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A recent trend in EFL teaching is the "content course," in which subject matter is taught in a target language. Such courses, according to Snow (1991), are in keeping with the tradition of English for Special (or Specific) Purposes (ESP) courses. Long and Richards (1987, p. 74) conclude that ESP courses have an "obvious relevance in satisfying student needs" which "should also make them more motivating than general English courses." However, although ESP has been popular, like most new ideas in the field of language learning, it has not produced the hoped-for results. Lynch and Hudson (1991, p. 218) simply say that the "1980s have not proven to be a period of innovation and growth for ESP," and then quote Master (1985): "The honeymoon is over and self analysis has set in."
Perhaps the reason for the lower-than-expected effectiveness of ESP courses is that they are first and foremost EFL courses. Instead of "This is a desk," we have "This is a Pentium II 400 MHz chip." That is, ESP classes suffer from the same major flaw as EFL classes: try as teachers may to keep things "communicative," an aura of artificiality hangs over the classroom. For sustained communication, one person must have a prolonged, genuine need to get information from another.
Because a "need to know" exists in the academic classroom, the emulation of the academic classroom by English teachers offers possibilities for sustained communication. Content courses are so dedicated to the subject matter that it is the only thing tested for, with the result that verbal exchanges between teacher and students involve communication with a need to know, and often involve negotiation of meaning. If students in a content course are at the appropriate level for the English presented in class, and if the teacher is adept at making the English comprehensible, the communicative environment of a content course provides large quantities of comprehensible input (CI).
Still, it may be argued that merely teaching a content course in English does not qualify as English teaching. In response to such a contention, Krashen (1984, p. 62) goes so far as to conclude that "comprehensible subject-matter teaching is language teaching" [his emphasis]. A major by-product of content courses taught in English would therefore be improved English. In spite of this, we often hear that a teacher should not waste class time by talking, that the students should talk instead. However, aside from the question of the possible negative effect of beginning students hearing nothing but English spoken by other beginners, the major reason NSs are flown halfway round the world to Korea is so Korean students can hear NS English.
Insisting that most class time be spent on student speech production is decidedly old fashioned. Well over a decade ago as strong a CLT advocate as Littlewood (1984) concluded "the evidence suggests that the internal processing of mechanisms operate equally effectively (perhaps more effectively) when the learner is not producing language himself.... We need to accord a more substantial role to receptive activities than has often been the case." Littlewood continues that "so far as our teaching methodology is concerned, this is a welcome conclusion, because listening and reading activities offer a number of practical advantages in the classroom,... however large the classroom."
Still, as Sheen (1994) suggests, we should be wary of Krashen's (1984) sweeping conclusions. In a general review of the position that CI alone will suffice for language acquisition, a position held by Krashen (1992) and Long and Crookes (1992), Sheen concludes that as far as he was aware, no research demonstrated that CI alone will bring about substantial levels of acquisition. However, he also stated that "Obviously, CI is an essential element of the acquisition process" (p. 135). This recognition of the value of CI by such a strong critic of Krashen (1984) and Long and Crookes (1992) would suggest that a prudent EFL program, even one with limited time and NS resources, would include considerable amounts of CI.