Some Problems of Teaching English for Special Purposes to Students of Technical Specialities at University Level

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The subject of the present paper is an overview of main problems connected with teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at university level. Nowadays it is still urgent to discuss what to teach and how to teach a foreign language taking into account the objective social and professional needs of future specialists in our country. Besides businessmen, tradesmen, engineers, scientists and scholars all over the world must know English because it is the international means of exchange of information and experience.

The situation with foreign language teaching in Russian Universities is in some ways different from that of many European countries. In Russia, students in all specialties have foreign languages on the curricula as an obligatory subject for two or three years out of the average five years of the full course. Thus, our students not only want to learn foreign languages, but also have to learn them because students of any subject, any discipline must learn a foreign language as part of their syllabus. At the beginning of the university course of foreign language teaching it is necessary to formulate its actual – and realistic aims and tasks. Students must know from the start what variety of the foreign language, and to what extent, they are going to master it. Many people get bitterly disappointed and lose interest in foreign language studies because they were not duly informed that it is not possible (if you are not a genius, but these are scarce) in the limited period of learning 2-4 hours for week for 2-3 years – to master a foreign language, to acquire all the various skills: reading special literature, newspapers, fiction, writing scientific papers, understanding the lyrics of songs, everyday speech, etc., etc.

The tasks of teaching English for Specific Purposes must be formulated from the very beginning. In the universities programs these tasks are very humble: to teach students ESP, i.e. as an actual means of communication among specialists of different countries, meaning both – oral and written kinds of communication. In other words, ESP is oriented towards mastering skills for professional communication. ISSN 0136 – 5835. Вестник ТГТУ. 2006. Том 12. № 1Б. Transactions TSTU. 197 As H. Radford points out the structure and content of language curricula, when modern languages were first introduced into universities, were much influenced by the need to achieve academic respectability (Radford, 1985). And still, it is the most frequent concept of teaching ESP in universities. But the ability to speak the language is not emphasized as much as the ability to write, and, above all, the ability to read the language. Language curricula is therefore dominated by the systematic study of grammar, the regular carrying out of translation exercises into and out of language, the close study of set literary and science texts, the broad study of philological studies of the language (Maddock, 1994).

Another difficulty while teaching ESP at university level is that the first-year students have different language background. From our point of view, the best way out in such situation is a modular type of English course curricula structure, but this is not quite acceptable in our universities because this type of curricula demands great reconstructions in a university programs on the whole. What we can really do is to introduce diagnostic tests followed by an introductory English course if there is a need for students. The goal of the diagnostic test is to check students’ knowledge in English and to see if students are ready to take on a Basic Course of ESP. The objects of test are lexical, grammatical and reading skills. Usually the test is based on the 400 most frequent words of school vocabulary / lexis inherent in the Basic Learner’s Course, about 15 school grammatical items and 2 texts. The results of the test will show whether a student entering the university is ready to take on the Basic Course of ESP or not. As the...
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