Magoosh GRE

Traditional Methods and Development

| April 6, 2015


Second language education has become a necessity in the modern world for refugees, immigrants, international students, individuals requiring advanced second language skills in their occupations and those receiving education or vocational training in a language other than their mother tongue (Long, 2005). The growing reliance on effective second language teaching programs has led to the need for more accountability in this educational environment and as such, has necessitated the evolution of the needs analysis as a means of curriculum and teaching development. The term ‘needs analysis’ or ‘needs assessment’ typically refers to a process of information gathering for the purposes of curriculum development to suit the needs of a particular group of students (Iwai et al, 1999). The effective use of a needs analysis in curriculum development will require three processes of inquiry. The first will be to understand what elements are required for an effective and efficient needs analysis, which will focus on what type of information is relevant for a needs analysis of this nature. This involves a thorough understanding of the relevant literature and purpose of a needs analysis. The second element will require correct implementation of the gathered knowledge. This requires an educator to be able to actually retrieve this information about their students. An important consideration in the implementation of a needs analysis is the highly subjective nature of the teaching environment. English as a second language may be taught in vastly different circumstances world over and as a result of this, the needs of learners may vary greatly according to these demographics. Consequently, there is a difficultly in applying a standard model of needs analysis due to the vast amount of variables in these circumstances. The final process will be to analyze the demographic of students and to develop the curriculum accordingly. This process is however generally met by restriction, as an individual needs analysis for the purposes of curriculum development is often not possible and therefore the implementation of the needs analysis may be reserved for selection of appropriate teaching methods and materials instead. The scope of this paper therefore will be to examine the evolution of means of conducting needs analysis, the relevant factors and considerations, as well as the essential elements for needs analysis primarily focused on the teaching of English as a second language. “Every language course should be considered a course for specific purposes, varying only in the precision with which learner needs can be specified” (Long, 2005: 1).

Traditional Methods and Development

The earlier methods of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) involved teaching in with use of the traditional grammar-translation method, however due to changes in the nature of psychology and linguistic studies that characterized the 1980’s, alternative methods focusing on different skills within language teaching developed, such as audiolinguilism (Malmir et al, 2011). The 1980’s saw support for the Communicative Language Teaching (CLP) rapidly increase which professed to have communicative competence as the central goal in language teaching (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). “One of the most important phenomena of language learning-teaching process is to make students reach the intended language level in a shorter time and in a better way” (Malmir et al, 2011). To this extent, language teaching places a strong emphasis on acquiring information that will better help educators to understand the needs of their students to reach the goal of competency in most the most effective manner available. For most educators in these teaching environments, needs analysis will be informal in nature. This is to be contrasted to what can be described as formal needs analysis which is a relatively new concept in the field of language teaching (Iwai, 1999). Informal needs analysis however aims to assess what language points the particular students need to master (Songhori, 2008). The earliest development of a needs analysis model, the Communicative Syllabus Design (CSD), was pioneered in the late 1970’s and although heavily criticized, still has some relevance in modern second language teaching (Munby, 1978). This Munbian model of needs analysis is still considered as socio-linguistic base for language teaching as it takes careful account of language, culture and communication purposes, however lacks the important link with actual syllabus design (Le Ha, 2005). This is so because the Munbian model does not account for classroom dynamics, resources and activities in the implementation of the assessment. Plainly stated, Munby appears able to account for the relevant important factors essential in effective language teaching, however fails to apply these methods or recommend application as they apply for syllabus and course design. Despite these limitations however, the application of the Munbian model has been applied in numerous course designs and is credited for its contribution to the field of ESP teaching (Hawking, 1980). There is undoubtedly relevance for this type of model in course design as it requires the superficial or abstract needs of the students; however the actual needs of the students may still be explored by the educators and to this extent a more critical approach for needs assessment has developed taking account of these indicators or variables.

