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Checking out the “Nutritional Information” of FASP Food

Quel est l’ « apport nutritionnel » de la FASP dans l’apprentissage des langues de spécialité ?
Margaret van Naerssen
p. 11-28


Dans cet article, nous nous demandons si la FASP (fiction à substrat professionnel) offre un accès aux langues et cultures disciplinaires de nos apprenants tout en leur fournissant les « apports nutritionnels » linguistiques de base. Les besoins « nutritionnels » des apprenants inscrits dans les cours de langue « générale » diffèrent de ceux des apprenants en langue de spécialité. Certes, certains de ces besoins « nutritionnels » sont communs aux deux types de cours, mais il est nécessaire de créer des régimes personnalisés pour répondre aux besoins spécifiques. En conséquence, les supports de lecture utilisés seront différents. Nous émettrons des suggestions sur la manière de choisir et de préparer les « repas » les mieux appropriés pour nos apprenants et présenterons deux types de supports de lecture : des nouvelles policières médicales et des extraits d’une revue scientifique à caractère satirique.

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I. Introduction

  • 1 The editors of this special edition have allowed me to present this article in an informal style so (...)

1This article is an elaboration of a presentation made at a conference on the didactic aspects of FASP (fiction à substrat professionnel or profession-based fiction) in Caen, June 20101.The “menu” for the FASP Journées d’étude offered very valuable food for thought—for us to chew on. Some of these presentations are included in this volume of Les Cahiers d’APLIUT. FASP refers to the use of fiction related to the learners’ disciplinary or professional specializations. Special emphasis is on the contemporary best-selling thriller, authored by a professional or former professional. Thus, action and discourse are embedded in the professional or otherwise specialized environment. As FASP has evolved films and television series are also explored.

2The title of this presentation is “Checking out the nutritional information of FASP food.” Many French are probably wiser than many Americans at eating in moderation and still appreciating quality in food, thus, I hope French readers can relate to the food metaphors used.

3Also, in spite of our differences in food tastes and consumption, as language educators looking across cultures, I think we all have something in common: Our commitments to language teaching and to our learners. We share a desire to give our learners as much as we can. However, in this commitment it is useful to periodically step back and check on what we are doing. We need to be sure we are “feeding” our learners the most appropriate “food” for their needs and in the most effective way so they will benefit both in the short- and long-term.

  • 2 I want to thank the Universités Caen Basse-Normandie and Stendhal Grenoble 3, and the LSP community (...)

4This leads to the theme of the FASP conference as expressed in the framing text: Recentrer le débat sur la FASP en tant qu’objet d’étude didactique, refocusing the debate on FASP as another way to access the languages and cultures of our learners’ specializations2.

5As I’m not part of the FASP community, I was a bit nervous about this presentation. However, the more I thought about FASP, the more I realized there are issues that interest me and that I’ve also dealt with in other contexts. I also felt that I could draw on my own background (a) in second language acquisition theory and practice; (b) in teaching in various post-secondary academic contexts; and (c) in Language for Specific Purposes (LSP), and especially English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Regarding this last area, I wanted to share my concern about the importance of distinguishing between LSP/ESP and content/theme-based language instruction. Finally, I’ve also used Reading for Fun/Pleasure for learners in various professional areas as well as with younger learners. I also knew that I would benefit from hearing from FASP practitioners and benefit from the stronger background that some of the FASP researchers have in literary works.

6This presentation then is organized around the following five topics: 1) Nutritional needs, 2) Identifying our learners’ language needs, 3) Professional culture as content/theme, 4) Ingredients for promoting language acquisition, and 5) Reading for Fun/Pleasure. Under this last topic examples are provided from short stories and satire.

  • 3 I recognize that some readers may have a different definition of ESP than I do. I am referring to a (...)

7As we begin exploring these areas, I feel it is important to keep in mind the contexts in which you are using (or want to use) FASP content. Do you consider your program to be a narrowly focused LSP/ESP program? Or are your programs/courses part of a general foreign language program in which you are then assigned to work with classes of students from the same specializations3? Some of you may do both. Does FASP have relevance for both kinds of programs? If so, under what conditions?

II. Nutritional needs

8For the most nutritious FASP Food “meals,” we need to 1) identify the general or specific needs of learners (regarding language and culture); 2) recognize the underlying characteristics of such readings that can promote language acquisition; and 3) select appropriate course models/strategies for serving up these “meals.” Learners can also help out in the “kitchen”, cooking up more dishes, according to their needs, interests/tastes.

