Teaching an English for Special Purposes (ESP) Course

Teaching an “English for Special Purposes” (ESP) Course

In 2017, my Shane English School branch had opened up a new course, an English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) course. The area where I teach in is a very popular tourist area, there are many hotels and restaurants which cater to English speaking foreigners and for these places to do well, the staff need to have a good level of communicative English. This is why we are now offering an ESP course in hospitality, and naturally, I jump at the opportunity to teach it.

When I first signed up to teach the course, I didn’t have a clue how I was going to structure it, but I knew I would be able to learn, as Shane supports their teachers through everything. We were given the student book, workbook and teachers book for the course, and yes this is incredibly specific.

The Lesson Structure

An ESP course will not be structured the same way normal classes are. These courses are more often than not focused on conversational English, vocabulary and pronunciation. There is some grammar but not to the depth that the other TEFL classes have.

Remember that you are teaching someone specific English for a particular trade or occupation. We are doing hospitality, this entails the correct ways to greet customers, polite telephone conversations, restaurant layouts as well as menu training and recipes. As I said they do get very specific and this is the fun of teaching a course like this.

Being a TEFL teacher, you may on the rare occasion feel as if your work is a bit monotonous or that you’ve taught the same lesson repeatedly. So raise your hand to teach an ESP course when one opens up, or any other new course for that matter. Not only are you still teaching English, but you are teaching practical English where you can contribute your own experiences to the lessons.

If you teach at a good language school then they will supply you with great resources to teach the ESP course and help you out if you are stuck in putting a lesson together. If you still feel a bit confused then have a look at my basic lesson structure below:

Introduction: 20 minutes

  • Always use the first lesson to get to know the students
  • Find out why they have chosen the course
  • Ask what their job is and more specifically their position at the job
  • Find out what each of them wants to achieve from the course

Part 1 Vocabulary: 10-15 minutes

  • Write the vocabulary for the section up on the board
  • Say them and get the students to repeat them
  • Explain the meaning
  • Get students to find a translation in their language
  • Ask students for a sentence using each word

Part 2 Conversation: 20-30 minutes

  • Bring in a relevant dialogue for them to practice
  • Read it first, then get students to practice with a partner
  • Go over any new vocabulary found in the dialogue
  • Continuously check and correct pronunciation

Break: 10 minutes

Part 3: Bookwork

  • Work through the assigned chapters for the day

As mentioned above this is a basic structure of an ESP lesson. You can get creative with the way you present the vocab and how you do the dialogue and role-playing. For example, we had a cocktail section for hospitality and I brought in some of the cocktail-mixing equipment to better illustrate what a strainer was and what a shaker is. Overact your lessons a bit to keep them interesting and always make sure the students are enjoying themselves as well as learning.

The Students

An ESP class is more than likely made up of adults or young adults as these are people who are already working and looking to further their careers by improving their English. The one tricky thing about this type of class is that you can have many different levels of students sign up, some may be very good at English and some may be starting out.

If you have lower levels try to have a teaching assistant – either on staff or recruited from among the advanced students – so those students have some extra help. Try and keep the work planned in those lessons mid-level in order for all level of students to be able to participate. When doing the bookwork the higher level students can work on their own while you assist the lower level students.

As mentioned in the lesson plan it is important to find out upfront why each student is doing the course as often you find a common theme which you will be able to base your lessons on, as well as being able to set goals for them to see if they have achieved what they came to at the end of the course.

Teaching English for Special Purposes is Challenging

Teaching an ESP course may seem daunting at first, but it is a lot of fun and a complete change to the way you teach your other classes. The students are very refreshing and willing to learn and work hard. My advice is if an ESP course opens up at your language school and you think you have general knowledge about the specific industry then jump in and give it a go. A new challenge is always exciting, and who knows maybe teaching ESP is your calling after all.

Happy teaching!


About the Author

Tatum Condon is a 27-year-old South African girl with Irish family. Her dream growing up was to be a mechanical engineer for Formula One’s McLaren Team. Any sport which is in water, she does it. Even if the water is frozen, count her in. She is currently teaching and living in the land of smiles, Thailand, while sharing stories of her life adventures and experiences.