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Business English, Professional English, Legal English, Medical English, Academic English etc.
Online peer-reviewed Journal for Teachers

English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

ISSN 1682-3257

English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World) Home    Information   ESP Encyclopaedia    Resources    Contacts


Giti Karimkhanlui,
Faculty member of Zanjan University of Medical sciences, M. Phil in TESL

Email : giti_k_2005@yahoo. com


This paper is premised on the topic of English for academic purposes and communicative use of language in EAP classes. The study lends support to the use of communicative approach in EAP classes which makes the language learning experience more relevant and meaningful. There is also an encouragement to apply the outgrowth of the communicative approach in view of the fact that it makes the EAP learners communicatively competent.

The whole study will deal with the idea of how communicative language teaching is related to EAP settings as well as the reasons for why EAP students are assumed to learn more effectively if a communicative method as opposed to what are non-communicative methods are used.

Key terms:

English for academic purposes (EAP), academic English, and communicative approach to language teaching, language use


English for academic purposes has traditionally been regarded as a branch of teaching English as a foreign language. As such, EAP courses have typically focused on teaching students the correct linguistic forms for representing their knowledge in English (and assumed that students had appropriate study skills and some prior knowledge of the discipline they were studying). But over the last thirty years EAP approaches have changed considerably as they have incorporated findings from research into both academic English usage and methods of teaching English as a foreign language (Robinson, 1991). From its early beginning in 1960s, EAP has undergone several phases of development. It should be pointed out that EAP is not a monolithic universal phenomenon. It has developed at different speeds in different countries. (Hutchinson & Waters,1987). EAP courses were originally developed for students from the developing world who had to study in English. Most of these students were studying technical and professional subjects in areas such as science, agriculture, engineering and technology and so throughout the 1970s and early 1980s both the course content and the teaching methods often focused on the acquisition of scientific and technical discourse. The needs of such EAP students were therefore seen as very different from those of native speakers.

Many courses and texts on academic English have been eclectic in their approach and teaching methods. Research of the contrastive rhetoric kind is found in many courses which also draw on Holliday's genre theory (1973). This theory is effective to the extent that it makes the students aware of the socio- linguistic roles that texts play in particular discourse communities (Dudley Evans & St. John,1998) Courses always involve students working together, analyzing and redrafting their own and other student's essays. Discussion and peer teaching are also encouraged because students can then practice their own academic English. At the same time they reflect on the skills they are learning and in this way address issues of the kind favored by study skills approach. There is an increasing overlap between courses for learners of English and those that are designed for students whose first language is English

In recent years English has become increasingly dominant as a world language in higher education. This means that students whose mother tongue is not English now often have to develop a high level of competence in the language to pursue their studies. Moreover, studies in higher education require a special kind of competence in English.

Academic English is a collection of genres of English, each of which is shaped by the functional requirements and social conventions of academic communities of discourse. Familiarity with the conventions and the rules which apply to any genres of academic English is an important factor in the student's progress. However there is pressure from some academics for some of the accepted conventions of inner circle academic English to be critically examined (Alderson ,1988). Such conventions are seen by s Alderson as necessary for intellectual rigor ,but followers of traditional approaches consider that they are culturally based and unnecessarily constricting, both intellectually and linguistically.

Though a variety of approaches have been developed to help students improve their competence in English, surprisingly little systematic research has been done on the nature and extent of the problems students encounter when attempting to become academic English users.


In dealing with EAP courses, one has to take into account their practicality, because in every such course, the outcomes of the class are important. (Dudley Evans 2001). And if we believe that we learn the language to communicate ,we have to improve the communicativeness of the course. In EAP communicative approach course usage is emphasized rather than rules.

The most recent trend discussed by scholars is the communicative approach, which points out the fact that knowledge of the language is not the same thing as ability to use the language. This method is particularly recommended in the teaching of ESP as well as EAP.

