Tips on How to Teach English Online for Specific Purposes - Audiences and Materials - Part 4

This article presents two main tips on how to teach English online. The first tip is related to the audience, which is distinctly different from that of an ordinary language class. The second tip is related to the availability of materials, which greatly affects the style of teaching.

Currently, foreign language teachers are able to find any kind of resource and material that they need for their online course. Be it grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation, there are many handouts, displays, videos, and other types of files available. Sometimes it is difficult to choose which tips on how to teach English online are the right ones for your course! We can honestly say that over time and with practice, designing an online course in a foreign language can become a piece of cake.

However, many online courses are designed for specific audiences that cannot be brought easily together in the same physical location at the same time. For example, this is relevant to students in a Master’s or PhD program, employees of a multinational company, etc. The specific audiences also include learners that need additional expertise in a certain field of knowledge that is not covered by traditional textbooks or handbooks.

Teaching and learning a foreign language for specific purposes can bring together audiences that come from the following fields:

  • business and economics
  • tourism
  • international relations
  • medicine
  • law
  • arts and humanities
  • science

…and many more.

An English online course for a specific purpose can also be competence-oriented focusing on:

  • oral techniques: leading an interview, debate skills, presenting a problem, etc.
  • correspondence
  • creative writing
  • translation, etc.

In each one of these cases, the teacher is faced with a specific audience that they know nothing about before the start of the course. They cannot rely on already existing group dynamics to get their subject covered. They don’t have a ready-to-use list with the most effective tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes. Teachers don’t know the group’s average age, their prevailing gender, or the social competences that their students will have. There is no background.

In order to be able to see more clearly through these muddy waters, the teacher can rely on two things. First, they can specify that a participant must have reached a certain level in English in order to be able to take the course (at least a B1 level is usually required for students to be able to interact in a foreign language, while, in some fields, like law, the level may need to be B2). This way the teacher can be sure that the students are not only able to learn specific vocabulary and phrases, but that they are also able to use them correctly in a detailed context.

Second, tutors can create a short survey for students to fill out prior to the beginning of the course that contains information about their background. One of the most important tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes is to include a question about the student’s experience in the particular field. For example, ask them if they are working or have worked in the sector, or if they are studying for a degree in it, etc. Having professionals in a class is an important piece of information because their experience often guides the teaching and learning process. Their knowledge and experience often become the best source of information for the lesson when the teacher runs out of resources, or when a real-life situation is used as an example.

Needless to say, in an online course the audience is often made up of specialists in their professional fields and their expertise should never be overlooked. One of the many good tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes is to keep in mind that students may not be ready to discuss personal topics. Try to interact with them based on their past and present (or future – for graduate students) experiences.

So, as we said, the level of knowledge of English (or other foreign language) is the first criterion for selecting the students. Group dynamics will be established later on. After that it will be possible to rely on games, puzzles, or other more entertaining activities.

The content of the course should always be based on the specific field in which the knowledge will be used. Of course, this means a lot of work for the teacher because the best tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes suggest considering the context in which the language will be used for each activity and exercise. For the teachers themselves, designing new grammar and vocabulary exercises is not always easy. Given that this may also be time consuming, it is best to start with authentic material in the particular field.

The useful tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes suggest that the teacher do some research in the field before the beginning of the course. This may include reading general information about the sector or on more detailed topics like introduction to economics, law, etc. in order to complete the first phase. This research will help the teacher better understand and be able to identify the particular reasons why the students are taking the course.

It may also help to answer the question: What are they supposed to be able to do with this new knowledge at the end of the course? If it is formal letter writing, then the course should provide examples of such letters. If it is a sustained monologue (an oral description or expression of a point of view), then the teacher needs to use interviews and discussions, which are easy to find on news sites.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of written and oral documents widely used in some areas:

  • law: speeches, written statements, cases
  • humanities: speeches, interviews, definitions, arguments
  • economics and science: definitions, arguments, justifications
  • medicine: examples, lots of vocabulary, case studies

In the next article in the series you will get more tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes using various techniques and organization models in order to design an online course for a specific audience using an e-learning platform.


  1. Tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes related to the Audience
  2. Tips on how to teach English online for specific purposes related to the Materials & Content

Related articles:

Emanuela Svilarova is assistant-professor in French as a foreign language at Sofia University "St Kliment Ohridski". Her activity includes classes for beginners up to Advanced - B2 levels, and classes in French for specialized domains - humanities, economics. Apart from language teaching, her fields of interest include French and Bulgarian contemporary literature and comparative literature. She has participated in the creation of textbooks for high schools of intensive French classes, the handbook "Laughter in class" and in various teaching- and learning-oriented projects.
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
Successful stories of live teaching
Learn about the benefits of VEDAMO Virtual Classroom and Learning Management System. Find out how VEDAMO can meet your needs.
Request now
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
Successful stories of live teaching