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Impact of Learner-Centered Approach on the Teaching of Language for Specific Purposes (ESP) Analytical Essay

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Updated: Sep 12th, 2019

Learning language for specific purposes implies active participation of learners in various learning stages. Language as a tool of expressing different meanings should act a direct means of communication among individuals.

In this respect, the role of a teacher can be confined to several dimensions with regard to the purposes and approaches used while delivering knowledge. A recent shift from content approach to a learner-centred approach has redefined the place of teaching and learning from the perspective of a new strategy based on Communicative Language Teaching.

The new learner-centred methodology engages a new vision on the learning experience that students receive with regard to their communicative and real-life goals. In this respect, a curriculum and course design model should be viewed and be estimated from the point of view of successful communication during an ESP lesson.

In order to define how different learning techniques affect the role of a teacher, specific attention should be paid to the nature and purpose of language. In this respect, “teachers…started to adopt the role of communication facilitator instead of being the source of information” (Kucuroglu-Tirkes, 2011, p. 194).

Hence, re-evaluating the role and place of a teacher in ESP learning is indispensable to meet the goals and needs of a learner. In order to define which shifts occurred through implementation of a new approach, historical underpinnings and previous approaches should also be analyzed. In addition, the idea of ESP teaching should be discussed from the perspective of learning language patterns within different types of texts.

What is more important, the ESP teaching is closely associated with the purposes and objectives of ESP (Basturkmen, 2006, p. 134). Regarding the above-presented assumptions, a learner-centred approach triggers a shift of the role of teacher as a source of knowledge and new information to a communicator facilitating interaction between learners and engaging students into discussion.

Focusing on learner-centred Approach Applied to ESP

Defining ESP

Within historical constrains, learning the English language was closely associated with the international process and events, such the World Wars, the Oil Crisis, and other historically significant events triggering the necessity to introduce a common channel of communication.

So far, linguistics was aimed at presenting the basic structures of languages. Today, language learning is primarily oriented on meeting the goals of external environment (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). The latter encapsulates the essential purpose of learning languages for special purposes (ESP).

Theoretical Foundations

ESP teachers realize that the majority of EFL learners study English for utilitarian reasons rather than for cultural purposes. Taking into consideration the utilitarian direction, teachers have become more aware of the fact that students motivation can be significantly advanced through introducing better learning techniques (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987).

Within the context of a course design, Hutchinson and Waters (1987) argue, “language teaching should be based not primarily on linguistic analysis but on how people learn” (p. 39). The idea is closely associated with learning theories, including mentalism, cognitive code, behaviourism, and affective factor.

From a behavioral viewpoint, learning is considered a mechanical process of shaping habits by reinforcing stimulus-response sequences (Rimondini, 2010). The framework has become the underpinning of Audiolingual Method in the second half of the past century.

The method was based on the concept of behaviourist stimulus-response principles, as well as on the idea that ESL learning should imitate the principles of native language learning (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). In addition, the behavioural principle closely correlates with pattern practice through drilling.

Viewing a mentalism perspective is possible through understanding learning as a rule-government behaviour. In other words, a learning process is not composed of shaping patterns and habits only, but also of acquiring specific rules through established thinking.

At this point, “mind …does not just respond to a stimulus, it uses the individual stimuli in order to find the underlying pattern of system” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, p. 42). The acquired knowledge can be used to adjust to a novel situation, as well as predict possible outcomes so as to be able to respond.

Thinking mechanism and behavioural patterns are not the only attributes of learners’ approaches to acquiring knowledge. Therefore, considering emotions as a part of learners’ mechanism is vital for explaining some paradoxes of a studying process.

In this respect, learning cannot be considered apart from emotional experience because it can also evoke specific feelings, emotional bearing of a drilling language, excitement about noticing progress, etc. Thus, the significance of the emotional aspect is viewed as a relationship between effective and cognitive factors of a learner. At this point, cognitive theory underscores learners’ engagement with the subject of learning.

The emotional factor of the learning experience shapes an important foundation for promoting the cognitive process (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987, p. 47). Judging from above-presented theoretical frameworks and their relation to a learning process, a learner-centred approach encompasses cognitive, social, and emotional perspectives shaping the most important conditions for developing motivation.

Assessing Learners’ Needs and Choices

ESP strategies to language teaching are strongly related to the goals by which a learner studies a language, rather than a curriculum revealing the structure of planning the English language course. Therefore, an ESP approach focuses on the analysis of learners needs that can significantly differ because their often teach what they believe will be useful for them in future (Richards, 2001, p. 33).

These objectives are very specific and should be congruent with the content of an academic course. Within ESP, learners’ goals are described with regard to performance, as well as how the learner will imply the language at the end of a curriculum. In other words, an ESP course is aimed at preparing learners to perform a specific role or a set of roles.

In order to define the learners’ needs for initiating ESP academic programs, there is a necessity to introduce a variety of approaches. While shaping a conceptual framework, it is necessary to gather the sources of objectives, teaching institutions, assessment methods, and needs analysis techniques.