The question appears to be whether EAP students will learn more effectively if a communicative method as opposed to what are non-communicative methods is used. According to Widdoson (1978), the ability to compose sentences does not guarantee communication. In fact, what makes communication possible is the knowledge of how sentences should be used as a means of communication which should supplement the former task. Theories of communicative competence imply that teachers must do more than just supply learners with a number of language structures to manipulate. And for a long time there has been a growing interest in developing the communicative competence which consists of the ability to handle both structures and functions of the language. Within this framework a class session is organized in such a way that from the beginning the students will be urged to use the language to communicate. The literature on the communicative approach underlies certain features by which one can identify what is communicative or non-communicative. The literature on EAP puts the emphasis on employing a communicative teaching methodology, and on the teaching of English For specific communicative needs. O'Loughlin (2003) states that EAP is concerned with the teaching and learning of the English communicative skills, which are required for the study purposes in formal tertiary education system. Consequently, if we wish to ground our practice solidly in theory, we need to place all this in a communicative context. According to Hamp Lyons (2001) EAP courses begin with the learner and the situation and not with language as in general English courses. Perhaps this can be considered as one of the common points between EAP and ESP courses. ESP concerns with language skills ,discourse and genera appropriate to these activities. (Dudley Evans, 2001).

In fact, at the tertiary level, a different approach needs to be employed to meet the needs of the learner as well as the different role that English assumes. Firstly, because the learners' needs cannot be met by a course that provides him with the rules of use to communicate. On the other hand, the existence of non-verbal modes of communication such as charts, tables, graphs and so on in an academic program requires the teaching of communicative skills and functions of the language to enable the learners to use the rules of use to define, describe and so forth. To this end, Nunan (1989) tells us that the communicative task is a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while the attention is primarily is focused on meaning rather than form. While carrying out such communicative tasks , learners are believed to receive comprehensible input and modified input which are considered essential to SLA as they lead to the development of linguistic as well as communicative competence. (Doughty and Williams,1998,cited in Richards ,1999). Accordingly, we can say that in EAP with a taskbased syllabus, a communicative approach is adopted and this type of syllabus involves real language use and students may use all four skills in a natural integrated situation.

Therefore, Brumfit and Johnson go on to suggest that classroom procedures should embody processes in order to be communicative. As they point out, task-oriented teaching is promising because the students are put in a position where they give and receive information, and in this sense real communication occurs.

Brumfit and Johnson (1979) in support of the point mentioned above argues that fluency in a communicative process can only be developed depending on what is meant, within a task-oriented teaching-where success or failure is seen to be judged in terms of whether or not these tasks are performed.

According to Taylor (1983), most adult learners acquire a second language when they are actively involved in real meaningful communication in that language. A classroom which is to provide opportunities for communication requires an environment which will encourage the learners to exercise their own initiative in communicating and activities that will motivate them to do so. Taylor defends task oriented activities in this way:

When language classrooms focus on task-oriented activities which give students experiences in functioning in extended, realistic discourse in the target language in the target language, those students are able to learn not only appropriate language use, but real communicative processes as well.

Taylor emphasis that it is essential for a student to be exposed to and involved in genuine communication in the target language. Therefore , in the classroom our goal as language teachers should be to maximize opportunities for language acquisition to take place. In doing so the teacher needs to motivate the students to get involved in the activities that both expose them to and involve them in authentic language use

Taylor points out the fact that within this learner-centered approach, instructors are free to structure their classes as they see fit. In this case the teacher is bound not to use a traditional syllabus where the sequence of presentation of language items is established. Instead, he or she is involved into using a semantic syllabus in which the sequence of items is not pre-determined, but the syllabus is a largely an inventory of items to be covered on the course as a whole. The syllabus would function as a check list against which we tick off points covered, rather than as an algorithm which imposes a predetermined ordering. (Johnson,1982). There is a number of ways to structure classes to provide opportunities for students to be actively engaged in real communication: involving students in goal or task-oriented projects, logical problem solving activities, information gathering activities ,information gaps fillers and so on. It is important that teachers maintain a low profile while they have set up the conditions of communication by structuring and outlining the activity.

Taylor, therefore, advised teachers to commit himself to reverse many of the practices which have become traditional in language teaching methodology over the years. They are advised to break from the usual sequence of reception to production in which the students initial role is that of listener or reader and only later that of a producer. In a communicative approach the student produces, he listens and reads only at stage 2.

