by Jan Dougherty Hortas

As we enter a new millennium, the ability and the need to understand and communicate with each other has become increasingly important, at times even urgent.  An international exchange of ideas - from environmental issues such as the thinning ozone layer and the warming of the planet, to medical topics such as genetic engineering, to political crises - is essential.

To meet these communication needs, more and more individuals have highly specific academic and professional reasons for seeking to improve their language skills: for these students, usually adults, courses that fall under the heading English for Specific Purposes (ESP) hold particular appeal.

ESP programs focus on developing communicative competence in a specific field, such as aviation, business or technology.

Some courses prepare students for various academic programs: English for Science and Technology, and Pre-MBA English.

Others prepare students for work in fields such as law, medicine, engineering, tourism or graphic design.  Many courses now focus on the Internet, how to use its vast web of information for academic or professional purposes, and what ethics and conventions govern use of that information.

dot-red.gif (300 bytes) Who should enroll in ESP programs?

Generally, older, more advanced students should consider ESP instead of a more general English language course.  Students should note, however, that most courses assume a strong English language background.  Many require that applicants be at a High Intermediate or Advanced level of skill.

dot-red.gif (300 bytes) Learning by Example

Harvard University makes use of the case studies approach which it pioneered.  Students read about actual situations in the business world and discuss them in class, often role-playing as managers.

At Yale University, leaders of the Business Seminar make frequent use of computers and offer field trips to small businesses and the New York Stock Exchange.

Program lengths vary: at the University of Pennsylvania, special two-week courses for managers provide extensive practice in negotiation strategies using business simulations.

dot-red.gif (300 bytes) Custom-designed Programs

Often universities, usually through an Intensive English Language Institute, will arrange short- or long-term ESP programs for groups.  Universities such as San Diego State in California underscore that tail or-made programs can be arranged.  If a university does not offer the specific instruction you seek, inquire about the possibility of developing such a program.

As air travel and the Internet continue to bring us closer together, erasing the distance of time and space, communication through a common language becomes a pressing need.  These English for Specific Purposes courses present unique ways to fill that need.

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