Teaching English
for Special Purposes

Teaching English for Special PurposesTeaching English for Special Purposes (also known as ESP) is something that is not usually covered in initial ESL/EFL training courses, but it is something that students are starting to require more often.

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

As well as general English courses, more language schools are offering specialist courses in subjects such as Legal English, Accounting English, Business English, English for Medical Staff, Academic English, etc.

Cambridge ESOL exams also offer special exams in Business English (BEC and BULATS exams), Legal English (ILEC) and Financial English (ICFE) and students want teachers who are experienced in these areas to teach them.

Background knowledge and experience

Even if you are an experienced English teacher it is difficult to teach ESP if you have no experience or knowledge of the subject.

Most business English teachers worked in a business environment before becoming teachers and this helps them greatly.

However, it is not completely necessary, and as long as you do the research, a lot of reading, and are confident you can teach the subject.

What do you need to teach?

Clearly that depends on the purpose.

It is usually practical English that students need to know.

For example, specific vocabulary they will need in that area (particularly collocations that are unique to that kind of English).

Grammar and the four main skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening will also need to be covered, but most students studying ESP will have a reasonable level of grammar and general vocabulary anyway.

Activities covering the four skills should be relevant to the subject.

For example, a course in financial English should include:
  • Reading texts on the economic situation

  • Company financial results

  • Listening to news about financial and business matters

  • Writing reports

Business English
courses may include:
  • Language for managing meetings

  • Making presentations 

  • Writing formal letters or marketing materials
If possible, include visits to appropriate places on your ESP courses.

For example, to a local business, a hospital or a court.

If you can, arrange speakers to come in and speak to your students that can make the lessons more interesting.

Direct your students to websites which have podcasts or news reports about their subject, so they can study outside the classroom.


If you are preparing your students for an exam, then make sure you know the exam thoroughly yourself.

Study the format and try doing the exam paper so you know the pitfalls the examiners try to create.

By putting yourself in your students' shoes you will understand how to help them.

In exam preparation classes, don't only give your students exam practice.

Break the tasks down into small sections and focus on technique but also give them other tasks to do which practice the skills they need in a non-exam, non-threatening way.

For example if they have to do a discursive essay, you could ask them to have debates presenting the case for and against an issue.

This way they get used to seeing things from two different points of view without the stress of writing.

It is, however, important to make sure your students do timed practice exams so they know how to manage their time during the test.

This should ideally be done at least twice.


There is such a variety of English for special purposes classes now that it is impossible to give more than general guidelines.

But if you keep your classes focused on the subject, varied and relevant, your students will learn and will enjoy learning.

Teaching English for special purposes isn't always easy, but it can be very rewarding.

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