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Needs analysis in language teaching
Richard West
Language Teaching / Volume 27 / Issue 01 / January 1994, pp 1 - 19
DOI: 10.1017/S0261444800007527, Published online: 23 December 2008
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Richard West (1994). Needs analysis in language teaching. Language Teaching, 27, pp 1-19 doi:10.1017/
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State of the art article
Needs analysis in language teaching
Richard West School of Education, University of Manchester
There have been several surveys of approaches to
needs analysis in foreign-language teaching Qames,
1974; Jordan, 1977; Chambers, 1980; Cunnings-
worth, 1983; Brindley, 1989; Riddell, 1991 ; van
Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990; Robinson, 1991 ; Jordan,
forthcoming). During the period of20 years covered
by these surveys, both the focus and scope of needs
analysis have changed. The dominant focus of early
needs analysis was occupational/EOP, but this later
changed to academic language/EAP (for the origin
of the terms EOP and EAP, see T. Johns, 1981: 16).
More recently the focus has shifted again to include
general language learning. The scope of needs
analysis up to and including Munby (1978) was
syllabus specification derived from target-situation
needs, but the scope has since been broadened to
include areas specifically excluded by Munby -
practicalities and constraints, teaching methods and
learning strategies, and, recently, materials selection.
This evolution can be summarised by characterising
each of three stages in the development of needs
analysis, and to hint at the future by suggesting a
fourth stage (see table below).
Much of the later work in needs analysis is either not
widely known or (Richards, 1984, cited by Nunan
1988 a: 17) it is still assumed that curriculum
development in language teaching should con-
centrate on language syllabuses to the exclusion of
broader aspects such as needs analysis, methodology
and evaluation. It therefore seems appropriate to
survey the field of needs analysis in a broad context.
This survey concentrates on work relating to English
(for a survey of recent work in other European
languages, see van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990).
The term 'analysis of needs' first appears in India in
the 1920s (see Howatt, 1984: 245; White, 1988:
12-13; Tickoo, 1988), when Michael West intro-
duced the concept to cover two separate and
potentially conflicting concepts of' need' contribu-
ting to the 'surrender value' of learning: what
learners will be required to do with the foreign
language in the target situation, and how learners
might best master the target language during the
period of training. West was concerned with
secondary-level learners whose needs, though de-
terminable in broad terms, could not be defined
with any great precision and whose teaching is
indeed often defined in terms which exclude any
concept of need - what Abbott (1980: 123; 1981 a:
12; 1981 b: 228) calls TENOR (Teaching English for
No Obvious Reason). The concept of need does not
seem to reappear for almost 50 years after West, a
point commented on by Schutz and . Derwing
(1981 : 30): 'it would seem that most language
planners in the past have bypassed a logically
Stage Period Focus Scope of analysis Examples
1 early 1970s EOP target situation analysis
Richterich, 1971/1980
ELTDU, 1970
Stuart & Lee, 1972/85
2 later 1970s EAP target situation analysis Jordan & Mackay, 1973
Mackay, 1978
3 1980s ESP & general target situation analysis Tarone & Yule, 1989
language teaching deficiency analysis Allwright & Allwright, 1977
strategy analysis
Allwright, 1982
means analysis Holliday & Cooke, 1982
language audits Pilbeam, 1979
4 early 1990s ESP integrated/ computer-based analyses Jones, 1991
materials selection Nelson, 1993
After training as a teacher in Zambia and teaching English for miners and metallurgists there for five years,
Richard West worked on Business and Engineering ESP projects and materials. He is currently Senior Lecturer
in Education at the University of Manchester. The present article is an expansion of a unit from the distance
M Ed module on teaching ESP offered at Manchester.
State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

necessary first step: they have presumed to set about
going somewhere without first determining whe-
ther or not their planned destination was reasonable
or proper'. However, the term returns to central
prominence with the advent of ESP, for which
needs analysis has become a key instrument in
course design. The term 'English for Special
Purposes' appeared first at the Makerere Conference
in 1960 (Commonwealth Education Liaison Com-
mittee 1961: 19), and this was soon linked to
concepts of need. Indeed, Halliday, Mcintosh and
Strevens (1964: 189) refer to 'English for Special
Needs', although for them 'need' was defined
purely in linguistic terms as a special language or
Language teachers have frequently based their
teaching on some kind of intuitive or informal
analysis of students' needs (Tarone & Yule, 1989:
21) but the concept of a formal analysis of 'the
requirements which arise from the use of that
language in the multitude of situations which may
arise in the social lives of individuals and adults'
(Richterich, 1973: 32) was established during the
early 1970s, largely as a result of the work of those
associated with the Council of Europe, and it was in
the field of ESP that it was taken up most vigorously.
