Syllabus design

Munby’s (1978) proposal of communicative syllabus design marks a sea change in determining the content to which Business English students will be exposed. Subsequently, syllabuses have been “concerned with the specification and planning of what is to be learned [...]. They are concerned with the achievement of ends, often, though not always, associated with the pursuance of particular means” (Candlin 1984: 30-31). Following Nunan (1988), syllabuses can be subdivided into two main categories, depending on whether their design is primarily concerned with learning outcomes or with the means by which these outcomes are generated. Product- oriented syllabuses, such as the functional-notional syllabus, define the course content as the end-product of instruction. Process-oriented syllabuses, on the other hand, integrate the learning process with the content (which may blur the difference between syllabus design and methodology). Cases in point are task-based and content-based syllabuses, the former being organised around, not language items but tasks, such as making arrangements, attending meetings, buying and selling, reporting or dealing with information (Hutchinson and Waters 1987: 87). In content- based syllabuses, by contrast, content is to be derived from a well-defined subject area, for example, management, finance or accounting.

The novelty of Munby’s (1978) communicative syllabus, by and large, consisted in offering an alternative to purely linguistically-oriented syllabuses, which are invariably product-oriented. Whether or not product- and process-oriented syllabuses are indeed polar opposites is a matter of controversy. In fact, it would seem that, similar to the narrow- vs. broad-angled approaches to English for Specific Purposes discussed above, they are best placed on a continuum. This view echoes Alexander’s (1999b: 1469) observation that all Business English teaching has oscillated between product- and process-oriented approaches: “Where once register analysis dealt with lexical density and quantitative analyses of the probability of use of certain structures in specific text types, there has been a shift to discourse - to a dynamic view of text involving the reader’s interpretative strategies.”

As to the underpinning learning theory, the product syllabus is more closely aligned with learning as entrenched in the acquisition metaphor, although it need not be. Generally speaking, there are few research-informed approaches to curriculum development (but see Pullin 2015). Zhang (2007) proposes an interdisciplinary Business English curriculum consisting of three interdependent modules. The first, containing courses in the area of “business studies”, is primarily concerned with acquainting students with disciplinary knowledge and assisting them in becoming proficient members of the disciplinary community (Zhang 2007: 407-408). Courses in the second area, “business practice”, are intended to help students gain firsthand experience of key business procedures and activities. Finally, the “business discourse” module integrates discipline-specific study skills, business skills and language awareness.

 
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