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Content Type3
TitleImplications of LSP Curricular Design for Mainstream World Language Classes

Barbara A. Lafford is a Professor of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. Since arriving at ASU she has published in the areas of Spanish sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, Spanish applied linguistics, computer assisted language learning, and languages for specific purposes/experiential learning.

In recent years, interest in Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) courses has been on the rise in American educational institutions (Lafford, 2012; Long & Iucinski, 2012). The curricular design of such courses focuses on “the language, lexis, grammar, discourses and genres of those disciplines rather than using the general grammar, learners’ dictionaries and general public genres and discourses” (Räisänan & Fortanet-Gómez, 2008, p. 12).  Three constructs - rhetorical situation, genres, and pragmatics – address the fundamental goals of LSP courses (i.e. to understand and produce appropriate written and oral texts in various cultural contexts [both the target and workplace cultures). Success in each requires their incorporation into curricular design. Explicit instruction in each of the three should be incorporated into world language teaching for academic purposes to expand the repertoire of learners and ensure the learning of relevant professional language.

  1. A Rhetorical Situation entails (1) a text (i.e., an actual instance or piece of communication), (2) an author (i.e., someone who uses communication), (3) an audience (i.e., a recipient of communication), (4) purposes (i.e., the varied reasons both authors and audiences communicate), and (5) a setting (i.e., the time, place, and environment surrounding a moment of communication) (Sproat, Driscoll, & Brizee, 2012). Introducing these concepts to all language students is crucial to their understanding of basic elements of human communication and to their successful interpretation and creation of target language texts.
  2. Genres are types of written or oral texts that form part of any rhetorical situation (Swales, 1990).  In a business setting, typical genres might include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, memo, or white paper. Each genre is characterized by a combination of certain lexical and structural elements that create a register or style appropriate for a given audience. However, the notion of genre also includes various types of oral discourses in both academic and professional settings (e.g., book reports, conference papers, telephone call protocol, sales presentations, marriage ceremonies, inaugural speeches, newscasts). Each of these genres has an inherent structure that defines them that needs to be made clear to all language learners to enhance their effectiveness in target language oral exchanges.
  3. Pragmatics explores the appropriate performance of various speech acts (Searle, 1969) (e.g., making requests, accepting/rejecting an invitation, apologies) according to intended audience and contextual factors. For instance, a speaker makes a request (e.g., asking for directions) using different grammatical and lexical structures appropriate for interacting with interlocutors of different ages and sexes who are in different power relations with the speaker.  In order for language learners need to be able to use language appropriately and effectively in different rhetorical situations they need to be exposed to the concept of pragmatics and engage in class activities to hone their pragmatic competence.  

Although many foreign language textbooks include examples of various types of written and oral texts, (e.g., menus, editorials, television commercials) most do not talk about these texts as belonging to a certain type of genre with certain features (e.g., appearance of the text, a certain type of infrastructure, key elements or speech acts that genre must contain, and specific lexical items and grammatical structures) that combine to create a formal or informal register depending on the intended audience. Also missing from many language textbooks are the constructs of rhetorical situation and pragmatics. It is imperative that all three constructs be integrated into the curricular design of world language courses so that students will understand and recreate various types of oral and written texts in a more authentic manner.

The accompanying Activity of the Week is an example of each for an advanced Spanish grammar class. It illustrates how students apply their understanding of rhetorical situation and genre in the analysis of authentic texts.


Lafford, B. (2012). Languages for specific purposes in the United States in a global context: Commentary on Grosse and Voght (1991) revisited. Introduction to the third Focus Issue, The evolution of languages for specific purposes: Update on Über Grosse and Voght (1991) in a global context. Modern Language Journal, 96(s1), 1-27.

Long, M., & Uscinski, I. (2012). Evolution of languages for specific purposes programs in the United States: 1990-2011. Modern Language Journal, 96(s1), 190-202.

Räisänen, C., & Fortanet-Gómez, I. (2008). The state of ESP teaching and learning in Western European higher education after Bologna. In I. Fortanet-Gómez & C. A. Räisänen (Eds.), ESP in European higher education (pp. 11–51). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Searle, J.  (1969) Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sproat, E., Driscoll, D. L., & Brizee, A. (2012). Elements of rhetorical situations. Online writing lab. Owl at Purdue University.  Retrieved April 12, 2015 from

Swales. J. (1990). Genre analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

SourceCASLS Topic of the Week
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