The take-up was by no means immediate: even
though Strevens mentions 'the requirement that
SP-LT should analyse the needs of the learner' in his
1977 survey of ESP (1977: 157), he offers no
examples of how this might be done (despite his
close association with Munby at that time) and most
of his survey is still concerned with the answer to
the question 'what is the nature of scientific
discourse?'. In Coffey's update of Strevens' survey
(1984: 7), needs analysis figures prominently' largely
due to the far-reaching effects of John Munby's
Communicative syllabus design (1978) '. The size and
scope of Munby's work have meant that needs
analysis is now crucial to any consideration of ESP
course design and almost every modern survey of
ESP (McDonough, 1984; Hutchinson & Waters,
1987; Robinson, 1991) accords it a central place
(Swales, 1985, is a notable exception; see 1985: 177
footnote b for the explanation).
Theoretical basis of needs analysis
Needs analysis is, by its very nature, a pragmatic
activity (Schutz & Derwing, 1981) based on highly
localised situations (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 11).
However, explicitly or implicitly, it has a basis in
theory (Coffey, 1984; McDonough, 1984: 31) or
principle (Robinson, 1991: 11-12) that was largely
established by the Council of Europe (Richterich,
1973/1980; see Council of Europe, 1981, for a
survey) and Mun by (1978), although Yalden (1987 b:
107) suggests that there has been little subsequent
theoretical discussion. The broad underlying theor-
etical basis is that of curriculum development (see
Rodgers, 1980: 148; Littlewood, 1992), which,
according to Holec (1985: 263-4), has since the
early 1960s followed three main tendencies: im-
proving teaching methods, adapting the teaching to
the type of learning public, and training the learner
how to learn. Needs analysis has been rooted in the
second of these tendencies and, more recently, the
More narrowly, any system of needs analysis is
related to the theory of the nature of language from
which the categories of language employed in the
procedure derive (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 12-20).
The selection of language categories constitutes the
first step of the six-step model of course design
proposed by Coffey (1984: 7-8) :
1 selection of theory = nature of language:
,j, principles of restric-
2 needs analysis
3 language realisation
4 course design
5 course construction
6 classroom teaching
tion -e.g. communicative
=a matching of vocat-
ional needs with the
categories established
the transforming of the
functions, skills previous-
ly identified into lan-
guage items
= the ordering of the lan-
guage items, by their
relative importance and
their sequencing
= the devising of strat-
egies and techniques
In Munby's case, the theoretical bases of his needs
analysis model were contemporary views on the
nature of communicative competence, derived
principally from Hymes (1971). It would be possible
to build a model of needs analysis on a base of
linguistic competence (as posited by Davies, 1977:
36; Robinson, 1991: 11), taking both target needs
and present levels of competence into account. Such
a model would, in effect, be a study of interlanguage
and so we may see error analysis, interlanguage
studies and grammatically-based diagnostic testing
(e.g. Cooper, 1970) as the ancestors of needs analysis
(Schutz & Derwing, 1981 : 30), followed by other
types of analysis, notably register analysis, discourse
analysis and genre analysis Qordan, forthcoming). It
is no accident that needs analysis emerged at a time
when communicative approaches to language and
language learning were displacing grammar-based
approaches (e.g. Wilkins, 1976: 55, who noted:
'The first step in the construction of any language
syllabus or course is to define objectives. Wherever
possible these will be based on an analysis of the
needs of the learners and these needs, in turn, will be
expressed in terms of the particular types of

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
communication in which the learner will need to
engage'. See also Schutz and Derwing, 1981: 31).