The primary focus should also be made on communicative needs of ESP students that are premised on personal information, purpose, setting, dialects, anticipated communicative events, and channels of communication (Richards, 2001, p. 34).

Personal information involves culturally important background of an individual, such as language, nationality, etc. The above-presented profile creates an underpinning of understanding the relation between social construct and language learning. What is more important, it places a learner in the center of the described dimensions.

Social construction of a learners’ environment determines the needs and demands with regard to a specific situation. In this respect, ESP teachers should know what level of background knowledge learners have acquired so far to identify the knowledge and skills gap.

Judging from the goal-oriented frameworks of estimating learners’ needs, specific reference should be made to distinguishing among situational, current, and educational goals.

According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987), “motivation… is a complex and highly individual matter” (p. 48). In this respect, each learner should be approached individually by a teacher to define what motivational factors trigger their development.

Learner-centered approach is the most appropriate solution to increase learners’ awareness of goals to learn language, as well as to define the techniques facilitating language learning and providing the highest results. Aside from motivation as itself, ESP learners must be intrinsically motivated.

ESP learning should meet the needs of both language learners and target users. In other words, students should satisfy their learning experience, which meet the emotional domain of studying.

Providing students with a greater range of choices contributes to motivation in a positive way. Hence, a learner-centred approach implies that teacher should allow students to choose the topic of interest so as to be more involved in research.

Flexibility of choice enables learners to work with the material that provokes their greatest interest in studying. What is more important, possibility to choose fully meets learners’ personal goals in real-life situations.

Estimating the Role of Teachers in Facilitating a Learner-Centered Approach

Three Dimensions of Teachers’ Functioning

Within a learner-centred framework, teachers cannot be regarded as independently acting agents whose sole purpose is confined to delivering material and explaining the key concepts of a course. Rather, there should be close collaboration between teachers and learners to involve the latter in decision-making in terms of text selection, methodological tools, and evaluative techniques.

At this point, “the role of teachers in this new learning experience is to help students develop the necessary skills for becoming independent learners” (Kucuroglu-Tirkes, 2011, p. 195). In the course of learning, teachers should act like planners, helpers, and counsellors at different stage of knowledge acquisition.

Acting as planners, teachers should help students make decisions concerning how to allocate their learning efforts into manageable clusters and structure the academic process in a systematic manner.

In addition, they should establish the deadlines to encourage and motivate students to compete with each other and gain experience in managing time. Indeed, time management is an essential factor that allows students to cope with the assigned work effectively.

While performing the roles of counsellors, teachers should reward learners and provide those with pertinent recommendation on the learning process. Giving feedback on students’ work enables students to evaluate personal level of achievements with regard to organization, vocabulary, content, and grammar.

Finally, teaching taking the place of helpers should create a platform for student to develop efficient language learning skills. More importantly, they should introduce a guided-practice in class for students to employ the acquired skills both within and beyond the frames of the classroom. The task of a teacher is to present research techniques and methods to learn the basics of research.

Applying a Learner-Centered Approach by Teachers While Developing Textual Materials for ESP Course

Before designing the course and acting like communication facilitators, teachers must be able to develop the corresponding materials to predict students’ needs and concerns and advance their ESP learning skills.

At this point, a learner-centred technique presupposes application to a wide range of materials, including audio, video materials, texts, readings, and presentations so that each student could find the best way to learn a language and gain the necessary skills and experiences satisfying personal purposes (Kwun-hung & Sinn, 2010).

Approaching the choice of material more carefully will allow teachers to carry out a comprehensive needs analysis and define learning behaviour patterns to make the corresponding changes to an academic curriculum in future. For example, to frame the course design, teachers can develop a questionnaire containing questions relating to style, purpose, needs, and presentation of the course preferences (Kwun-hung & Sinn, 2010).

The result of the questionnaire will help teachers highlight the most appropriate methodological tools to be implemented in the course of ESP studies. Viewing teachers’ function from this perspective defines them as change agents integrating different techniques to meet the requirements of a learner-centred framework.

Use of authentic materials is another important condition that teacher should consider while integrating a learner-centred approach. According to Baghban (2011), there is a direct connection between motivation and authenticity. Authentic materials, therefore, “are more interesting and stimulating and they intend to communicate a message” (Baghban , 2011, p. 440).

Authentic materials provide learners with tools of coping with real-to-life circumstances, as well as acquiring motivation in ESP learning. Choice of authentic materials is a very daunting task because of the complexity of the learners’ linguistic background.

Overall, use of authentic materials provides excellent resources for learning language within a real environment (Baghban , 2011). Being part of a real context, authentic materials create the link between learners’ general language background and their specialized language needs. Hence, in professional environment, it is possible to imitate the real world in class by means of introducing authentic materials.

