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TKT Module 1: Background to language learning
Learner needs (and wants)


Everyone has different needs.


Key concepts in this guide

By the end of this guide, you should be able to understand and use these key concepts:

  • ESP and ENAP
  • needs analysis: types of language goals
    • settings
    • skills
    • functions
    • accuracy levels
    • registers
    • matrix questionnaires
  • responding to needs
    • materials
    • approaches
    • level
    • balance
    • skills

Look out for these words like this in the text.
There will be tests at the end of the guide for you to check that you understand the ideas.

what and how

What vs. How

If you have taught or studied English for Specific Purposes (ESP), you will know all about specific language needs.  Some learners need to use their English in specific topic areas and for specific functions.  Adult learners, in particular, are often quite exact about where they want to go and how they want to get there but they don't always separate the what and where from the how.

Other learners, especially younger ones, don't know why they are learning English but may have been told it will be useful one day.  This has been called English for No Apparent Purpose (or ENAP) but that's a bit hard on General English courses which also have a useful place.

We'll take the what first.  This means looking at language need, the content of the course.  To do this we have to use some kind of Needs Analysis.


Conducting a needs analysis

Needs analyses can be as complex or as simple as we choose to make them but the aims are always the same: to find out what our learners need to know so we can teach it to them.
If you simply talk to your learners and ask, e.g.:
Do you think these words are useful?
you are doing a needs analysis.
To get better information, we have to be a little more precise.

The usual way of conducting a needs analysis is some form of questioning.  However, even simple questions such as What area of English is most important to you? are not as simple and may not be as useful as they look.

think Task 1: Think for a moment about why this might be the case and then click here.

There is a guide on this site to conducting a full needs analysis but you do not need all of it for TKT.  Here we will just look at the needs, not how we find out.

finding out

What do we want to know about language needs?

There is a wide range of things that we might want to know.  Among them are:

in what settings (work, school, university, social encounters, with native speakers, dealing with officialdom etc.) do the learners need to use English?
do the learners need all four skills or are some of them more important than others?
accuracy levels
is it important that the learners focus on producing accurate language or is basic communicative competence the aim?
are there specific functions (such as asking for permission, inviting, offering, declining etc.) which are particularly important in the setting described?
are there particular registers (academia, engineering, the military, air transport, tourism etc.) in which the learners will have to use English?
(Note: Cambridge uses no distinction in TKT between style and register so you should go to the guide on this site for information in this area.)


What do we want to know about learning preferences?

This is where people get confused.  The ways people like to learn may have nothing at all to do with what they need to learn.
Usually (too often?), the two ideas are put in the same box and called learner needs but what you want and what you need are different.
Responding to learners' wishes, will often have a noticeable effect on motivation, of course.

You can, of course, ask your learners outright:
    Do you enjoy working in pairs?
    Do you like using a coursebook?  Which one?
    Do you want me to set homework?  If so, how much?
    Do you want me to correct all your mistakes or only the really bad ones?
and so on.
The problem with this is you may get 10 different answers from 10 different students or one answer from a dominant student which all the others then agree with.
The other problem is that they are Yes/No questions.  What about the person who wants to say:
    Quite a lot but not very much and certainly not all the time?
A better way is often to use a matrix questionnaire so people can select from a range of answers, something like:

Tick one box for each question only.
  I hate It's OK It's quite good I love
The materials        
Learning new words        
Working in pairs        
Teacher explaining        
Working alone        
Making posters        

Then you can take the questionnaires away and analyse them by giving 1 point to I hate up to 4 points for I love and be able to see what the class generally feels.  If you have ten students and Making posters scores only 10, you know not to use the technique.


Acting on outcomes

When you have got the data and know what the learners need to be able to do and how they like learning to do it, you can get on and plan a course.

think Task 2: Think for a moment about what will be affected by the information you get from the learners.
Then click here.

There are a number of other things this could affect including how you give feedback, the workload and so on.

self test

Self-test questions

Before you go on, make sure you can answer these questions.  If you can't, go back to the sections which give you trouble.

If you are happy with your progress, go on.


Tests and practice for TKT

Test 1 A short quiz
Test 2 A gap-fill test

Return to the Module 1 index: back
or go on to the next guide which is to presentation techniques and introductory activities.