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CLIL, or Deep Level ESP?
by Neil McBeath
- 6


So where does all this leave us. I would firstly suggest that CLIL is not a matter of putting old wine in new bottles. CLIL, to me, looks more like putting old wine in old bottles and slapping on a new label. The theoretical definitions of CLIL outlined by both Mehisto et al and the Vienna Working Papers appear to be so wide as to admit any form of language teaching. Boynton’s 15 points, moreover, are no more than good teaching practice, with several of them being as applicable to mathematics, physics or ICT as they are to languages.

ESP, by contrast, is supported by a wide body of theory. The lists of publications in Robinson (1980; 1991) alone are extensive. Added to that, there is an increasing number of coursebooks, covering more and more specialized domains. Those of us who are engaged in ESP, regardless of the branch or sub-branch, know that ESP is, in every sense of the word, engaging. It engages the attention. It engages the interest, and it does this by offering definite content; content that is geared to the students’ wants and needs.

Rinvolucri (1999; 14) criticizes the “soft, fudgy, sub-journalistic, women’s magaziney world of EFLese course materials”, and to some extent he has been backed by Reda’s (2004) research, which showed that most “general English” courses were constructed around different variations of some 24 standard themes. ESP, by contrast, “is protean, as it is responsive to all three realms of language, pedagogy and content studies.” (Robinson 1991; 1).

 General English and ESP are different. They are based on different methodologies. They examine different linguistic domains and they are taught to different groups of learners. The definitions between them are not always watertight, but by and large, those of us engaged in the teaching of EFL understand what we mean when we use the current terms. I would suggest that we have no need of a new acronym, particularly one that is based on shaky and self-referential theory, and which does nothing but blur the distinctions that currently exist.   


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Neil McBeath worked for twenty four and a half years as a uniformed officer in the Royal Air Force of Oman. During that time, he taught EFL, ESP and English for Military Purposes (EMP). He declined to renew contract in June 2005, and took at two year contract with BAE Systems, teaching at the School of English Language, Technical Studies Institute, Dhahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has now returned to Oman, and teaches at Language Centre of the Sultan Qaboos University.

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