Despite its base in concepts of communicative
competence, Munby's model is essentially perform-
ance related, with his categories of communicative
activity and communicative event which are cat-
egories of real-world language use rather than
elements of a construct of communicative com-
petence. Munby was here following others in the
field of needs analysis (ELTDU, 1970; Bung, 1973;
ELTDU, 1975; Allwright & Allwright, 1977) in
adopting a 'performance repertoire' model (Hut-
chinson & Waters, 1980) and subsequent models of
needs analysis have largely adopted a similar
theoretical base. However, this performance-based
approach has long been questioned by Hutchinson
and Waters (1980; 1987), who have argued that 'it
is necessary to examine the underlying competence
which the learner must bring to ... the study of any
specialised subject' and 'if we are to prepare the
overseas student adequately for, say, technical
instruction, what he needs to acquire is this assumed
competence' (1980: 178 original emphasis). The
concept of underlying competence has now been
extended from pre-intermediate technical ESP to
higher-level EAP (Waters & Waters, 1992), yet it
remains evident that the components of any
underlying competence are empirical categories
derived from observation or introspection rather
than theoretical elements of the same order as, say,
Canale and Swain's (1980) discourse competence or
Bachman's (1990: 84-107) language competence
and strategic competence. Attempts have been made
to derive needs analysis procedures from such
theoretical bases: Tarone and Yule (1989: 31-60)
apply Canale and Swain's model of communicative
competence to needs analysis by demonstrating that
various needs studies relate to one of four 'levels of
generality': (a) global (i.e. the situations in which
learners will need to use the language), (b) rhetorical
(the typical way in which information is organised
in any language-related activity), (c) grammatical-
rhetorical (those language forms which realise the
information structure of the language activity), and
(d) grammatical (the frequency with which language
forms are used in different communication sit-
uations) (see James 1973, summarised in Mackay &
Bosquet, 1981: 12-13, for a very similar classi-
fication). Tarone and Yule's model in effect
incorporates register analysis (Barber, 1962; Palmer,
1981 a) and discourse analysis (P. Robinson, 1981;
Palmer, 1981 b) as layers of target-situation analysis
and present-situation analysis, the findings of which
are then available as input data for the syllabus
design stage.
Target-situation analysis and present-situation
analysis are essentially concerned with establishing
language items to be taught and, as such, these
procedures relate only, at best, to the first four of
Coffey's stages (1984: 8). Coffey ended his discussion
of the theoretical basis of ESP by predicting little
change: 'There is a need for refinement, for allowing
real-life circumstances and validated successes to
have their proper effect on theory, but in the
communicative idea ESP surely reached its maturity.
At any rate, there is nothing else in sight at the
moment'. Even in 1984 this statement was de-
batable: theories oflanguage learning methodology
(Phillips, 1981; Crocker, 1981), materials design
(Phillips & Shettlesworth, 1978) and language-
learning styles and strategies Oames, 1980 a) were
becoming well established and learning styles had
already been incorporated into needs analysis
procedures (notably in Allwright, 1982), thus
bringing Coffey's fifth stage (course construction)
within the scope of needs analysis. It is this area of
second-language acquisition and strategy analysis
which has provided an additional and important
theoretical basis for needs analysis in the 1980s (see
Ellis & Sinclair, 1989 b: Nunan, 1989).
Fundamental questions in needs
In any needs analysis procedure 'we find ourselves
faced with a number of unavoidable questions to
which one must, in one way or another, find
answers ... These questions with their possible
answers are a prerequisite to all identification meth-
odology' (Richterich, 1983: 1). These fundamental
questions and possible answers are surveyed in this
What and why
There has remained a great reluctance to agree on a
definition of needs: 'The very concept of language
needs has never been clearly defined and remains at
best ambiguous' (Richterich, 1983: 2; see also van
Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7). Widdowson (1979,
cited by Bowers, 1980 b: 66) and Brindley (1989:
65) identify the main source of this ambiguity as the
distinction or even contradiction between various
concepts of need: necessities or demands (also called
objective, product-oriented or perceived needs), learners'
wants (subjective, or felt needs) and the methods of
bridging the gap between these two (process-oriented
needs). The term 'needs' is often now seen as an
umbrella term (Richterich, 1983: 2; Porcher, 1983 a:
22; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987: 55) covering
several interpretations. Hutchinson and Waters
(1987) offer a useful classification of needs which
may be seen to reflect differing viewpoints and to
give rise to different forms of needs analysis (see
James, 197 4: 76; Alderson, 1980: 135; Bowers,
1980b: 67; Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 6-7; All-
wright, 1982: 24; McDonough, 1984: 35-40 and
Robinson, 1991 : 7-8 for different classifications):
State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
(a) Necessities are 'the type of need determined by
the demands of the target situation, that is, what the
learner has to know in order to function effectively
in the target situation' (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987:
55). Richterich (1973/1980: 32) described these as
objective needs which 'can more or less be assumed to
be general from an analysis of typical everyday
situations' and any such needs analysis approach
identifying these necessities is frequently known as
target-situation analysis (see Chambers, 1980). It is
apparent, however, that many language courses are
not terminus courses and that interim objectives
short of the necessities of the target situation will
have to be set. In such cases, it would seem better to
regard the course objectives as short- or medium-
term goals or aims rather than target necessities, and
the needs analysis procedure would therefore be one
of goal setting (Frankel, 1983: 123) or aim definition
(Richterich, 1973/1980: 32). Goals or aims of this
type may be determined by the end-of-course test
or examination (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 40), so that
it becomes important to determine the test require-
ments in such a way that they represent practical
and useful learning goals (Morrow, 1983: 105-6)
providing beneficial washback and washforward
effects. At the other end of the scale, language audits
may establish target needs in terms of key assets, i.e.