9The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) provides valuable information for our health—and perhaps useful metaphors for us as language educators and as well as for our learners. We want everything from food these days: great taste, good nutrition, value for money, convenience, and safety. We expect no less of the fine European tradition—cheese. But can cheese fulfill all these criteria? Fat and salt are fundamental components of cheese, so is it possible to make cheese healthier without compromising other attributes?

10The EUFIC also reports on Nutrition for Sports. Whenever highly talented, motivated and well-trained athletes gather for competition, the margin between victory and defeat is small. Diet affects performance so attention to food and drink intake can make the vital difference. Athletes’ needs vary depending on size, length & intensity of training and competition, and type of sport. There are endurance sports like marathons, or in contrast, those that involve short intense sprints. Some sports involve intermittent periods of intensity, such as soccer or strength such as weight lifting. No single diet will suit every athlete and individual needs.

11Language learners, like athletes, have different “nutritional” needs. Their needs in general academic language courses differ from the needs in Language for Specific Purposes courses. While certain underlying “nutritional” needs are similar for all language learners, special diets might be required for the more narrowly defined needs in LSP/ESP courses. For example, the types of reading/other input will differ.

III. Identifying our learners and their needs

12In this section, the focus is on identifying our learners and their needs, focusing first on LSP/ESP learners, then on learners commonly taught with FASP content. While some may believe that the use of FASP materials and ESP-based courses are the same, I am of a different opinion. The various acronyms that abound in post-secondary language programs have contributed to this confusion along with misunderstandings about core LSP principles.

A. LSP/ESP Target Learners

13Before determining the “nutritional” needs, let’s first consider who our learners are. In Figure 1 there are two types of LSP/ESP learners with very specific, identified needs. On one side are learners who are in the process of developing their expertise, e.g. in vocational technical schools or at universities. They are in need of, for example, English as a tool to specifically support their studies in which some or all of their training is through English. On the other side are learners who are already experts and who need some English as a tool in their work.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Identifying ESP Target Learners

(adapted from Lomperis & van Naerssen 1992; 1995)

B. Other language learners with specializations

14Now consider other language learners who have no real, immediate need for English.

  • 4 This includes the TESOL English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESP IS). At the 2008 TESOL (...)

15Yes, English proficiency and cultural knowledge/understanding are probably seen as long-term goals of the educational system and/or may also reflect students’ wants. Such learners may also be studying in the same professional discipline, even in cohorts. Thus, you may be providing content that might be of specialized interest to them, hoping to motivate them, and at the same time reinforce language points. However, I would argue that this is not principled LSP/ESP. Rather it is content/theme-based language instruction. I realize that the label LSP/ESP has been used for a wide range of approaches. However, there are some in the field that are concerned about this dilution of LSP/ESP4.

16Thus, to make sure you understand how I am using LSP/ESP and Content/Theme-based language learning, let me quickly review these two approaches and how they differ. Recalling ideas from Hutchison & Waters (1987), see Figure 2: Core principles of LSP/ESP.

Figure 2

Figure 2
  • 5 This graphic has evolved over three presentations/articles. Initially van Naerssen contributed it t (...)

Core principles of LSP/ESP5

17LSP/ESP is grounded in needs assessment of real, immediate/near immediate needs. These needs are specific to the learners, and the situations. The learning tasks/materials are relevant to these specific needs. Furthermore, the learners need to see the relevance. ESP leaders such as Hutchinson & Waters (1987), Robinson, and more recently Ken Hyland (2002) underscore these principles and the importance of specificity. These principles—when applied effectively—give LSP/ESP a powerful potential. (I sometimes pair LSP & ESP to reinforce the idea that ESP should be grounded in LSP principles. When I use it alone—it’s just a short-cut, with no intentions of reducing the importance of LSP principles.)

18In the early days of ESP, a range of content/theme-based models also sprang up. They varied along a Content-Language continuum from full content immersion with incidental language learning to a strong language syllabus with content/theme used primarily as a glue to hold the language parts together (See Appendix.)

  • 6 Figures 2 and 3 were developed by van Naerssen for the 2004 TESOL Convention for a panel which also (...)

19However, just to complicate matters, content/theme based approaches and ESP share some features, especially a focus on meaningful USE of language, based on the learners perceived or identified interests and needs. The underlying difference is that Content-Based Language Instruction (CBI) is content-driven—while ESP is needs-driven (Figure 3). CBI considers eventual uses; and the needs are less defined. Thus, in contrast, LSP/ESP considers immediate or very near future needs which are clearly defined and prioritized6. (Logically, then a program called ESP Content is not really LSP/ESP.)