The strategy also reverses the sequence from atomistic to holistic language practice, since in this way the student practices the whole linguistic forms and only later drills by himself

As Johnson points out the student is first put in a situation where he may need to use language not yet taught. Teaching succeeds rather than precedes use and precisely for this reason the strategy provides opportunities to practice skills important to the acquisition of communicative competence.

Richards (1998) discusses several components of communicative competence in foreign language learning. Firstly, communication is meaning based. The students need to refer to basic referents or things in the real world and to link words together to express propositions, and his immediate priority is to work out ways of stating, affirming, denying or questioning propositions, using only a partial knowledge of vocabulary and syntax of the target language. Therefore, he suggests that when speaking is taught, the initial goal should be the production of comprehensible utterances through expressing basic propositional meanings.

Secondly, communication is conventional and conventional language is seen in many features of discourse. Communication, therefore, largely, consists of the use of language in conventional ways. Thirdly, communication is appropriate communicative strategy depending on such factors such as the purpose of communication, age, sex, familiarity and the role of speaker and learner. Fourthly, communication is interact ional as well as structured. When we talk, much of our discourse is made up of words and phrases which indicate how what we are going to say relates to what has already been said, e. g. our reaction to an idea may be to extend it, disagree with it, substitute it, give a reason for it. These contribute significantly to an impression of fluency in conversation.


In recent years English language teaching overseas has taken on a new character. Previously it was usual to talk about the aims of English learning in terms of so-called language skills of speaking, understanding speech, reading and writing and these aims were seen as relating to general education at the primary and secondary levels Recently, however, the need has arisen to specify the aims of English learning more precisely as the language has increasingly been required to take on an auxiliary role at the tertiary level of education. English teaching has been called upon to provide the students with the basic ability to use the language to receive and to a lesser degree to convey information associated with their specialist studies. This is particularly so in developing countries where essential textbook material is not available in the vernacular languages. Thus, whereas one previously talked in general terms of ELT, we now have such acronymic variants as ESP and later development of EAP.

The largest part of English instruction which is provided in secondary schools has in most cases proved to be inadequate as the preparation for the use which students are required to make of the language when they enter higher education. In consequence, many technical institutions and universities in developing countries provide courses with titles like Functional English, Technical English and Report Writing, the purpose of which is to repair the deficiencies of secondary school teaching. However, such courses seldom recognize that a different approach may be needed to match the essentially different role which English assumes in higher education. They continue to treat English as a subject in its own right. It is true that there is some recognition of the auxiliary role it now has to play in that the selection of grammatical structures and lexical items to be taught are those which are of frequent occurrence in the specialist literature with which the students are concerned. But the emphasis is still squarely on separate grammatical structures and lexical items, and such course do little more than provide exercises in the manipulation of linguistic forms. The approach to English teaching is basically the same as that of the schools, and the assumption seems to be that it is likely to be more effective because it is practiced more efficiently. In fact, there is little evidence that such remedial courses are any more effective than the courses that they are intended to rectify.

In fact, what is needed in an EAP course is a shift of the focus of attention from the grammatical to the communicative properties of the language. We take the view that the difficulties which the students encounter arise not so much from defective knowledge of the system of English, but from an unfamiliarity with English use, and that consequently their needs cannot be met by a course which simply provides further practice in the composition of sentences, but only by one which develops how sentences are used in the performance of the different communicative acts. The reason lies in the fact that the basic need of EAP students is that using the medium of English, they should successfully perform a task and if our students are equipped with the how to use the language in authentic contexts , we can trust that they have acquired communicative competencies that are required for high quality functioning in a professional environment.

One might usefully distinguish two kinds of ability which an English course at this level should aim at developing. The first is the ability to recognize how sentences are used in the performance of acts of communication, the ability to recognize the rhetorical functioning of language in use. The second is the ability to recognize and manipulate the formal devices which are used to combine sentences to create continuous passages of prose. We might say that the first has to do with the rhetorical coherence of discourse and the second with the grammatical cohesion of text. In practice, of course, one kind of ability merges with the other, but in the form and function approach we focus on each of them in turn, while at the same time allowing for peripheral overlap.


