Good question. English for IT is part of another area of English Language Teaching (ELT) called English for Specific Purposes (ESP). ESP recognizes that most people are not learning a language just for the fun of it, but for a specific purpose – they have specific reasons – and most of these are concerned with work or study. This is why you see English courses such as ‘English for Business’, ‘English for Professionals’, English for Academic Purposes’, and yes, ‘English for Information Technology (EiT)’.
English for Information Technology is important because of two connected reasons, Globalization and the Internet. Globalization recognizes that we now operate at a global level, not a local, national or even international level. Our economies, health systems, and languages and cultures are becoming more and more integrated. For example, a political decision made in Beijing involving Britain, America, Japan and China affects the political situation in Myanmar, which then affects the economy of Thailand (in this case more trade with Myanmar and fewer migrant workers). What makes this possible is Information and Communications Technology (ICT) – and the language of IT, is English.
Most Thais will tell you it is virtually impossible to get a good job in Thailand without being able to speak English at a fairly sophisticated level. You cannot get by with saying ‘hello’ nicely, or being able to take a drinks order, you need to be able to conduct business using the Internet, the phone and e-mail – and to a high standard.
But how is English for IT different from general English?
1. Vocabulary and Lexis
The vocabulary used on an English for IT course is specific for IT. We use words that are useful in your job. Lexis is the understanding that words change meaning when put together with other words. So, do you ‘surf the web’, or ‘play on the Internet’? It is common in English to form words from other words, or to use a noun as a verb or the other way around. For example: “Google it!” – Google is of course a proper noun, a name, but we are using it as a verb in an imperative statement, we are saying “use Google to search for what you want.”
Or consider these words ‘stock’, ‘market’, ‘crash’ – individually these words have quite distinct meanings, but together they have a meaning all of their own e.g. “The company is afraid of a stock market crash”. We also have slag and jargon to consider. Imagine an engineer reports “the uplink is flapping, can you get someone to bounce the box?” You will not understand the meaning of ‘flapping’, ‘box’ and ‘uplink’ simply by using a dictionary – you will need to explore the language within a specialist context.
There are certain grammatical terms that are more common in ICT than in other areas of English use. We tend to use imperatives when giving or writing instructions or providing documentation, we tend to use the passive form a lot (we remove the subject, e.g. the passive is used a lot), we also use the simple present and present continuous frequently. It is therefore sensible for the student to focus on areas that are more specific to his or her daily needs, than to try to learn ‘everything’.
3. Functional Language and Language Skills
Here we are concerned with using the right language for the right situation. Some of this is very business orientated, dealing with contracts, CVs, and SLAs, and some of it is more concerned with relationships at work, with clients, customers and suppliers, and some of it is more focused on mediums of communication: conference calls, collaborative problem solving, presentations, interviews, negotiations and documentation. It’s about developing the right language skills for the right job. Students need to be able to learn and practice these skills within a supportive and safe environment, using the language that they need.
My last point in this blog is quite obvious, learning English is difficult. Learning is difficult. Most people only want to learn something is there is some clear and obvious payback – the knowledge or skills must be useful and usable, it must have some utility for me.
I would suggest that the best form of learning a language is through CLiL,(Content and Language Integrated Learning), where the students learns the subject matter through the medium of English, or rather, the students learns English through the medium of an interesting subject). This method is used in International Schools and on ‘English Programs’ in Thai state schools, it is very effective, but for the adult learner, this time has passed. ESP, and specifically in this case EiT, is the next best thing, but potentially, equally effective.