Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Utility of Needs Analysis for Nondomain Expert Instructors in Designing Task-Based Spanish for the Professions Curricula

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Utility of Needs Analysis for Nondomain Expert Instructors in Designing Task-Based Spanish for the Professions Curricula

Article excerpt

Introduction

Across the United States and globally, university language departments have experienced rising student demand for specialized instruction that serves learners' real-world needs in specificprofessional contexts like business and health care (Upton & O'Connor, 2013). To meet this demand, language for specificpurposes (LSP) courses have been increasingly incorporated into existing curricula, particularly English for specific purposes (ESP) courses, and the demand for such specialized language and cultural instruction has steadily grown in a number of more- and less-commonly taught foreign languages as well, most notably Spanish (Long & Uscinski, 2012; Sanchez-Lopez, 2010, 2013).

Whereas the field of ESP has a longstanding tradition of identifying learners' communicative needs to inform curricular design (Basturkmen, 2002; Brown, 2009; Hutchison & Waters, 1987; Hyland, 2009), the subdiscipline of Spanish for specific purposes (SSP) remains largely praxisoriented and lacks a strong research base that is grounded in theory, a gap that Klee (2015) argued is linked to a lack of graduate programs in the United States that prepare faculty to teach and conduct research on LSP/SSP (p. 193). In addition, while course development desirably allows for a certain level of autonomy and collaboration among faculty members (Wang & Zhang, 2014), it also presents real challenges given that most language faculty are not experts in such specialized domains and thus are not likely to know what realworld tasks their students need to be able to accomplish in the target profession. In light of this reality, more theoretically and methodologically sound research in SSP is sorely needed, not only to improve language educators' understanding of and approach to designing LSP courses in general, but also to aid practitioners who increasingly find themselves in the position of designing syllabi, pedagogical materials, and target assessment outcomes for specialized courses.

One way to specify the knowledge and skills that students need in order to participate effectively in local and global business contexts is by adopting a task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach to curricular development, instruction, and evaluation (e.g., Long, 1985, 2005a, 2015; Norris, 2009; Van den Branden, 2006; Van den Branden, Bygate, & Norris, 2009). Research that details the steps and outcomes of a task-based needs analysis can serve not only to increase communication between researchers and practitioners but also to refine instructors' understanding of task-based approaches to language teaching beyond what is commonly equated to "communicative activities" (Ogilvie & Dunn, 2010; Zheng & Borg, 2014). While task-based approaches have become more common, particularly in ESP research (e.g., Evans, 2013; Lambert, 2010) and recently in action-research studies looking at individual tasks (e.g., Calvert & Sheen, 2015), a review of studies in the area of SSP reveals few that implemented needs assessment following TBLT principles. The current study reports the results of a small-scale, multiphase needs analysis project in a business Spanish setting that yielded data on the perceived frequency and difficulty of 40 tasks that were suggested by domain experts in a variety of business settings. From these data, a final list of 14 core target tasks were selected and grouped into five core tasks that in turn informed curricular outcome goals and guided course organization and instruction.

Review of Literature

A Task-Based Approach to Needs Analysis

Rather than developing LSP materials around specific texts or text types, taskbased approaches to language teaching advocate for the use of task as the primary unit of organization and analysis in all phases of program building (Long, 1985, 2003, 2005a, 2005b, 2013, 2015; Norris, 2009; Skehan, 1998; Van den Branden, 2006; Van den Branden et al., 2009). It is important to note that the construct of task is compatible with both psycholinguistic and sociocultural perspectives on how adults learn additional languages as each task provides a unit around which to organize lessons and opportunities for language use and learning (Ellis, 2000). …

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