English for Specific Purpose and General English


What is difference between (ESP) English for Specific Purpose and General English?  How Is ESP different to EGP?

Hutchinson et al. (1987:53) answers this quite simply, “in theory nothing, in practice a great deal”. In his time, teachers of General English courses, while acknowledging that students had a specific purpose for studying English, would rarely conduct a needs analysis to find out what was necessary to actually achieve it. Teachers nowadays, however, are much more aware of the importance of needs analysis, and certainly materials writers think very carefully about the goals of learners at all stages of materials production. Perhaps this demonstrates the influence that the ESP approach has had on English teaching in general. Clearly the line between where General English courses stop and ESP courses start has become very vague indeed.


Rather ironically, while many General English teachers can be described as using an ESP approach, basing their syllabi on a learner needs analysis and their own specialist knowledge of using English for real communication, it is the majority of so-called ESP teachers that are using an approach furthest from that described above. Instead of conducting interviews with specialists in the field, analyzing the language that is required in the profession, or even conducting students’ needs analysis, many ESP teachers have become slaves of the published textbooks available, unable to evaluate their suitability based on personal experience, and unwilling to do the necessary analysis of difficult specialist texts to verify their contents.

difference between (ESP) English for Specific Purpose and General English

Differences between ESP and EGP

1. Part of specialization.

(English in Engineering, medical colleges)

2. Aims at restricted competence. (catering to the specific needs)

3. Materials restricted to subject specialization. (‘narrow-angle’)

(linked to learners’ specialization)

4. Small, homogeneous group of learners. (more purposeful)

5. Cost-effective.

(very less money required compared to EGP)

6. Teachers and institutions accountable.

(if the students are not satisfied, they can ask for the refund)

7. ‘Training’ orientation (Training fails if ‘output’ behaviour does not equal ‘input’ instruction)

(Technical Model)

(e.g., ATCs English)

(e.g., good and poor are antonyms)

8. Aims at 100% success.


9. Trainers and trainees are conversely related (The trainer knows trainees very well, and can better tell the do’s and don’ts.)

10. Aims/Targets/Goals-What learner has to do with language once he has learnt it.(What the trainee has to do, once the course is completed)

1. Part of General Education.

(English in traditional system of education)

2. Aims at general capacity.

(learning English to learn English)

3. Materials based on general texts.

(‘broad angle’) (not linked to the learners’ specialization)

4. Large, heterogeneous group of learners.(serves no purpose)

5. Expensive.

(Money spent on learning English in the years)

6. Teachers and institutions not really accountable.

(e.g., negative incentive for high school teachers in AP)

7. ‘Education’ Orientation

Output does not usually equal input; instruction converted into general principles

(Humanist model)

(e.g., good and bad are antonyms)

8. Results/success not predictable.

(Efficiency=output/input, never = 1.)

9. Teachers and trainees are not conversely related.

(It is difficult for the teacher to know about each learner in the class)

10. Objectives- What learner has to do in order to learn)

(learn English to learn more English or learning to continue learning)

Rajeev Ranjan & Dinesh Chandra Koti

Resourceful books and References:-

  1. English for Specific Purposes (A learning- Centered Approach) by Tom Hutchinson and Alan Waters (1987)
  2. English for Specific Purposes edited by Susan Holden (1977)
  3. English for Specific Purposes ELT documents 101 (1978)
  4. English for Specific Purposes edited by Ronald Mackay and Alan Mountford (1978)
  5. English for Specific Purposes by Pauline Robinson (1980)
  6. Learning Purpose and Language use by HG Widdowson (1983)
  7. English for Specific Purposes by Chris Kennedy and Rod Bolitho (1984)
  8. ESP in perspective (A Practical Guide) by Jo Mc Donough (1984)
  9. Episodes in ESP edited by John Swales (1985)