Schools get specific with English

 

English is not one-size-fits-all. In the world of science, for example, each field requires a different kind of English for use in writing or research. In recent years, an increasing number of universities–particularly science-related schools–have been focusing on an area of teaching called “English for specific purposes” (ESP).

Mukogawa Women’s University in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, has created a course focusing on English used in pharmaceutical areas–mandatory for juniors majoring in the field.

As part of the course, students learn technical terms, such as ketosis and analgesic. They also learn how to describe mathematical formulas and codes frequently used in science, such as “the square root of two.”

“For me, the course will prove its usefulness in the future when I read academic journals or write papers in English,” Yuka Kameyama said during one of her classes in Pharmaceutical English.

The course is taught by Prof. Judy Noguchi, who has been interested in ESP for more than a decade, even before the approach began attracting attention in Japan several years ago.

“Students get a sense of why they have to work so hard when studying English related to their majors,” she says. “If they understand pharmaceutical English, it’s easier for them to get up-to-date information on medicine via the Internet and other tools. That can help improve their performance as pharmacists.”

Since the 1960s, ESP has become more widespread, mainly in non-English-speaking regions. It has proved a success because of the rapid advancements made in science and technology since World War II and the increasing interconnection of the nations of the world.

Osaka Institute of Technology in Asahi Ward, Osaka, also offers ESP programs to sophomores and seniors majoring in engineering or intellectual property. Engineering students at the private institution learn technical terms frequently found in product specifications or academic journals. Intellectual property majors, meanwhile, focus on how to read patent specifications.

Today, technical experts in Japan often find themselves having to use English in their daily lives as it has become the lingua franca for international correspondence over the Internet.

“If we just offer general English lessons similar to those available in middle and high school,” Prof. Akiko Miyama says, “we won’t be preparing our students for the future.”

Moreover, some postgraduate programs use ESP programs as a means of training future researchers.

Osaka University, for example, first introduced an ESP program in 2006 for undergraduates in the engineering department. Last year, the national institution expanded the method to its graduate students, teaching them useful terms and guidelines for writing academic papers.

“There are few researchers in Japan that can promote their own academic findings in English,” Prof. Kiichi Fukui says. “We can’t get ahead of the international competition if we just conduct experiments without communicating to the outside world.”

To better promote ESP programs, however, it is necessary to encourage more teachers to take the approach. Interested educators have formed several regional groups to study the approach, holding symposiums or trying to develop teaching materials. A group in the Kansai region is planning a project to launch a Web site that will discuss teaching methods for ESP classes and offer sample classes by experienced teachers.

“Today’s universities are being urged to take one ambitious step further in improving their English teaching programs,” Noguchi says.

(Source: Daily Yomiuri Oct. 15, 2009)