Eric Koenig, Katherine Guertler

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Instructors of English for Special Purposes often describe the challenge of determining which specific content and competencies to address in their courses. After all, it is the focus on technical subject matter which students expect to differentiate engineering ESP from standard EFL. Yet ESP instructors, who frequently have a background in fields such as applied linguistics or education, often receive little input from technical specialists as to which specialist topics are most relevant to their target domain.

Our research indicates that ESP instructors in higher education can leverage a valuable resource to enrich teaching effectiveness: students who have already gained professional experience. As part of a longitudinal study at two universities of applied sciences (UAS) in southern Germany, engineering students at the beginning of their first semester of compulsory technical English participate in an online survey. The course participants provide relevant biographical information such as work experience and evaluate the perceived importance of a selection of skills and applications for a Technical English course.

The surveys, administered in October 2016 and October 2017 and encompassing nearly 1000 respondents, provide compelling insights. Analysis reveals conclusive correlations between the perceived importance of course components and students’ declared level of previous work experience. Listening comprehension, reading comprehension, process description, and test and measurement are topics whose importance correlates positively with work experience level. In addition, there are clear trends relating work experience level with the importance of the reading and writing of technical documents as well as communication and interaction.

This data provides empirically-founded criteria for selecting the topics to include in the scope of a Technical English course for engineers, informed by the judgment of students with occupational experience. Additionally, recognizing that students with work experience have legitimate practitioner credibility allows instructors to identify and select relevant subject matter in concordance with experienced students’ learning objectives. ESP learners will profit greatly from cultivating skills with proven practical applicability.



ESP curricula, work experience, Technical English, ESP practitioners

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