In academic arena, English plays a very crucial role especially in institutions whereby it has been used for infinitely long period of time as a medium of instruction. Students are expected to not only communicate effectively in English language. They are also supposed to master its extensive usage so that they can be able to grasp full content in their various fields of study. According to Bacha and Bahous (2008), there is no possibility of excelling in institutions which use English as medium of communication.
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Therefore, tremendous effort geared towards learning English language both from the teacher and learner levels is relevant in order to help students overcome academic demands so as to excel in their respective disciplines. Additionally, the acquired skills will assist students in meeting the demands of English language use in a professional context (Bacha & Bahous, 2008).
Ismail (2011) explicates that the academic context consign strenuous demands on students as they are required to complete numerous writing tasks in different genres such as essays, research papers and critical reviews. On the other hand, for learners to be able to decipher the different structure and language forms that are most suited for diverse form of texts, they ought to focus on learning the rules of the language that is being used for instruction.
Furthermore, in his study on students’ perceptions on writing in ESL, Ismail found out that English plays vital role in initiating students to the wider academic community owing to their improved proficiency and also due to their ability to make distinctions between language activities used in specific genres. Further exploration of students’ perceptions indicated that the kind of attitudes that students held towards ESL either hindered or promoted their writing ability.
On the same note, Bacha (2002) underscores that English has been elevated to a higher status around the world owing to the fact that it is the preferred language of use for various specific purposes. Needless to say, English is a preferred medium of instruction in many academic institutions across the globe bearing in mind that even the non-English speaking countries have adopted English in their academic curriculum.
For this reason, English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners in Arab world as well as from other parts of the globe have little alternative but to learn English despite the difficulties they encounter in the course of learning. In spite of the fact that L1 (Arabic) has a role to play in students life, it is imperative to mention that English for academic purposes is very crucial not just to outshine in academic field, but also to fit in the global arena whereby it is the main language of communication.
Concurrently, this current research offers an in-depth exploration on the use of English for purpose of academic learning and of course the acquisition of knowledge. In addition, it also highlights the difficulties Arabic speakers encounter in the course of switching between Arabic for social use and English for academic purposes.
Scholars interested in English for specific purposes (ESP) discipline tend to prefer the usage of two distinct subdivisions to distinguish between the use of English in academic (English for academic purposes (EAP) and the language use in occupational contexts (English for occupational purposes (EOP) (Gillett & Wray, 2006). Besides, Gillett and Wray accentuate that the aspiration of ESP is to equip students with the necessary skills to communicate, write and read.
Notwithstanding, the period of preparation is very short, but the skills are relevant to promote success in academics. However, success in mastery of ESP is only achieved if activities of ESP are demonstrated in the context as it is the case in academic institutions. Moreover, the materials for teaching ESP ought to be authentic to enable students to grasp vital skills for a smooth transition into the employment world.
Similarly, Fender (2008) in his research unearthed several characteristics of ESP which includes ESP materials that are designed to meet specific learners’ needs such as academic. Conversely, the methodology for designing such materials is tailored towards the specialized purpose. Needless to say, the aim of EPS should be focused, not just on teaching the lexicon, grammar and registers in a particular discipline, but should also provide skills on the appropriate use of the above activities.
English for Occupational Purposes (EOP)
In yet another development of this language, EOP falls under three categories namely business English, professional English and vocational English. The importance of English in occupational fields has been accentuated via several studies. One such study is by Fender (2008) that emphasized the necessity for learning above average English skills to facilitate communication in every profession.
Furthermore, the two aforementioned authors provide indisputable solutions that ESL students can employ to overcome communication barriers in their respective business and management professions. Likewise, Gilmore (2009) points out that many students find it extremely challenging to produce written texts in their language and the challenges worsens when they are required to write in a second language and specifically to EFL learners.
He adds that the widely usage of English language in business and academic environment can be directly linked to the gradual revolution heightened by globalization. As a matter of fact, Huang (2008) study supported Gilmore observation by accentuating that the spread of English usage is likely to be accelerated by its’ widespread usage in mass communication, internet and business dealings.
He further emphasizes that on a day to day basis, thousands of deals in trade, journalism, politics etc are conducted in English whereas the parties involved are non-native speakers of English. As a result, the necessity to equip the users with the relevant English competence skills cannot be overemphasized of which this is the main concern of the current study.
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Additionally, Huang study revealed that test scores for tasks written in English varied between the ESL learners and native speakers of English, whereby native speakers scores higher than ESL learners. Huang attributed these findings to the fact that ESL learners’ performance was limited for reasons not explained in his study.
However, his findings positively indicate the concept of using ESP in academics poses tremendous hardship to ESL students. Moreover, Puvenesvary (2003) research revealed that poorly-written business letters caused grievous harm to a business. His study which was conducted in the banking sector in Malasyia further portrays that ESP is a valuable skill not just in academics but also in professional arena.
Challenges in reading and speaking in ESP for academic learners
Research among Arab students has indicated that they face similar or more adverse challenges while reading and speaking in ESP. Obviously, in academic institutions, students are expected to communicate with their fellow learners as well as participate in both oral and reading classroom presentations. Similarly, they are also expected to have above average reading skills to enhance performance in academic tasks.
However, most ESP learners posses below average skills in reading and speaking as cited by Jdetawy (2011). The aim of his research was to conduct a conceptual review of challenges faced by Arab learners while using ESP in academic setting. A thorough review of literature exposes the reality that Arab ESL students faced serious problems while using ESP in academics and the problems impacted on all areas of language skills, i.e. speaking, reading, writing and listening (Jdetawy, 2011).
