content Specialists

ESP Teacher

Uninterested in English

Marginalization of English

Problems teachers
Problems: Teachers

  • ESL Setting Overgeneralizations

    • ESP Teachers likely to find some cooperative content-area experts

    • Content-area experts teach or communicate in English (many value English, especially NNSs)

  • EFL Setting

    • There is a real possibility of receiving no help from content-area experts

    • Content classes likely to be taught in NL

    • Content-area experts may not use English

    • Marginalization of English based upon individual perceptions



ESP Teacher

Domain Specific Tasks




ESP Teacher

Lack of Domain Knowledge

English Unimportant

Problems students
Problems: Students

  • ESL Setting Overgeneralizations

    • Have knowledge of specialty

    • Understand a need for learning English

    • Naturally motivated (Gardner)

    • Tend to have a narrower focus (career goals)

  • EFL Setting

    • Content-area knowledge varies dramatically

    • Naïve concerning English uses

    • Motivation varies considerably

    • May be influenced by unenthusiastic content-area teachers

    • Priorities are content-area classes

    • English is viewed as an obstacle that must be hurdled

    • Career goals may be multi-focused or even unfocused



ESP Teacher

Desire Good Instruction



ESP Teacher

Poor Instruction

Problems professionalism
Problems: Professionalism

  • ESP Professionalism

    • Untrained teachers

      • Unaware of ESP

      • “Fell into” position

      • No veteran guidance

    • Unmotivated teachers

      • Many of the previous points factors

    • Uninterested teachers

      • ESP unappealing

    • Uncooperative teachers

Classroom conundrums
Classroom Conundrums

  • Content-area-based lessons

    • Conceptual content-area aspects not understood

    • Goals of the tasks not understood

    • Usually both are not understood

  • EFL lessons

    • Lack any ESP aspect

    • Lack any realistic ESP aspect


  • Content-area-based lessons

    • Conceptual knowledge enhancement

    • Lexical knowledge enhancement

  • Long and short term goals

  • Realism (stakeholders)

Materials an example
Materials: An Example

  • Simulation (long term)

    • Introduced a somewhat realistic court case involving two software corporations

    • Students acted as engineers in a position to offer their suggestions to their supervisors

    • The case involved software “theft” or “borrowing” by way of a process called “reverse engineering”

Materials an example1
Materials: An Example

  • Lexical/Conceptual problems

    • Students had to write definitions in English

    • Best ones were posted on the Web for all students to view and access (model)

    • Students needed to show a clear understanding

  • Document design problems

    • Simulation made explanation of problem-solution document easy

    • Students acted as employees—vested interest in success

Materials an example2
Materials: An Example

  • Benefits

    • Students used information from their definitions to write about the case

    • Students understood and discussed domain specific concepts in English

    • Students were naturally motivated due to a vested interest in the case

    • Students searched for information in English

    • Students experienced a pseudo working environment where decisions were made

    • Students were able to produce a relatively sound problem-solution document (reasoned)