Needs Analysis: Elements and Challenges

Critical vs. Descriptive: The Jigsaw

The purpose of the needs analysis in second language education needs to be clear: to survey the students to gather information on their background and goals, linguistic and behavioral demands, and preferred learning and teaching strategies (Jasso-Aguilar, 1999). This should provide a useful insight into what the needs of the students are, what they are trying to achieve through their second language education and what their preferred methods of learning are. The practical implications of consideration of this kind of information will have a vast effect on the teaching outcomes of the course as it may shape material design, learning strategies and classroom dynamics. It effectively takes account of the functional needs of the students and may well give a strong indication of the expected performance of those students in the course (Eslami, 2010). It must be emphasized that the process of needs analysis is on-going and calls for constant surveillance and improvement on course design (Purpura & King, 2003).

It is highly important in conducting these analyses that one defines the needs or necessities of the students, as apart from their expectations and what they want. A critical needs analysis focuses on the current state and aims to bridge the gap between the necessities and the desires of the student. It constantly aims for improvement and is far preferable to a descriptive needs analysis for this very reason and acknowledges that informal needs analysis is equally important in improving educational outcomes taking account of the subjective needs of the students (Eslami, 2010). The difference between a critical approach and a descriptive approach to needs analysis can be explained by reference the Needs Analysis Jigsaw (Appendix A) (Songhori, 2008). A critical approach will take note of the Present Situation Analysis and the Target Situation Analysis, with the aim of reducing the disparity between these two situations. The proposed Jigsaw as a combined method of analysis also takes into consideration the individual subjectivity of the students needs through the means analysis, learner needs analysis and deficiency analysis. These subjective elements, when combined with the descriptive elements of the Jigsaw will help to determine essential factors relevant to the second language education of the students.

Descriptive Elements

The Jigsaw represented in Appendix A is a proposed amalgamation of needs analysis models in second language teaching (Songhori, 2008). As noted, there cannot be a standard needs analysis for all teaching situations due to the variety and difference in demographic varying so greatly. The proposed Jigsaw with regards to needs analysis is therefore highly persuasive as an approach as it allows comparison between different models using the strengths of each to form a thorough and individualized analysis model. The Jigsaw takes account of more descriptive elements of the needs through Register Analysis which takes account of grammar and vocabulary needs of the students. This may take account of certain language and vocabulary trends, which emphasizes the important of flexibility in course structure and design, as even these formal elements will change with current social climate. This can be contrasted to the Discourse Analysis, which is similarly focused however utilizes the purpose of the speaker as the defining characteristic, rather than current trends in lexicography (Robinson, 1991). Within the realm of descriptive analysis, one also finds a model based on genre which, like the discourse analysis, recommends language, grammar and vocabulary used based on purpose, i.e. the genre of the language course such as institutional academic or professional setting. Transference of these models into practice would clearly require some kind of assessment of the purpose of the student’s language studies, particularly in the realm of second language learning.

It is often emphasized in literature that these methods of analysis have proved to be complementary rather than exclusive (Songhori, 2008). Some even go so far as to argue that a competent needs analysis will affect the most important element of the ESP-type language courses, namely material design and selection (Shamsaee & Shams, 2010). Amongst the many stated advantages of correct material selection is the interplay between this selection and the immediate needs of the students. The importance therefore of a correct means of needs analysis is highly important in terms of practical considerations and therefore the actual academic model used becomes less important than the outcome thereof.

Practical Considerations and Implementation Strategy

The main practical restraint on the implementation of a needs analysis in these learning environments is that often educators will have little impact on the actual syllabus or curriculum design. The nature of second language English courses particularly are generally quite defined and have been tried and tested over time. Often these language courses will take care of the purposive part of the analysis as they may be offered with a defined outcome, such as a business language course for example. However for the vast majority of adult education second language courses, it could be suggested that an initial information seminar between educators and students take place. This could be used as an introductory lesson where students have the opportunity to interact with their educator on their expectations, desired outcomes and preferred teaching methods. In many cases, this could be included as a kind of questionnaire before tuition begins. Songhori (2008) through his advocation of the Jigsaw, suggests that there is no one model of needs analysis, however Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998: 125) suggests a unified approach that will seek to answer the following practical considerations:


It is debatable how the best method of gaining this information would be possible, particularly if one considers the typically overburdened workload of teachers generally. The best case scenario would allow the educator to have a consultation with every student in the beginning stages of the course. This would allow the educator an opportunity to personally assess the student. It is suggested that forms of written questionnaires would not be as effective as these students may not speak the same basic language as the educator and therefore information could be misinterpreted. However, these questionnaires would serve as a useful alternative to these private consultations, as teachers may not have time due to large student-to-teacher ratio.