Figure 3

Figure 3

Underlying differences between ESP & CBI

20Now CBI has its own house, its own very principled approach. In content-based language teaching the claim is that students get “two for one”, both content knowledge and increased language proficiency (Wesche 1993: 7-8). In Europe a related approach has developed: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). In France a similar approach is known as Enseignement d’une Matière Intégré à une Langue Étrangère (EMILE).

21Keeping these thoughts in mind, now consider whether your FASP content supports English for Specific Purposes? Or is it consistent with English through specific content areas/themes (CBI)? Is your FASP content, la fiction à substrat professionnel, consistent with an ESP or a CBI approach? Both approaches have instructional value. This distinction may not matter to many of you. However, I am only asking that we be clear about the needs of our learners, about selecting the most appropriate approach for those needs, and be clear about how we name our approaches.

IV. Culture as a Content/Theme and Professional Culture

22I believe culture is an important part of any language learning experience. Background knowledge about culture (facts, concepts/schema, values) informs our learners. Language is not independent of society, of culture. Culture can be a focus in a content or theme-based course as well as a very legitimate part of an LSP/ESP course.

A. FASP and culture

23It is my understanding that culture is an inherent part of FASP. Sometimes cultural issues are presented through readings, films, and discussions—and these might constitute a solid content culture course with language acquired primarily incidentally, through exposure. In other cases your language course may have one strand or module set aside for culture. This cultural component might be a formally structured strand, with its own culture-focused objectives. Also, when examining a particular culture it is useful to identify key values.

B. LSP/ESP and culture

24In an LSP/ESP approach the primary cultural focus is usually on the professional culture, the workplace culture or the culture of the place of study. This may also be meshed with the culture(s) of a relevant region, country, religion, and so on. In LSP/ESP, having identified the culture, we can then identify the communication needs within that culture.

25In an LSP/ESP course culture might be paired with the language needed to “live out” or express cultural values/practices. As long as these values are highly relevant to the learners’ working or learning study context, they can help shape an ESP Program. Also, in a professional/workplace setting, we need to consider social appropriateness, recognizing the important role of language in a social/cultural context.

26At times there may be difficulties in recognizing or imagining a particular professional or workplace culture. Some who are training students in professional fields (law, medicine, etc.) may not be accustomed to thinking of other types of occupations (such as food service) as having equally valid cultures. Also, if the training is taking place in an academic setting, it may be difficult to imagine workplace cultures outside of a university context. Use of FASP materials is one way to gain insights. Another way of accessing the “real world” beyond university courses is to step into that world by doing ethnographic research, by gaining permission to observe, or by doing a communication needs assessment. In ESP teacher training, I have found it easiest for course participants to transition into a workplace culture by stepping into a context that they may already know as a customer, guest, client, such as a restaurant, hotel, or fast food shop. I am choosing such a context to explore the realization of values through language.

  • 7 Anne Lomperis, a leader in best practices in ESP in the workplace, initially sensitized me to aspec (...)
  • 8 In many business contexts this is referred to as “customer satisfaction” ; however, in certain serv (...)

27Here is a simple example of the interaction of language and culture re-enforcing a workplace value. I draw on ESP work I’ve done with hotels in Egypt, Venezuela, and the US7. A key cultural value (the “bottom line”) in hotels is Guest Satisfaction8. It is typically measured by three areas: Return Guests, Referrals, and Reduction in Customer Complaints. When doing an assessment of English communication of, say, hotel housekeepers, the hotel manager is concerned about how these skills impact the three areas mentioned above.

28Frequency of use of certain language patterns is important to consider in a needs assessment. However, another variable is also very important to consider. When basing a needs assessment of communication concerns only on frequency of use, safety-related language probably won’t come out high. However, it will be at the top in terms of criticality. It is critical that communications from hotel employees (front desk, wait staff, housekeeping, etc.) to guests are extremely clear about safety measures. If not effectively implemented, not only can lives be lost, but a hotel’s reputation can be lost temporarily or permanently. Thus, weight given to criticality marks a cultural value.

29Thus, a safety communications module might combine the basic knowledge of safety procedures and equipment in a hotel with the need for hotel employees to communicate, for example, emergency evacuation procedures to hotel guests in English and/other appropriate languages.

30In major hotel chains, there are even scripted communications for various emergencies as well as for general communications with guests. As these scripts reflect the values of the hotel, the scripts should be used. They can be adapted for use by non-native speakers so they can communicate simply, clearly, efficiently, and with confidence. However, such adaptations need to be done with approval of management to ensure that they reflect hotel cultural values. Thus, as shown above, specific and relevant cultural issues can be a part of ESP.