Language considered as communication no longer appears as a separate subject but as an aspect of other subjects. A corollary to this is that an essential part of any language is the manner in which its content is given linguistic expression. Learning science, for example is seen to be merely a matter of learning facts, but of learning how language is used to give expression to certain reasoning processes, how it is used to define, classify, generalize, to make hypotheses, draw conclusions and so on. People, who talk about academic English, usually give the impression that it can be characterized in formal terms as revealing a high frequency of linguistic forms like the passive and universal tense in association with a specialist vocabulary. But to characterize it in this way, is to treat academic discourse merely as exemplification of the language system, and does little or nothing to indicate what kind of communication it is.

The first principle of the approach is that the language should be presented in such a way as to reveal its character as communication. To make it more clear, it should be said that we suppose that we are to design an English course for students of science (a branch of academic English) in the first year of higher education. We make two basic assumptions. Firstly, we assume that in spite of the shortcomings of secondary school English teaching the students have acquired considerable dormant competence in the manipulation of the language system.

Secondly, we assume that they already have knowledge of basic science. Hitherto, these two kinds of knowledge have existed in separation and our task is to relate them. We do this by composing passages on common topics in basic science and presenting them in such a way as to develop in the student an awareness of the ways in which the language system to express scientific facts and concepts. The passages are composed rather than derived directly from existing textbooks for two reasons. Firstly, we are able to avoid syntactic complexity and idiosyntactic features of style, which would be likely to confuse students fresh from their experience of controlled and largely sentence bound English instruction in schools. Our intention should be to make the linguistic forms as unobstructive as possible. At the same time we should try to make their communicative function as obvious as possible, and this is the second reason for composing passages: we are able to stress features of language which have particular communicative value. It might be objected that the passages are not representive of scientific writing. The answer to this is that they are representative of what we conceive to be certain basic communicative processes which underlie and are variously realized in individual pieces of scientific writing. And they have been designed to bring such processes more clearly into focus.

Each passage is proposed by EAP syllabus writers to include comprehension questions but since we want to bring the student's attention to bear on his own reading activity as a progress which involves a recognition of how language functions to convey information, the questions are not given at the end of the passage, as is the common practice, but are inserted into the passage itself. Furthermore, to ensure that the student is made aware of how the functioning of the language and his own understanding are related, solutions are provided for each comprehension question. These solutions are explanations in the sense that they make overt the kind of reasoning which underlies the ability to give the correct answer to the comprehension questions with which they are associated. Reasoning procedures are an essential element in any area of scientific enquiry and their use is intended to show the relevance of language to the study of academic courses and to make appeal to the particular cognitive bent of the students who are involved in the study of academic sciences.


In considering the formal properties of language we must first decide what attitude to adapt to the teaching of grammar. What factors do we have to take into consideration in designing a model of grammar for advanced or remedial language teaching? We assume firstly that a pedagogic grammar for advanced learners must provide the students with fresh and stimulating material. But there is no point in presenting a remedial English class at the university level with a speeded up version of the secondary school syllabus, for the class will rapidly become bored and resentful even if they show evidence of not having fully mastered the material. The rejection by the students of the rapid repeat technique of remedial teaching is a familiar experience in higher education. Not only do advanced learners have a natural reluctance to cover familiar ground for the second or third time, they have in fact reached a stage in their studies when they may no longer be able to benefit from oral, inductive type of teaching employed at a more elementary level. It must be stressed that the task for the advanced learner is not simply to experience more language material, but to develop a complex set of organizational skills over and above those which he needed to cope with the elementary syllabus, and to learn to put these to use in saving a variety of communicative purposes. One difference between elementary and advanced courses lies in the fact that the students at advanced levels have had a good deal of instruction in grammar and are likely to possess considerable dormant competence in English.

One of the principal aims of EAP teaching should be to activate this competence and to extend it, by leading the student to relate his previously acquired linguistic knowledge to meaningful relationships of the language systems in passages of immediate relevance to his professional interests or specialist fields of studies.

