When you teach English as a foreign language you don’t just teach “English”.
No, you teach a specific type of English depending on your class: different people need different English.
You can view this in the same way as dance. If you go to a dance class you don’t just learn to dance in general but instead learn Latin or Ballroom or Jazz or Modern, etc.
In this article then you’ll find a brief introduction to the different kinds of English you could find yourself teaching.
Note, for details and more on the different types we talk about, see the detailed links at the bottom of the page.
This is the most common type of English you’ll teach as a foreign or second language.
It’s everyday English and you are giving your class the language they’ll need to discuss the weather, family relations, everyday news and so on. They’ll be able to talk about themselves, ask you questions about your life and have a general discussion and perform everyday language tasks.
English for Special Purposes (ESP)
This is a catchall term which covers specialized English a student might need for a specific purpose. In general terms, if you don’t teach General English then you’ll teach ESP.
ESP can include very large groups such as Business English or English for Academic Purposes (see below) or they can be highly specialized such as teaching legal English to lawyers; teaching English so a Russian cosmonaut can discuss technical issues with an Indian astronaut in space and so on. Anything specialized, in other words.
The following sections are the major areas of ESP you may well come across.
This is common in teaching teenagers and students going for a particular English exam. The English they’ll learn tends to be General English but in a slightly more formal setting. There is more emphasis on grammar, sentence transformation and so on. The vocabulary as well tends to be slightly more advanced, certainly with the more advanced exams.
This type of English is specifically for business people. It includes specialized vocabulary about their area of business (e.g. manufacturing, business negotiations, memo/report writing, etc) and you’ll probably include plenty of practice with those slightly more specialized business skills: how to give a presentation, how to make a successful phone call, how to arrange a meeting, etc.
English for Academic Purposes (EAP)
If you have students who are planning to study in an English speaking country, then you may well run an EAP course.
This covers specialized language and skills they’ll need to attend lectures, make notes, and generally handle university or school life.
This is English in order for someone to survive in an English speaking environment. It’s General English with the emphasis on highly practical and necessary language: how to buy a bus ticket, how to ask for directions, how to order food, etc.
How to Know what to Teach
But how do you know what English to teach?
This is simple. With every class or private student, you run a Needs Analysis. This will tell you precisely what your students need to know. And from then on you simply teach them what they need.
It really is that simple!
Needs Analysis for TEFL – how to find out what you need to teach