Should we learn the English ONLY for our SPECIALIST SUBJECT?

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I get this again and again – ‘English courses for Specific Purposes’. It just makes me want to cringe – honestly. The whole idea of learning only key words for specific subject areas is just insanity. It’s like going to the Gym and saying I only want to develop my right arm bicep because I’m right handed!

In fact, comparing the whole thing to a gym experience is something I’ve not only done before but do feel that it does give a clearer picture of how everything works.

So, let’s just say – for this posts sake – you have decided to develop only your right arm bicep. You spend months going 5 days a week, working out with those weights, building it up the muscle (because it will grow if you focus on it), then one day just as you are leaving the gym you look at yourself in the mirror and are shocked at what a strange creature you see before you. A normal looking person with a great big bulge under one side of your t shirt, like you are deformed or have some kind of growth there. Then you go to the door (which you usually open with your right arm), but someone else is coming through the door and you decide to step out of the way and keep the door open with your left hand…but suddenly you realise you can’t hold the door open for long with your left hand and the door ends up slamming in front of the person’s face.  You move on to the lift and just as you are walking you notice a twinge in your left knee that wasn’t there before. By the time you get to the car, your knee is very sore, then you sit in the car and feel your back going out of alignment. You eventually visit your doctor to see what the problem is. The doctor looks at you like he’s just witnessed a freak at the circus. You discuss your situation and the first thing the doctor does is ask you about your arm. What’s wrong with it. You just reply that you have spent your entire year building up that muscle because that’s the only one you need. Your doctor replies ‘oh no – now you have put your entire body out of alignment – that’s why your knee is sore, that’s why your spine is twisted…..he also says that you are probably weaker now generally than you have ever been in your life … and so the story goes on.

Now what is the equivalent to the English? The exact same thing happens to you and your communication skills when you focus only on one thing. If you do this constantly, you are limiting the growth of your overall language skills.

The truth is that whatever subject you need to study will require a huge range of communication. The only way you can get that huge range of communication is to learn English in a general context for as long as you can, then eventually you can specialize more when you are at the highest level.

In fact we all do this generally. When we enter our specific field, we do find ourselves learning the language of that field. Even if you are a native speaker, that field will require you to learn a new language related to that, but don’t forget we are all competent speakers to start with.

My final overall point on this is that if you are a beginner of English, you will have to learn the whole language first before you decide to specialize, just as the gym junkie needs to get themselves fit overall first before localizing their strength training.

Food for thought.

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7 thoughts on “Should we learn the English ONLY for our SPECIALIST SUBJECT?

  1. Nice post! I also think the same… But I also think in all the pressure agaist this “English courses for Specific Purposes”. They pushs throught someone just to make them learn a specific stuff to reach your goal, like a corporation goals, who only care to its busineses and force everyone else to do samething where thoses people will not enjoy after. Your exemple at a gym is really a good one!!

    • Thanks. Yes, unfortunately some places are only after the dollar, and if someone is willing to pay, then just let them! Without thinking about whether what they are offering is truly worthwhile long term.

  2. Its a very valid point and it made me think, but I guess some people would say they need to learn ” medical words” or “aviation words” I cant imagine my Pilots turning up to a session and spending half of it learning about the parts of the body!

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