A second consideration is that the information in a pedagogic grammar must be relevant to the learner's needs. In order to ensure this we must insist on a clear distinction between linguistic and pedagogic grammars. A linguistic grammar is concerned with the specification of the formal properties of a language, while the purpose of a pedagogic grammar is to help a learner acquire practical mastery of a language. It is particularly important that this principle should be clearly stated at a time when many teachers and textbook writers are turning to linguistics as a source of ideas about how to handle language in the classroom. In general, we expect that knowledge of linguistic grammars will provide the teachers with pedagogically useful insights into language structure, but we do not expect that the content of a linguistic grammar will be reflected in any direct or systematic way in a pedagogic grammar based on it. A further principle is pedagogic grammars are typically eclectic. It means that the applied linguist must pick and choose among format statements in the light of his experience as a teacher, and decide what are pedagogically the most appropriate ways of arranging the information that he derives from linguistic grammars.

In EAP, we assume the subjects have some knowledge of how language works, which derives from pedagogic grammar. We also assume that this knowledge will be consolidated as the students experience language used in meaningful contexts. So if there is further need for grammar, it must be contextualized and should be designed to focus on points which are particularly important in scientific writing. Especially those which may represent continuing trouble spots for many students. EAP students are those students whose minds are directed towards rational thought and problem solving and the contextualized grammatical points should be designed so that to take this fact into account.


Writing is a basic skill for constructing one's relationship with others and for understanding our experiences of the world. Academic writing generally involves an awareness of the readership and an understanding of the expectations of the discourse community. For many students of EAP, the most difficult skill is writing. Genera-based teaching can be effective for students who want to succeed in academic writing. Teachers in EAP writing courses can use genres as models for attaining realistic academic writing. Teachers can have students reconstruct a text from a set of jumbled paragraphs by identifying the salient move structures. The teachers should let the students know that one genera varies within and across the disciplines. In addition to recognizing prototypical move structures and their variations, students also need to be aware of the variety of key lexical phrases that are representative in the move structures. Flowerdew (2005), in fact, emphasizes the importance of corpus-based analysis in EAP /ESP from a text-linguistic perspective to complement an analysis of lexical and grammatical items. Teachers should encourage students to reflect on their own attitudes toward academic writing and to develop their appreciation of the language used in academic genres.

Teaching key genera is a way of helping our learners gain access to methods of communicating in particular professional, academic and occupational communities. What a learner needs, especially in an L2 situation, is a form of exercise which will help to achieve a synthesis of many disparate grammatical and lexical elements in the form of coherence composition of his own. As an activity, learners can be presented with a situation (rich in pragmatic information) and be required to write an email making a request to the particular person indicated in the situation.

. One problem in achieving this type of synthesis in the classroom is to find the right combination of freedom and control: enough control to ensure that the student's composition does not degenerate into a mass of mistakes, and enough freedom for the student to exercise his own judgment and thereby to learn something instead of merely copying. Various attempts have been made to provide guided practice developing into free composition.


It seems logical that contextualizing the students' learning within their domains of study could create the relevance of the language they are learning to their lives, particularly academically. Thus; the learning will be more relevant to their study and their real life. In EAP classes it is often felt that the students do not attain what they are expected and usually this is a felt gap which may be due to the way the language is manipulated and taught by teachers. Throughout this research it is assumed that proper application of communicative techniques can fill this gap.

Many students who enter higher education have had experience with the learning of decontextualised structures and forms and are consequently unable to deal with English when it is used in authentic contexts. For this reason during this research an attempt was made to show the reasons why communicative use of language should be emphasized in academic contexts. It is suggested that exercises and activities must be linked to real contexts similar to those that a given learner might encounter in the future; Such exercises should take into account the needs of the students and the nature of the abilities which must be developed to meet them, and therefore be related to the kind of theoretical considerations within the context of which we have placed the exercise.

Throughout this research it was also indicated that it is a mistake for the language teacher to assume that he or she has to reemphasize decontextualized points that the learners have already been exposed at primary language learning, but s/he must adjust his pedagogy to conform with specific needs. In this regard, it is necessary for the language teacher to consider the views taken by communicative approach and to shift from focusing on form or structure to communicative purposes of EAP. Such a shift in focus is warranted not by the practice of the linguist but by the essential needs of the language learner.

Teaching writing and a focus on genera was also discussed. It was pointed out that teaching key genres is a way of helping L2 learners gain and access to methods of communicating in particular academic communities. By making the genres attainable, through instruction, teachers can enhance the learners competence in their own academic field.


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