Needs Analysis in Actual Practice 

I started a new class yesterday, a group of engineers ostensibly studying English for ‘business’*. Being the kind of guy I am and knowing that the agency I work for have signed an exclusivity agreement with a major ELT publisher, I need to know what kind of things my students need and want and which of these aren’t covered by the book.

How I go about Needs Analysis

First up I ask, “Why are you studying?” if this is a voluntary course.

The answer is always “To improve my English.” Seriously. It is always this. However, it provides a way in for self-reflection.

“What aspect of your English do you want to improve the most.”

Yesterday’s class told me speaking and listening, particularly how to follow a conversation and ensure they respond appropriately and how to express themselves without becoming tongue-tied.

“Who do you communicate with in English?”

In this case, international engineers with varied first languages and including a few native speakers but not many. Voluntarily my students gave the contexts as conferences, meetings, videoconferences and telephone calls.

“What do you need or want to talk about?”

This is going to run the gamut from small talk, discussing train timetables and into extremely specific language for applied engineering.

Is that it?

No. That’s only the bit about what the students say. I need to see the needs they show.

I set up a task. In this case it was a pre-task of talking about their own jobs then into a more abstract task of comparing their duties to that of an astronaut on the ISS. They do this in pairs, then one from each pair makes a group and shares all the ideas. I choose a random student to report back.

*Scare quotes deliberate because despite being a Business English teacher I don’t think it’s a useful term. It probably equates to English for Office Clerks and Underpaid Reluctant Translators.

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