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Designing an English Language Program for Engineers

In my current job, I am helping our program design an academic bridge program for conditionally admitted undergraduates students to the university's mechanical and civil engineering programs. I am just in the early stages of designing, conducting a needs analysis with the department heads and reviewing literature on engineering English, which is a branch of English for Specific Purposes.  After conducting a brief literature review on articles published since 2012 on English language programs for engineers, a few major patterns arose.

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Needs Analysis

Some papers (Kim, 2013; Mohamed, et al. 2014; Paci, 2013; Porcaro, 2013) recommended conducting a needs analysis before designing the curriculum. This is common sense for those like me coming from a background in instructional design.  Porcaro (2013) provided the most details regarding how to proceed with a needs analysis for this purpose, although his context was for Japanese engineering students in an English language program in Japan.  Most of his examples, however, are applicable to our situation in the United States.

Workforce Communication Skills

Additional articles (Handford & Matous, 2015; Kim, 2013; Mohamed, et al., 2014; Rajprasit, Pratoomrat, & Wang, 2015) indicated that earlier materials and ESP courses did not emphasize speaking and/or communication skills enough.  There was too much attention paid to the subject matter.  Rajprasit, Pratoomrat, & Wang (2015) who investigated English engineering classes in Thailand strongly recommended developing workforce communication skills and specifically suggested curricula to focus on oral presentations, professional conversations, and report writing. There context differs from ours because their English engineering classes lasted throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, where ours is only at the beginning. However, our students will have more opportunities to develop their communication skills as they are taking their courses in the United States rather than their home country.

Mohamed, et al. (2014) supports these suggestions by adding that the curriculum should not be solely based on the textbook and should incorporate online texts and magazines. They also remind instructors and curriculum designers to include students' interests outside the field of engineering. We shouldn't focus too narrowly on the subject even though it is English for Specific Purposes.

Kim (2013) conducted a needs analysis on engineering English students, professors, and other stakeholders in Korea, and reported that the students wanted to develop their conversational skills the most. Somewhat related to this need was the professors' and industry stakeholders' dissatisfaction with their speaking skills upon completion.

Handford & Matous (2015) looked more specifically at what is entailed when we refer to workforce communication skills.  They summarized it as the following formula:

Professional knowledge & willingness to communicate > advanced grasp of English syntax

According to their paper, the curriculum should stress the importance of relationship building, helping students to understand the allocation of rights and obligations among problem solvers, to comprehend intertextual references, to be aware of differences in expectations towards contracts, and to perform intercultural communication with a flexible mindset.  These recommendations arose after investigating Japanese engineers heading a joint construction venture with Hong Kong Chinese foremen and engineers in Hong Kong.

Linguistic Features in Engineering English

Several studies (Carrio-Pastor, 2013; Chang, 2014; Cho & Lee, 2016; Hsu, 2014) used and/or developed corpora to investigate English used in engineering textbooks, journals, and periodicals.  Each study looked at different linguistic features.  Below is a list of teaching & curriculum designing implications based on their findings.
  • Emphasize the most frequent use of sentence connectors, which are listing and contrasting (Carrio-Pastor, 2013)
  • Integrate the use of general and specialized corpora to help develop writing skills (Chang, 2014)
  • Emphasize relative clauses, especially how to use ,which + verb (Cho & Lee, 2016)
  • Train students to use specialized engineering vocabulary in context (Hsu, 2014)
Hsu's article (2014) referred to the Engineering English Word List (EEWL), which is a more specific variant of the Academic Word List developed years ago. The EEWL has a list of 729 words, which I believe is a bit daunting for many students, but I found it the most practical resource from these studies.

Except for the use of corpora, I believe we can easily incorporate all of these suggestions into our curriculum.  And I look forward to designing our curriculum once our initial needs analysis stage is completed.


Carrio-Pastor, M.L. (2013). A contrastive study of the variation of sentence connectors in academic English. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 12(3), 192-202.
Chang, J. (2014). The use of general and specialized corpora as reference sources for academic English writing: A case study. ReCALL, 26(2), 243-259.

Cho, D.W. & Lee, K. (2016). English relative clauses in science and engineering journal papers: A comparative corpus-based study for pedagogical purposes. Ampersand, 3, 21-70.

Handford, M. & Matous, P. (2015). Problem-solving discourse on an international construction site: Patterns and practices. English for Specific Purposes, 38, 85-98.

Hsu, W. (2014). Measuring the vocabulary load of engineering textbooks for EFL undergraduates. English for Specific Purposes, 33, 54-65.

Kim, H.H. (2013). Needs analysis for English for specific purpose course development for engineering students in Korea. International Journal of Multimedia and Ubiquitous Engineering, 8(6), 279-288.

Mohamed, A.A., Radzuan, N.R.M., Kassim, H., & Ali, M.M.A. (2014). Conceptualizing English workplace communication needs of professional engineers: The challenges of English language tertiary educators. International Journal of Contemporary Management, 1(1): 1-9.

Paci, M. (2013). Needs analysis and environment analysis: Designing an ESP curriculum for the students of the Polytechnic University of Tirana. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 3(7), 425-430.

Porcaro, J.W. (2013). Teaching English for science and technology: An approach for reading with engineering English. English Teaching Forum, (2), 32-39.

Rajprasit, K., Pratoomrat, P., & Wang, T. (2015). Perceptions and problems of English language and communication abilities: A final check on Thai engineering undergraduates. English Language Teaching, 8(3), 111-120.


Valeriya said…
Thank you for sharing this information. Very informative, useful and clearly organized.
Jeremy Slagoski said…
Thanks, Valeriya. I'm glad you found my post useful!

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