Understanding the Influence of a Learner-Centered Approach on ESP Teaching

As it has previously been analyzed, a learner-centred approach deal primarily with how rather than what learners act to acquire knowledge and skills. At this point, there are a number of principles that influence ESP teaching. Using a learner-centred model, learners should take part in a number of learning activities to make decisions.

Here the role of the teachers is confined to understanding which methodologies and tools students use to learn the materials. Strategic management should be the main condition to involve the learner into a collaborative process (Bista, 2011). Next, ESP teaching within a learner-centred framework enables a student to become much more encouraged and motivated to gains knowledge because the model fully meets their professional goals.

It is important for a teacher to take into consideration individual differences while delivering the authentic material (Bista, 2011). Working in collaboration generates active interchange of experience and preferences. In such manner, teacher can achieve much highest results because communication widens students’ understanding of the external environment.

The latter influences the learning process, including the choice of learning pedagogies, classroom activities, and materials. For instance, because some learners prefer taking an active part in discussion to taking the position of passive learners, teachers should approach individuals from different angles.

Based on the above-peculiarities, ESP programs designed by teachers significantly differ from the curricula based on other than learner-centred techniques. More importantly, the chosen learning approach shapes a new dimension of relationships within the faculty members of colleges, which goes beyond the classroom setting.

Teachers, therefore, should be more concerned with integrating mass meeting, presentations, conferences, and lectures that would encourage interchange of experience between students with culturally diverse backgrounds. In addition, provision of interactive learning can also allow the learners to realize their actual professional goals and make them apply theoretical knowledge in practice.

Learner-centred approach to ESP should also involve technology because computers “help motivate learners and increase critical thinking” (Bista, 2011, p. 117). Teachers, therefore, should freely use software application for writing, speaking, reading, and listening activities.

For instance, students can create sound files by means of multimedia software so as to foster communication with instructors. Overview of different online websites is also of high importance because they contribute to a collaborative work between teachers and ESP learners.

With regard to the above-presented peculiarities of a learner-centred approach in teaching, one can witness a number of changes and influences this technique has. In general, such issues as balance of power, content decision-making, responsibility for learning, purposes and processes, and role of teachers.

The roles and needs have been discussed previously and, therefore, it is purposeful to mention the importance of power relocation and define how effectively this tendency is in increasing ESP learner competency.

Allocation of power can allow students to “differentiate between an unethical transfer of power and an appropriate sharing of the decision-making process” (Weimer, 2002, p. 29). Sharing power between teachers and students encourages the latter to become more independent and take more responsibilities for their professional growth (Weimer, 2002).

ESP learners, therefore, can be less attached to teachers’ instructions and be more concerned with personal incentives to learn foreign languages. As soon as they understand the importance of studying, the learning process will become much more productive.


In conclusion, the impact of a learner-centred approach in ESP teaching is revealed through several dimensions of an academic process. To begin with, teachers should pay closer attention to the study of power allocation between a teacher and ESP learners.

At this point, students should become more independent. Further, teachers should be aware of the learners’ goals and objectives while delivering the material. Learning language for special purposes differs significantly from traditional outlook on knowledge acquisition. Therefore, teachers should focus on how rather than what learners do to study foreign languages.

Next, introducing authentic materials is a step forward to meeting cultural diversity needs of ESP students because this type of information presentation allows students to learn more about the language they want to master.

In addition, there should be a wide range of techniques to deliver material, including video presentation, audio lectures, written assignments, and reading for students to choose the most appropriate style of obtaining knowledge.

Finally, the role of teachers has also undergone a significant shift. Teachers should acquire different roles, particularly those of communication facilitators, change, agents, counsellors, helpers, and planners. All these responsibilities should be incorporated in one person to meet the requirements of a learner-centred approach.

Overall, a learner-centred approach has a number of advantages both for teachers and for learners. Understanding specific purposes and goals, identifying responsibilities, widening teaching devices can help students widen their experience in learning foreign language and acquire knowledge for future professional growth.

Teachers, in their turn, can also gain experience in a more effective delivery of material with regard to the challenge of cultural diversity.


Baghban, Z. (2011). Authentic Materials’ Implication for ESP Settings. Sino-US English Teaching, 8(7), 437-442

Basturkmen, H. (2006). Ideas and Options in English for Specific Purposes. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bista, K. (2011). Learning-Centered Community College and English as a Second Language Programme. 3L: Southeast Asian Journal Of English Language Studies, 17(1), 113-121.

Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-Centered Approach. Cambridge University Press. 111-113.

Kucuroglu-Tirkes, C. (2011) The Role of a Learner-Centered Approach in Language Teaching on the Development of Learner Autonomy: A Model Course Design. Dogus University. 193-200.

Kwun-hung, L., & Sinn, M. (2010). Teacher as the Change Agent: Implementation and Impact of a Learner-centered Approach in Teaching Argumentative Essays to Senior Secondary ESL Learners in Hong Kong. International Journal Of Learning, 17(4), 595-612

Richards, J. C. (2001). Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rimondini, M. (2010). Communication in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. US: Springer.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. US: John Wiley & Sons.

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