31In addition to the relevance of culture in a specific professional/workplace setting, some learners simply are curious about another culture—and want to learn how to act appropriately in that culture. This independent motivation can, in turn, help promote language acquisition. We know from language acquisition research that the motivation of the learner is a key ingredient (Gardner & Lambert 1972 and Dornyei 2001, cited in Lightbown & Spada 2006). This finally brings us to considering the ingredients for promoting language acquisition.

V. Ingredients for promoting language acquisition

32One definition of language acquisition is the process of acquiring language that the learner owns, which is readily available for meaningful communication. This does not refer to learning the set of rules about language but that can’t readily be used for meaningful communication (Krashen 1982).

  • 9 References on second language acquisition can provide more details, e.g. the award winning introduc (...)

33Now let’s look at some important “ingredients” from second/foreign language acquisition research. In both LSP/ESP and in the use of various types of FASP materials, we need to ask if we are recognizing the important roles of Learner Involvement, Motivation, Comprehensible Input/Intake, Comprehensible Output, Balance of Focus on Functions and Form, Meaningful Communication, Appropriate/Effective Feedback, etc.9

A. LSP/ESP and Language Acquisition

34LSP/ESP, as a specific needs-based approach, focuses on language as a tool, not as an art form, hopefully making the training motivating, immediately meaningful. This narrows the scope of language that we need focus on, giving instructors valuable time. We don’t have to try to teach everything!

35Thus, a principled ESP approach can provide “ingredients” and the “cooking” conditions for acquisition. It allows us to set priorities, working with the learners and specialists and clients to decide what is most important and manageable in terms of the focus on functions and forms. This, in turn, can give us time to recycle language tasks/patterns over time, allowing learners to benefit from appropriate and effective feedback. If Comprehensible Input/Intake and Output are involved, then it allows for meaningful communication (including negotiation for meaning). This, in turn, can increase the chance that acquisition can occur.

B. FASP and Language Acquisition

36In working with FASP content, do we want to focus on language acquisition or simply language exposure? Acquisition may legitimately not be a major objective in the use of FASP materials. Perhaps learners are not studying through English in any of their specialization courses. The emphasis may be more on knowledge of facts, awareness of cultural concepts, providing valuable background for learners. Learners may benefit some from motivating, light exposure to language of their area of specialization, either new or already known language. They may also have a chance to use general communication skills in meaningful discussion, in general problem-solving, etc.

37However, this then requires that we be realistic in our expectations, course objectives, and in our assessments in terms of the language from their areas of specialization. What do we want our learners to be able to do with the language? We cannot expect this more general content-based approach to produce the same type of focused gains in language development for immediate needs as an LSP/ESP course would provide.

  • 10 Novels, films, television series and books are the main sources of content in FASP ; however, in my (...)

38However, when using FASP content, if there is a commitment to providing access to the languages and cultures of the learners’ specializations, can we also provide certain basic nutrition for language acquisition? As I understand FASP, one source of content is literature10. Thus, the rest of this presentation focuses on several strategies and examples that might provide a “healthy diet” for delivering FASP content. This also includes related examples for LSP/ESP. The focus is on various aspects of Reading for Fun/Pleasure.

VI. Reading for Fun/Pleasure

39When preparing for this presentation, Mireille Hardy asked me what literary works I was going to use as examples. I momentarily gulped, but then regained my confidence. I have primarily used Reading for Fun/Pleasure. Admittedly, I have not worked with lengthy literary works, intensively exploring them. I understand this is frequently done with FASP materials. (I greatly admire the instructors that are able to work with such texts.) Nevertheless, I hope some reflections from my own experience may also be useful.

40My goals have been to provide short-term fun or relaxed reading to motivate learners to read in English, outside of their technical materials. Having found they could enjoy reading in small doses, such reading for Fun/Pleasure might become a long-term strategy to continue language learning beyond the classroom—but only if they were interested.

  • 11 Michele Higginbotham, a Canadian colleague/language educator in Beijing (l981-82), shared her list (...)

41For example, in the Reading for Fun/Pleasure in specialized areas that I’ve worked in I have not tried to use full literary texts11. Rather, for several reasons related to second language acquisition, I’ve selected shorter, somewhat simpler texts. First, I haven’t wanted to discourage (de-motivate) learners with long texts. Second, I haven’t wanted texts that were too far beyond their comprehension level. The texts needed to provide Comprehensible Input and to not appear unmanageable. Otherwise, the affective filters of learners would go up; they would block what I was trying to teach. Where I have used slightly longer texts, I’ve spaced them out in format and delivery. Also, knowing from my own foreign language learning experiences, I even enlarged the text fonts to make them easier to read.

