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The ESP movement and specificity of purpose

ESP in the glocalised linguistic marketplace

From the outset ESP was, and has remained, a somewhat scattered, localised phenomenon, both in terms of research activities and its adaptation to local contexts (Johns 2013; Bargiela-Chiappini and Zhang 2013). In a globalising world, the repercussions of the reconceptualisations of English are felt particularly strongly in the field of ESP (also Csizer and Kontra 2012: 2). It is the ESP learning environment that has become the locus of bottom-up and top-down conflicts that arise from the attempt to cater for global and local language needs at the same time. Students may have a working knowledge of English and may thus feel well equipped for the workplace. But they will have to learn that, in this linguistic marketplace, linguistic competence has a different status from the pedagogic challenges in (higher) education since failure to master English is perceived as ineffectiveness or even a source of conflict (Bhatia and Bremner 2012: 430).

Invoking Robertson’s (1995) notion of “glocalisation”, Belcher (2006:134) pinpoints the complexity of contemporary ESP as follows. “What once looked to many like a straightforwardly needs oriented, a- or pan-theoretical (aligned with no particular theory but employing many), and, some would add, ideologically oblivious approach, now, like the constantly changing learning targets it addresses, is itself becoming harder and harder to capture in anything like a single stop-action frame.” In part, ESP’s prominence results from the close and complex relationship between the promotion of language teaching and the political agenda of international organisations such as the British Council, particularly its English Teaching Information Centre (ETIC) (Robinson 1980: 2-3), or the Council of Europe. It would also seem that there has been a clear economic dimension to the expansion of ESP, as captured in the business sense of glocalisation as “micro-marketing”, that is, “the tailoring and advertising of goods and services on a global or near-global basis to increasingly differentiated local and particular markets” (Robertson 1995: 28). Crucially, as Robertson (1995) goes on to explain, it is not a question of merely adapting to local markets but rather of constructing ever more differentiated consumers.

Arguably, then, ESP comes equipped with ideological baggage, an aspect against which more critical voices (e.g., Phillipson 2003) have inveighed, considering English for Academic Purposes, in particular, as “accommodationist” (Benesch

1993), “assimilationist” (Pennycook 1994), “market-driven” and even “colonising” (Belcher 2006: 134; but see Swales 1997 for a discussion of these controversies). From a more moderate perspective evoking associations such as “cost-effective” (Strevens 1988) or “functional”, the spread of ESP may be seen as the result of increased market pressures passed on to the language teaching profession at the time (Hutchinson and Waters 1987: 7). In response to the sharply rising demand for Business English resulting from global economic expansion, ESP was introduced as an efficient, innovative approach to English Language Teaching (ELT). In the process, English had itself become subject to the interplay of supply and demand, evolving into a strong currency in the linguistic marketplace. This “commodification” (Cameron 2012) of English entailed that, in order to be maximally effective and achieve other goals, teaching methodology was to be tailored to these emergent needs of ESP students. One powerful way of identifying learners’ needs is so-called needs analysis (see Section 3.2.1).

 
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