The above current study concurs with a prior study by Savas (2009). Although Savas’ study aimed at unearthing learners’ challenges as perceived by their teachers, the two studies arrived at similar findings. Savas (2009) highlights that L2 learners of English face serious challenges while using ESP in accomplishing academic tasks such as writing, speaking, reading and listening. Interesting though, this study partly blame inadequacy of teaching methods as having contributed to the acquisition of below average linguistic skills in English.
Problems faced by Arabic speakers in ESL learning for academic purposes
On the same note, learners of L2 face many problems and Arab learners are no exception. Needless to say, these problems have caught the interest of various linguistic scholars due to their regular occurrences in both written and spoken English. As a result, numerous studies (Hisham, 2008; Rababbah, 2003; Kobayashi & Rinnert, 2002) have been carried out to investigate some of the common and chronic problems faced by Arab learners in the process of acquiring L2 (English).
To expound on the same, Kobayashi and Rinnert (2002) study attempted to investigate the effects of extensive and intensive L1 training in high school and how students transferred L1 knowledge while writing in L2. The study indicated that students tended to transfer knowledge in L1 to L2 and as a result committed weighty lexical errors during the writing process. However, errors in writing could be minimized if the students acquired the best writing strategy in L1 as they could transfer the same skills L2.
On the other hand, Kobayashi and Rinnert explanation ignores the fact that most of the errors of writing in L2 arise not because of the acquired writing strategies, but also because the mastery of L2 is restricted. Rababah (2003) extended his study further to identify the various reasons that could be attributed to these EFL learning problems.
First of all, he identified that the problems of EFL among Arab learners arose because English language teachers were native speakers of Arabic; hence their performance and competence in English was likely to be restricted. In addition, use of English was not a common experience among Arab speakers bearing in mind that they also had little interaction with native English speakers.
Consequently, Hisham (2008) investigated business students at the University of Utara Malaysia and pointed out that EFL learner encounter problems in vocabulary register, grammar and referencing. As a matter of fact, Umair (2011) reinforces the above discourse by restating that Arabic native speakers encountered many problems while undertaking writing courses in English. In deed, the composition of learners in academic institution is very diverse and as well their multilevel ability in writing also varied.
As a result, the lack of uniformity further accelerated the problems of competent writing for both teachers and students (ibid). Umair further explains that the diversified composition of learners in terms of abilities made it impossible for teachers to meet the needs of every learner.
Additionally, Bacha (2002) reviewed past literature that is highly relevant to the current study owing to the fact that it identified the major problems that L2 learners encountered while writing for academic purposes. Moreover, the study pointed out that writing skills among L2 learners were restricted following their limitation of lexical variety and lack of subordination elements.
Consequently, the importance of employing the appropriate methodology while teaching ESP cannot be overstated. Having established that there are various and grievous problems in ESL learning, L2 practitioners have been a search of comprehensive theory that would be employed to teach L2 in an attempt to minimize or eliminate problems that originated from poor teaching methodologies.
As a result three major theories have been proposed which can be employed to guide learners in the process of writing in order to promote mastery of skills among ESP learners for academic purposes.
Integral theories applied in the teaching of ESP
One of the most important theories is that which touches on rhetorical drills and syntax. It is referred to as product theory and they are all important in assisting the process of writing (Badger & White, 2000). As the name suggests, this theory is concerned with the final written product and eschews from establishing how the writing skills are acquired. Badger and White also exemplifies that the written product is a clear indicator of the level of structure skills of the target language (TL) that the learner have mastered.
Moreover, the written product indicates the level of imitated input since L2 learning is a matter of imitation. Badger and White also explains that if students are exposed to written model texts their level of errors is likely to subside and vice versa.
This is because as students focus on model texts they also focus on form and structure out of which they imitate the ideal writing skills. In addition, the students should be exposed to various exercises based on the model texts, and concurrently their level of mastered should be evaluated based on replicated product.
On the contrary, process theory approach focuses on the identification of procedure employed to arrive at the final written text without any consideration of the appearance of this final product (Hyland, 2003). This indicates that this theory is more concerned with teaching methods that learner of ESP is exposed to so as to acquire writing skills in the target language.
The author expounds that the various elements in the learning of English language such as drafting, actual writing carrying out revision as well as assessment and evaluation are all related to the theory. Henceforth, instructors are supposed to introduce the students to techniques that enhance success in writing. Therefore, students are taken through rewriting, revision and editing until the instructor is satisfied with the final draft.
On the same note, it important to acknowledge a more recent research that sought to highlight the meta-cognitive strategic that Arab students employed while reading comprehension both in Arabic and English that was doe by Alsheikh and Mokhtari (2011).
The study indicates serious implications for teaching and assessment on academic institutions since the researchers established that participants were more concerned with strategies than end products. Therefore, the study further reinforces the process theory that strategy or mechanisms employed in teaching writing determines the quality of end-product.
Finally, genre theory approach was proposed in an attempt to provide mechanisms to promote successful learning of ESP in the academic arena especially in writing. According to Badger and White (2000), this approach largely deals with studying the social context in which writing materials are produced.
Generally, this theory considers the communicative events where written materials are produced. In the academic context, the process whereby a lecturer interacts with his/her students in the process of teaching is considered to be relevant while teaching writing skills in target language.
Flowerdew and Peacock (2001) also explained that in this context, students are free to choose their own topic and write on them, while ensuring that their written texts fulfill the intended communicative purpose. Concurrently, Flowerdew and Peacock (2001) perceive this approach as the most significant due to its dynamic nature as well as varied characteristics across disciplines, time and instructors.
However, the approach might not be successful since it requires collaboration between lecturers and students, a situation which may sometimes be unattainable. In this case, the teacher assumes an authoritative position as he/she guides learners towards an elevated performance level of ESP (Paltridge, 2001).
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