Business English Syllabus Development.



Needs Analysis and Business English Syllabus Development

Needs Analysis and Business English Syllabus Development

This study presents an analysis of the language and informational needs of a university student group preparing to join a one-month study abroad program syllabus which was proposed for English business communication.

Growing from a preoccupation with communicative competence, its distinctive view of the nature of content for language pedagogy introduced (for the first time as organising principles) two important elements to syllabus design: firstly, a notional or conceptual aspect (time, space, movement, cause and effect); and secondly, a functional aspect (intentional or purposive use of language). This change of direction towards the third of Halliday's functions (interpersonal) (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).), in favour of the now influential concept of communicative competence, was a result of adoption by proponents of the functional syllabus of the communicative knowledge concept of Sauvignon (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).) and the ideas of the sociolinguist Skehan, P. & Foster, P. 1997). (who developed Chomsky's concept of competence Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997)in a sociolinguistic context), proposing that knowledge of language also embraces a knowledge of how to use the language in appropriate ways.

Although the notional/functional syllabus places emphasis on "the meanings expressed or the functions performed through language" (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).), it is (like the formal syllabus) a content-based, propositional, synthetic, Type A plan of language knowledge and capabilities, except that its communicative focus leads to "different applications of the organising principles of syllabus design from those of the formal syllabus" (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).). Thus the target language is no longer presented as a collection of discrete linguistic items subject to isolated linguistic sub-skills, but as groups of linguistic devices (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).). Syllabus content for functional syllabi is not tied solely to structural teaching goals, and it is thus possible to present similar language functions, with differing structures. As with the formal syllabus however, designers "lack any empirical evidence upon which to base their selection of structures and exponents when working within a functional framework, and to date there has been an unsatisfactory reliance on intuition" (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).). Issues of matching functional and formal selection and grading have proved to be problematic, so functionally based syllabi (e.g. Threshold [Skehan, P. & Foster, P. (1997).], Waystage [Skehan, P. & Foster, P. 1997) have tended to rely on considerations such as the needs of the learners, both in terms of classroom functions and in the 'real world', usefulness, coverage or generalisability, interest or relevance and complexity of form.

Beyond an awareness of the 'communicative value' of language (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. 1997) and a concern for students' current or future language needs, functional/notional syllabi "offer few obvious improvements, and have several flaws" (Skehan, P. & Foster, P. 1997):

preparation, as in formal syllabi, involves fragmenting the target language, presenting one notion or function at a time, and assuming that learners can eventually synthesise the whole, whereas functions actually co-occur in discourse, and take on communicative value from that discourse content (Skehan, P...
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