42Now consider the amount we are feeding our learners. Imagine placing a large plate piled high with spaghetti, meatballs, tomato sauce in front of a small child who happily plays with the food while eating. Oh, yes, it’s nutritional and fun, but in the end there is too much waste and spillage. Most of it may never get into the child’s mouth! Do you ever wonder if that sometimes happens with your reading assignments?

43Now imagine placing a plate with a whole octopus in front of a child. The child looks up at you, wide-eyed, and asks, “You expect me to eat the whole thing?!” Do you think that sometimes your students might see a reading as too much, too unmanageable? You may even tell your learners that they don’t need to read everything, just get the general idea. Still like the child faced with the plate of octopus, some students still might ask, “You expect me to read the whole thing?!”

A. Short stories of medical detection

44Finally—let’s look at some examples of readings I’ve considered (short stories and scientific humor passages) and evaluate them in terms of factors already mentioned. I’ll start with short stories of medical detection from Berton Roueche’s The Medical Detection Stories (1991). The chapters are around 10-20 pages each. Below is a sampling of the story titles (Table 1).

Table 1

Table 1

A sampling from The Medical Detection Stories

45All of the material in this book had previously appeared in The New Yorker magazine in somewhat different forms (1947-1988). These could be considered popular predecessors of the now popular television criminal scene investigations, hospital mysteries, etc. This is a legacy from the “book” days before television reading for many people. Below is a summary of one story (“A Pig from New Jersey”) from one-line promotional materials.

A forty-year old dishwasher had a touch of dyspepsia. Within days he was dead. The only clue his physician had discovered was a word the man had uttered twice: Schlachtfest. A Schlachtfest is a pork feast, and there was one at a German-American meeting-and-banquet hall. But why did only the dishwasher get sick? ( [28/5/2010])

46Below are some general observations relating the fuller texts of these stories of medical detection to the goals of using FASP content. Of course, each story would have to be analyzed in more detail.

47Remembering that the goal of using FASP content is to provide a way to access the languages and cultures of learners’ specializations, let’s first focus on language for common functions. In these stories of medical detection common communication functions include 1) reporting on past problem-solving and narrating past events; 2) expressing logical deduction, including cause-effect, scientific laws, and findings; and 3) using reported speech in narratives about the interactions/communications between health professionals. This language might not be high priority for any identified immediate needs—unless students’ studies in English involve case analyses and discussions of them. Some of the medical/ health terminology might be directly relevant for some learners.

48Now visualizing the plate of food, the size of the portion, the amount of reading, let’s sample one page of a Roueche story in terms of ease of cognitive processing (Table 2).

Table 2

Table 2

Statistics about a Roueche story

49Even in these “short stories” there is still density in the text with 48 words in some sentences, the average words per paragraph, and the lack of illustrations or other graphics. Imagine some of your longer FASP readings!

50Now let’s look at accessing the cultures of the learners’ specializations. In these stories there is access to the general hospital and health profession in North American contexts, including some aspects of interactions among health professionals and between medical professionals and patients as well as with other public audiences. The settings are real-life, not fictional. However, this would very likely not address the specific immediate needs for an LSP/ESP program unless it is the preparatory training for a professional work experience in North America. Though it should be noted that the stories are somewhat dated.

51Continuing to examine the professional culture, these stories offer insights on, for example, 1) the professional value of objective problem-solving; and 2) concerns about the risk of being wrong in one’s analysis. These value-based cultural issues might be relevant to learners using FASP content or to learners in LSP/ESP courses, depending on needs and objectives.

B. Scientific humor

  • 12 Materials from the Journal of Irreproducible Results are used with permission from the journal edit (...)

52Now moving onto my other reading selection, the Journal of Irreproducible Results12. The title itself contradicts the value placed on research that can be reproduced to confirm or deny findings. Scientific humor can be facts mixed with fiction and include personal interpretations. In this print and on-line journal some entries are longer than others, but you can easily excerpt parts relevant to your learners, creating smaller “meal portions.” Some texts have quite humorous illustrations; some have none.

53If your learners are actually studying through English, maybe using English textbooks, some contents from the Journal of Irreproducible Results might be of value. Or you could reinforce, through English, concepts already learned through French. Additionally, you could explore values in professional culture—as played with in satire.

54For this presentation I’ve chosen parts of one article, James Stanfield’s “Mushroom hunting for beginners” (1989; 1990; 2001). He’s a scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. The article opens with a modified photo of Stanfield carrying a monstrous morel mushroom on his back. This immediately got my attention as I am interested in mushroom hunting; also la cueillette des champignons is a popular activity in some parts of France.

55In a language-focused classroom, you could use this mushroom theme to re-enforce certain basic knowledge structures common in academic reading and writing (Mohan 1986), e.g. the Definition.
1. Observe the organization/structure of a definition:
Thing being defined + Be verb + General Category + Specific Feature(s).
2. Match parts the formal definition of mycology in the article with one structure of a formal definition:
“Mycology is the technical term for the study of fungi.”
Mycology is [the technical term for the study of] fungi.Thing being defined + Be verb + General Category + Specifics.

56Then Stanfield makes a minor addition to add a bit of humor, “Mycology (pronounced mycology)…” Pronunciation of technical terms is commonly provided in introductory materials. Such pronunciations are supposed to be useful, but not here!

57Stanfield’s satire becomes more obvious in other parts of his article. Let’s examine a common structure for the function of Evaluation. In a formal evaluative statement, no personal comments should be included as objectivity is valued in scientific culture. This can be observed in this objective version: “It is important to study the features of mushrooms carefully as there is always the danger of mistaking poisonous species for safe species.

58In satire a writer plays with cultural and linguistic rules. Stanfield adds an evaluative comment employing satire. First, he begins with word order change for emphasis. He also chooses the personal evaluative word “delicious” to emphasize the contrast: “And study we must, for there is always the danger of mistaking the safe and delicious species from the poisonous and delicious species.

  • 13 The classification and mycologist’s description can be easily found in print and on-line. For non-s (...)

59No doubt your students have studied the scientific classification system through French: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Subclass, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Space does not permit a full classification or a mycologist’s full description of, for example, the Common Mushroom, agaricus bisporus. However, learners can be assigned to bring these to class to use in contrasting formal scientific text with satire13.

60Here is what Stanfield does with scientific description in the Journal of Irreproducible Results. It is formal and straightforward at the beginning: “Common Name:  Mushroom”, “Genus, species: Agaricus bisporus”, and “Description: Small white button cap 2-9 cm in diameter, short stalk 1-3 cm long.”

61Then he begins playing with the content: “Habitat: Can be found in clumps usually beside broccoli or cauliflower in produce section.” His comments on Edibility and Look-alikes are very simplistic, relatively useless unscientific comments, thus adding a bit of humor: “Edibility: Edible but boring, “Look-alikes: They all look just about the same. Some are bigger, some are smaller. Under Look-alikes a mycologist is expected to describe similar mushrooms, and especially ones that are similar and poisonous.

62Then following the Classification system, he introduces his invented mushroom species. One example is his satire about “the disk mushroom” (agaricus frisbus) which might be appreciated by those who play with Frisbees! Students could then invent their own mushroom species: creative practice with adjective phrases/clauses.

63Finally Stanfield introduces an actual, truly poisonous mushroom, the red toadstool with large white dots, commonly seen in children’s books. His non-objective, very personal evaluative comments about the Amanita muscaria increase in negative strength as he progresses through the Classification system (cf. Table 3). His personal additions are italicized here.

Table 3

Table 3

Stanfield’s comments about the Amanita muscaria

64He then adds very “unscientific” comments, providing a motivating way to learn negative superlative adjectives! He anthropomorphizes the Amanita, and, using exaggeration, he gives it evil intentions and powers. Below are excerpts from his Comments.

This is without a doubt the worst, the most despicable, malevolent, conniving, malicious, malignant, abominable, mean, and generally most thoroughly disgusting mushroom known to man.
Not only does it contain several toxins for which there is no known antidote but it has also been known to trip up and bite hapless hikers. There are several cases on record of hunters contracting cancer from just looking at one too closely. Just before he died, Dr. Rollo Moss commented, “It seems to be sneering at me.

65This is an example of the type of scientific humor which can be used appropriately in FASP or LSP/ESP courses. It can provide a motivating way to access the languages of learners’ specializations, reinforcing the formal abstract knowledge structures of Definition, Description, and Evaluation. The article provides, for example, moves/structures within certain genres in science and technology. It also provides access to the cultures of learners’ specializations, satiring the scientific cultural value of reflecting objectivity in writing, avoiding personal, evaluative language.

66Finally, “Mushroom hunting for beginners” can provide some basic nutrition for language acquisition, possibly providing Comprehensible Input/Intake by building on knowledge/concepts and thinking skills the learners may already bring. The readings simply add/reinforce the language patterns/skills needed to express themselves in the target language. Crucially, the humor (with its language aspects involved in the satire) can provide the critical component for language acquisition, Motivation. Having learners write their own examples may also increase Motivation.

67However, humor should be used with certain caveats. First, use manageable “bites” so the language is not too rich for the learners’ “digestive systems”. The whole mushroom article is three pages, 963 words long, 54 paragraphs. Second, select parts that are relevant to your learners’ very specific needs. Third, some of the humor may be hard for a language educator to access, even sometimes for native speakers. This provides the opportunity for language instructors to consult with specialists in the learners’ area. They also might also enjoy the humor.


68With careful thought, FASP can provide a way to access the languages and cultures of learners’ specializations while providing certain basic “nutrition” for language acquisition. Most important is to identify your learners’ needs: Are they training for specific needs? Or are their needs more general? Then prepare an appropriate “menu”. Be sure to include the ingredients for second language acquisition. Then “bon appétit” to your learners!

Haut de page


European Union Food Information Council. [29/5/2010].

Fishcher, D. W. & A. E. Bessette. 1992. Edible Mushrooms of North America. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Hutchinson, T. & A. Waters. 1987. English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-Centered Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. & L. Hamp-Lyons. 2002. “EAP Issues and Directions. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 1: 1-12.

Journal of Irreproducible Results. (Also accessible on-line:

Knight, K., A. Lomperis, M. van Naerssen & K. Westerfield. 2010. “English for Specific Purposes: An Overview for Practitioners and Clients Academic & Corporate.” TESOL Resource Center. Alexandria, VA, USA: TESOL.

Krashen, S. 1982. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Lightbown, P. & N. Spada. 2006. How Languages Are Learned, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 63-65.

Lomperis, A. & M. van Naerssen. 1992. 1995. ESP. “Target Learners.” Graphic developed in 1992 and used in an ESP course conducted in the 1995 TESOL Institute, University of Carabobo, Valencia, Venezuela.

Mohan, B. 1986. Language and Content. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Roueche, B. 1991. The Medical Detection Stories. New York: Truman Talley Books/Plume. (Also known as The Blue Men and Other Stories of Medical Detection). [28/5/2010].

Stanfield, J. 1989. 1990. 2001. “Mushroom Hunting for Beginners”. Journal of Irreproducible Results. [28/5/2010].

van Naerssen, M. [under review]. “Clarifying LSP, Content-based Learning & Research.” In C. Chapelle (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Wesche, M. 1993. “Discipline-based Approaches to Language Study: Research Issues and Outcomes.” In M. Krueger & F. Ryan (eds.). Language and Content:  Discipline- and Content-based Approaches to Language Study. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 57-8.

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Appendix: ESP and its “cousins”

The content below is from “Sorting out ESP & CBI and a few other "cousins” by Margaret van Naerssen, ESP-IS Academic Session Panel, TESOL 2010, Boston.

In the early days of ESP was a “nuclear family”, but then it expanded as the “ESP” family grew to include “cousins” or “interested friends.” Many wanted to be where the “LSP/ESP action” was, where something different was happening. Additions were added to LSP/ESP the house as the family welcomed newcomers, perhaps not realizing where this growth was headed. It has become clear over time that some of these “cousins” have not been oriented to core LSP/ESP principles. Some “cousins” may not even realize this, as they may not be clear about the core principles. Such “cousins” may be providing solid language learning opportunities. That is to be applauded. However, some in LSP/ESP are concerned that such “cousins” not take on the name of LSP/ESP as this dilutes the potential of LSP/ESP.

In this figure imagine this simple circle figure represents the basic LSP model. The geometric shapes represent various approaches“ cousins” that have become attached to LSP/ESP.

Figure 4

Figure 4

ESP and “Cousins”

The most common approach attaching itself to ESP was /content/theme-based instruction, now known as CBI in the US. Early on those implementing this approach saw it as “specific “to the interests of their students. ESP was the closest to what instructors wanted to be doing; however, many found the challenges of doing a detailed needs assessment and designing specific training around these needs too challenging. Also post-secondary education systems frequently did not recognize or support such time-consuming efforts.

A range of content/theme-based models sprang up. They varied along a content-language continuum. This ranged from full content immersion with incidental language learning to a strong language syllabus with content/ theme used primarily as a glue to hold the language parts together, and to hopefully motivate learners who might be interested in the content.

(See Figure 3 Underlying differences between ESP & CBI, under III. Identifying our learners and their needs.)

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1 The editors of this special edition have allowed me to present this article in an informal style so I could stay closer to the sense of my oral presentation. They have also helped me to more accurately understand FASP ; however, I accept responsibility for any remaining conceptual differences.

2 I want to thank the Universités Caen Basse-Normandie and Stendhal Grenoble 3, and the LSP community in France for the opportunity to have participated in the FASP JE 2010, as well as APLIUT colleagues/friends for making this opportunity possible and for their on-going professional exchanges.

3 I recognize that some readers may have a different definition of ESP than I do. I am referring to a narrowly focused, principled ESP. I develop this interpretation of ESP later in this paper.

4 This includes the TESOL English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESP IS). At the 2008 TESOL Convention the ESP IS renewed its on-going commitment to remind and inform the wider language education community and prospective clients about the basic principles of LSP/ESP. It began by intentionally developing new materials and conference presentations to reclaim principled ESP, building on work in best practices and synthesizing key concepts and work from the history of LSP/ESP. Of course, individual ESP professionals have been expressing concerns and promoting best practices for a longer period of time.

5 This graphic has evolved over three presentations/articles. Initially van Naerssen contributed it to the TESOL ESP IS Overview (Knight, Lomperis, van Naerssen & Westerfield 2010). Then van Naerssen modified it slightly for use in “Clarifying LSP, Content-based Learning & Research” (under review). The figures of learners were added for this FASP presentation.

6 Figures 2 and 3 were developed by van Naerssen for the 2004 TESOL Convention for a panel which also included Donna Brinton and Lyudmila Kusetnova. Thus, while preparing for that presentation, this author benefitted from input from the other presenters.

7 Anne Lomperis, a leader in best practices in ESP in the workplace, initially sensitized me to aspects of hotel culture when we conducted a hotel-based ESP teacher-training course in at the 1995 TESOL Institute in Venezuela. This raised awareness of hotel culture has subsequently helped me get “inside” of issues in hotel language training projects.

8 In many business contexts this is referred to as “customer satisfaction” ; however, in certain service sectors, such as hotels, “guest satisfaction” is the preferred phrase. This reflects the value in such workplace cultures of promoting personalization of service, i.e., welcoming guests into a “home”.

9 References on second language acquisition can provide more details, e.g. the award winning introductory materials by the Canadian researchers/instructors, Lightbown & Spada (2006).

10 Novels, films, television series and books are the main sources of content in FASP ; however, in my presentation I only had time to provide examples from reading.

11 Michele Higginbotham, a Canadian colleague/language educator in Beijing (l981-82), shared her list of extensive reading in the medical field, illustrating for me the legitimacy of such readings. Later I expanded this list and developed reading for fun bibliographies for several other specializations.

12 Materials from the Journal of Irreproducible Results are used with permission from the journal editor, Norm Sperling, May 9, 2010.

13 The classification and mycologist’s description can be easily found in print and on-line. For non-scientists, like myself, when hunting mushrooms, I use accessible handbooks, e.g. Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America (Fishcher & Bessette 1992).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende Identifying ESP Target Learners
Crédits (adapted from Lomperis & van Naerssen 1992; 1995)
Fichier image/png, 41k
Titre Figure 2
Légende Core principles of LSP/ESP5
Fichier image/png, 40k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Underlying differences between ESP & CBI
Fichier image/png, 45k
Titre Table 1
Légende A sampling from The Medical Detection Stories
Fichier image/png, 41k
Titre Table 2
Légende Statistics about a Roueche story
Fichier image/png, 36k
Titre Table 3
Légende Stanfield’s comments about the Amanita muscaria
Fichier image/png, 65k
Titre Figure 4
Légende ESP and “Cousins”
Fichier image/png, 31k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Margaret van Naerssen, « Checking out the “Nutritional Information” of FASP Food », Cahiers de l’APLIUT, Vol. XXX N° 2 | 2011, 11-28.

Référence électronique

Margaret van Naerssen, « Checking out the “Nutritional Information” of FASP Food », Cahiers de l’APLIUT [En ligne], Vol. XXX N° 2 | 2011, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2012, consulté le 12 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/apliut.788

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Margaret van Naerssen

Margaret van Naerssen, Ph.D., is Coordinator of the Cultural & Linguist Diversity Program, College of Graduate Studies, Immaculata University (Pennsylvania, USA). Her areas of interest include English for Specific Purposes, Second Language Acquisition, Language Assessment, and Forensic Linguistics.

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Droits d’auteur

Association des Professeurs de Langues des Instituts Universitaires de Technologie

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