Plenary talk at GERAS 2021 in Nancy
In our increasingly interconnected world where English-language competence has long been a basic skill, English as a Lingua Franca is firmly established in many academic and professional domains, and English Medium Instruction continues to develop in myriad disciplines. During the current pandemic, which constitutes both a hiatus and a powerful disruption, it seems worth pausing to reflect on what might be learned from previous experience in the rapid expansion of English teaching, which led to the creation of the field of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) as we know it today. More specifically, this talk looks back to the last quarter of the 20th century, when British universities and the British Council invested heavily in the development of English for Science and Technology (EST), both in the UK and overseas. The emergence of this new field was not institutionally driven via what Cuban (2013) terms the intended (or official) curriculum, nor indeed was it driven by learner needs, or via a language testing programme. Instead, EST was shaped from the bottom-up, through Cuban’s “taught layer,” by the efforts of “a splendid cohort of applied linguistics specialists” (Swales 2013), whose work continues to influence ESP to this day. These ESP pioneers include Tim Johns, Tony Dudley-Evans, John Swales himself, and John Ewer, hailed as “the father of teacher education in ESP” (Howard & Brown 1997). This talk examines their innovations in terms of a) materials development, including tailored pedagogical resources as well as textbooks; b) classroom practice, particularly team-teaching with content and language specialists, and c) teacher education, considering questions of broader professional development. These early EST teachers and researchers developed a number of groundbreaking strategies to straddle the divide between literary and scientific cultures, whilst avoiding the presumption of the language teacher, who, as “an expert on communication” and “with a smattering of knowledge in the subject area,” presents as “an expert on how the subject ought to be taught, and even on what the subject ought to be” (Johns & Dudley-Evans, 1980). I conclude by comparing this golden age with our contemporary context, to consider how the legacy of our early forerunners can inform ESP education in today’s universities.
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