What I mean by such a method, is when the purpose of teaching is not to teach English but to use English to teach something else. Something (let us assume) student is genuinely interested in, and is motivated to learn English "to get" to that stuff.

I have heard lots of anecdotal examples of how people–partially–learned English through watching cartoons, listening to music etc. So I'm interested if there are teaching strategies that systematically and thoughtfully tap into this phenomenon.

Update: Particularly interested in such strategies that are used with beginners, people that have no basic knowledge of English.

  • 4
    I doubt there's a magic bullet to make students want to learn English for themselves, especially if you don't know anything about their particular interests. Best you can do is probably use sources they might encounter outside of class, whether it be TV series, relevant Wikipedia articles, technical documentation if you're teaching CS students, and so on. But ultimately it's for the student to decide "yes, knowing English will help me in life".
    – Maciej Stachowski
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 12:26
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    I'm a native English speaker, but it was common for my teachers in elementary school to use other subjects as part of learning English grammar and vocabulary. A few paragraphs about history to introduce verb tenses, science or geography to introduce new words, etc.
    – John Feltz
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 14:01
  • This is very common for other languages among certain religious followers. For example, see this question on this site itself where a Muslim is asking about learning Arabic specifically to read the holy book. Similarly, many Jews and some Christians will learn Hebrew for the purpose of Bible reading rather than conversation.
    – Robert Columbia
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


Since you don't mention teaching exclusively in English, the closest thing appears to be English for specific purposes or ESP. There are many subtypes, such as

  • English for academic purposes (EAP), which can be further subdivided in
    • English for academic science and technology,
    • English for academic medical purposes,
    • English for academic legal purposes,
    • English for management, finance and business;
  • English for occupational purposes:
    • English for professional purposes (e.g. English for medical purposes, English for business purposes),
    • English for vocational purposes.

The teaching method may be different from the method for "general English", but the main difference is in the types of materials and exercises that are used. For example, English for academic purposes will put more emphasis on how to write papers. The materials will depend on the subject people are studying, e.g. sciences, medicine, law etc., especially to learn the vocabulary needed in a specific discipline, but also grammar and register.

If the teaching is entirely in English, the approach is known as a direct method. A direct method requires teaching methods that are different from bilingual methods, especially at the lower levels, since the teacher can't rely on translations. However, the direct method as such is unrelated to the concept of teaching English for specific purposes.

In schools, e.g. the European Schools, it is also possible that certain subject are taught in English (as a foreign language). This is referred to as bilingual education. One type of bilingual education is known as two-way bilingual education. There has been research in this type of education, for example, at Wix School in Battersea, a primary school in the UK; see the article Research shows bilingual education works (Wandsworth Council, 19 March 2012):

One-way immersion is where a subject is taught in another language. Two-way immersion, which is the system used at Wix, involves students whose first language is English and those whose first language is French being enrolled in the same class.
Dr Meier said: "Bilingual education is based on the view that language is primarily a medium of communication and is best learnt by using it to convey meaning. My research in London and Berlin has found that students taught in two-way programmes form a more cohesive group, with greater conflict resolutions skills. Therefore, one-way and especially two-way immersion programmes could form part of a wider language acquisition and social cohesion strategy, and should be considered by schools and policy makers as a viable option."

(In the above example, the foreign language was obviously not English, but the principle is the same.)

  • Thanks for info Christophe. ESP seems to be what I was looking, very close at least. Haven't read yet in detail the resources you listed, but from the overview, there is one factor that seems not be included in ESP which I hadn't thought out until reading your answer. I am "looking" for a teaching method that is used with beginners. ESP looks like to be university and PD level. Also, I'm guessing it assumes one has some knowledge of English and ESP builds on it. I'm looking for a method that is used when one has no knowledge of English, for beginners. Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 9:53
  • @RazmikBadalyan Based on what I've read so far, teaching subjects in a foreign language does not require a different method. However, the teacher will need to be familiar with both the language and the subject being taught. The teaching method probably depends more on the language learning theory you hold and on the age group. Some general English will always be required.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 14:24

This is kind of askew to your question, but is near enough what you're describing that I wanted to point it out: There are schools here in Germany where some lessons (eg Biology) are held in a foreign language, typically English. This is usually called "bilingual teaching / learning" (Thanks to Christophe - I'd meant to mention what it's called, but you reminded me :P)

So in that case you have English being used for the learning of and communicating about something else than English - your means, rather than end in itself. Admittedly, English is taught in a regular manner as well, and of course, since the subject matter could be just as easily taught in German, you're kind of lacking the real incentive.

So I'd like to see a different example that fits your mark better, because that's something I'd like to employ as well :D !

Somewhat related: Q+A about Music Fandom as a motivator for language learning.

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