Classroom strategies for ESP vocabulary teaching

The growing role of English as a business language and its unanimous adoption as a lingua franca have forced nonnative speakers to re-examine their approach towards its acquisition and expertise. The hegemony of English has led to the search for new teaching and learning methods, especially those concerned with different professional and working environments. As a result, most vocational education and training providers have included English for Specific Purposes (ESP) as a subject in their study programmes. Thus, ESP courses aim at addressing the language skills needed in a specific professional context. According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987, p. 19), “ESP must be seen as an approach not as a product. ESP is not a particular type of language or methodology, nor does it consist of a particular type of teaching material. Understood properly, it is an approach to language learning, which is based on learner need. The foundation of all ESP is the simple question: Why does this learner need to learn a foreign language?”

On this matter, teaching and learning ESP vocabulary is probably one of the most demanding challenges to be faced for both teachers and learners. VET students are commonly aware of the importance of mastering the terminology regarding their future field of occupation. Moreover, knowledge of the technical field enables them to identify and take advantage of what they have already studied about professional and job-related skills. Despite the fact that some VET learners show limited proficiency in English, the terms belonging to a specific technical branch cannot be taught in isolation without any context relevant to them. ESP instruction must be based on learners’ real world and particular needs as well as supported by a dynamic and practical programme focused on all four language skills to study the new terminology in a meaningful way.

Historically, much more attention has been given to teaching grammar and phonology rather than to vocabulary items, but as the British linguist David Wilkins states, “while without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”. Concerning ESP vocabulary, Kennedy and Bolitho (1984, p. 56-58) argue that the following word categories can be distinguished: (1) technical abbreviations, symbols and formulae, (2) sub-technical vocabulary and (3) highly technical vocabulary. In the same way, the target vocabulary teaching and learning must fulfil the requirements demanded in a certain field of study or occupation. Taking into consideration the relevance of vocabulary acquisition, these are some techniques and methods to facilitate learning of special lexical items, which are present in most professions: