Syllabus Design

What is syllabus?

Richard (2001) states that a syllabus is specification of the content of a course of instruction and lists what will be taught and tested. Thus the syllabus for speaking course might specify the kinds of oral skills that will be taught practiced during the course, the function, topics, or other aspects of conversation that will be taught and the other in which they will appear in the course.

Hutchinson and Waters (1987) see that ESP is an approach rather than a product. They state that ESP is an approach to language learning which is based on learner need. It is true that ESP is specifically based on learner need or English in specific professional areas which comes from the demand of the learner.

It is clear that teacher should have knowledge of the field. It can be argued that ESP really needs a language structure of its own to be taught properly and the teacher requires some knowledge; however, the learner feels the need of knowing English in his own field because of some needs. Those needs are varied according to purpose of the learner. For instance, a graduate whose first language is not English may need to study Academic English to follow further education or a migrant may need to study both Academic English and ESP English (depends on the subject) to work in an English-speaking country.

Hutchinson and Waters define that a syllabus is a document which says what will (or at least what should) be learnt. But, in fact, a syllabus consists of several stages, which at each stage lead the learner and the teacher. Each stage on its route imposes a further layer of interpretation.

  • the evaluation syllabus
  • the organizational syllabus
  • the material syllabus
  • the classroom syllabus
  • the learner syllabus

ESP syllabus is derived from a detailed analysis of the language features of the target situation.  Swan (1985) says when reviewing the structural/functional debate:

‘The real issue is not which syllabus to put first: It is how to integrate eight or so syllabuses (functional, notional, situational, topic, phonological, lexical, structural, skills) into a sensible teaching programme’.


Hutchinson, T & Waters, A. (1987) English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-centred Approach, CUP, Cambridge

Richards, J (2001) Curriculum Development in Language Teaching, CUP, Cambridge

7 thoughts on “Syllabus Design

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  1. Hello again , thank you for answering
    For instance, My ESP learners need speaking skills at prior , do you think communicative approach is enough for this teaching situation ? in my personal opinion ,the teacher should not stick in one method , One method is a failure . what do you think ?


  2. what is the method used for esp learners , what is the relation between syllabus and teaching methods in an esp context


    1. First need needs analysis has to be done to be able to use or decide on methods. Syllabus consists of what you are going to teach, Teaching method is how you teach or present the lesson in ESP context. ESP is different from General English. It focus on what learners need rather than what you want to teach.


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