Standard Content

Much of the needs of the students may possibly be gained by standard information that is already available to the educator. Very often, second language courses are designated in terms of the proficiency level of the students, grouping students with similar skill levels together (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc). By so grouping students together in this way, it may negate the need for a skills assessment by the educator. Issues of culture and nationality will also need to be considered, particularly in methods of communication, personal and environmental needs. This too is available to educators by way of class demographic information that will be available through the education institution. Ways of determining material design and selection can be simplified by use of this information however this could be problematic considering the following two scenarios. Second language English teaching in Kuwait for adult learners would result in a certain cultural intake of people from a similar nationality, religion, education level and even possibly gender and age. Having a standard intake of students from similar demographic, would make material design and selection comparatively simpler as there is a limited perspective to consider. Contrast this however to a second language English teaching program in London, England. As an English speaking nation, the class will be likely to represent immigrants of various nationality, ages, education levels, gender, etc. It is in such a scenario more difficult to predict the type of cultural idiosyncrasies that may exist in such a situation.

However this also has an impact on the types of materials that are available for students to learn from, such as authentic material sources e.g. television, radio and newspapers. Additionally, this may affect the way that students learn. Geography, often indicative of nationality and culture, therefore is very important in a needs analysis and depending on the exact specifics of this information, more or less private consultation with students may be required to obtain the necessary and relevant information for the needs analysis. Fortunately, for educators in situations such as our example of teaching in London, these tend to be courses with private tuition and therefore the teacher-student ratio is more favourable potentially allowing more occasion for interaction with one’s students in the beginning of the course and by holding such consultation with students in the beginning stages of tuition, educators will be occupying time that would otherwise be taken up by course work marking later on in the academic term. The importance however of gaining this subjective information from the students, howsoever this is effected is a vital part of an effective needs analysis as it will give critical insight into the most effective means of communication and educational strategy (Eslami, 2010).


It is clear that there is no particular academic consensus on the best approach to a needs analysis in second language education. Indeed, the most recent literature on the topic advocates different positions and an amalgamated outcome-based approach to determining a needs model (Benesch, 2007). It is clear that the educator needs to have a sound knowledge of the purpose of the course, the particulars of the students and an analytical and flexible approach to course design in order to be affecting the most favourable outcome. This information can be gained in a number of different ways, not least of which is the information required by education institutions for enrolment in a certain course. This can give biographical data on the students, such as nationality, race, religion, gender, age – all of which have important cultural bearing on the study of English as a second language. Having been given this information, an educator then should have the discretion to decide if they require any further information, where after they may seek private consultation with the student if necessary. By following this approach to a needs analysis, the educator will be using the information available, therefore not spending unnecessary time on certain students where this information may not be the most relevant, and can streamline the on-going process of assessment of the students. It is highly important to realize that the most relevant factor in needs analysis is the ability to have a flexible approach to teaching style, as the needs of the students may develop over time or be varied greatly necessitating the adoption of a highly flexible teaching method. Alternatively, this topic may prove to be a useful tool for teaching in the foundation phase of the course as it could form the basis for a lesson in itself to encourage interaction with the other members of the class, as well as with the educator. This has the potential for a positive effect on the classroom dynamic, which in itself is an important factor in a good needs analysis.




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  • Eslami, Z. (2010). ’ Teachers’ Voice vs. Students’ Voice: A Needs Analysis Approach

to English for Acadmic Purposes (EAP) in Iran’ English Language Teaching, 3(1), pp 1 – 11

  • Hawkey, R. (1980). ‘Needs analysis and syllabus design for specific purposes.’ In H.B. Actman and C.V.James (eds).Foreign language teaching: meeting individual needs. Oxford: Pergamon, pp 81-93
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  • Malmir, A., Sarem, S. & Ghasemi, A. (2011). ‘The Effect of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) vs. Content-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) on the Iranian Intermediate ESP Learners Reading Comprehension’ Iranian EFL Journal, 7(6), pp 79 – 94
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Appendix A: Needs Analysis Jigsaw


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