'the need for foreign languages as a "key" to new
possibilities and opportunities, e.g. new markets'
(van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7).
Target needs may be defined at three levels (van
Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 8-9). At its most basic,
the target-situation analysis may go little further
than identifying which languages are needed. Other
surveys may go further and establish needs in terms
of skills priorities (spoken German, written French,
etc). Most, however, define needs in situational or
functional terms (listening to lectures, speaking on
the telephone, writing business letters, etc). Some
procedures then go even further to specify what
grammatical or lexical language components are
necessary in order to realise a particular function.
(b) Lacks:
To identify necessities alone is not enough ... You also need to
know what the learner knows already, so that you can then
decide which of the necessities the learner lacks ... The target
proficiency in other words, needs to be matched against the
existing proficiency of the learners. The gap between the
two can be referred to as the learner's lacks (Hutchinson &
Waters, 1987: 55-56; see also Hutchinson, Waters & Breen,
It is, then, lacks which determine the syllabus:
'rhetorical structures are not included in the syllabus
simply because they exist, but only if they are either
seen to cause comprehension difficulty ... or if
knowing how to handle the particular rhetorical
structure can help in the reading process' (Alderson,
1980: 136). In this survey, any needs analysis
procedure adopting this approach will be called
deficiency analysis (see Allwright & All wright, 1977;
Abbott, 1978: 99).
(c) Wants: Hutchinson & Waters' third class of
needs is wants: 'what the learners want or feel they
need' (1987: 57). These needs are personal and are
therefore sometimes referred to as subjective needs
'which cannot be said to be general ... are quite
unforeseeable and therefore indefinable' (Richterich,
1973 /1980: 32). It is often pointed out that these
may differ, even conflict, with necessities as perceived
by a sponsor or employer, and lacks as identified by
the teacher. This, however, does not mean that
wants are any less real and ways will have to be
found to accommodate them. While this may be
difficult in cases where the wants are idiosyncratic or
even opposed to the aims of the intended course
(Mead, 1980, cited in Hutchinson & Waters, 1987),
there may be wants which are perceived by the
majority of the potential participants which can be
incorporated into the syllabus or methodology,
especially if this is negotiated between instructor
and learner. A common example of this is the
demand for speaking, which 'normally emerges as
the least needed skill [for EAP students, but] ... if not
a need, speaking is often a want, since in many
students' opinions oral proficiency is the best
indicator of mastery of a language' (Robinson,
i 991 : 105; see also Chamberlain & Flanagan, 1978:
42-3; Chitravelu, 1980: ix; Schutz & Derwing,
1981: 41; Coleman, 1988: 163). Deficiency analysis,
which asks learners to identify their own learning
priorities, should throw up any such wants.
(d) Learning strategies: Hutchinson and Waters
(1987: 60-2) here identify two types of learning
needs which may usefully be separated, the first
being the learner's preferred learning strategies for
progressing from where they are situ-
ation/lacks/ deficiencies) to where they want to go
(target situation/necessities). In this survey ins-
truments designed to identify preferred learning
strategies will be discussed under the heading of
strategy analysis (All wright, 1982; Widdowson,
1983). Once again, these needs may be a source
of conflict because the teacher's interpretation
of suitable strategies may differ from learner's
expectations or 'preconceptions about the form a
language learning experience should take' (Tarone
& Yule, 1989: 9).
(e) Constraints: The second element included by
Hutchinson and Waters when considering the
decision-making process in a needs analysis is the
potential and constraints of the learning situation.
These are the external factors which may include
the resources (staff, accommodation, time) available,
the prevailing attitudes or culture, and the materials,
aids and methods available. These were all areas
deliberately ignored in early approaches to needs
analysis (e.g. Munby, 1978) but they are now seen
as central to the process of course design and have

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
come to be known as means analysis (Holliday &
Cooke, 1982; Holliday, 1984), for 'if the resources
are fixed then the objectives themselves must be
negotiable' (Crocker, 1981: 14).
(j) The language audit: This is the sixth type of needs
analysis (Pilbeam, 1979; van Hest & Oud-de Glas,
1990; Lynch et al., 1993); it is a large-scale survey
undertaken by a company, an organisation or even
a country to determine what languages ought to be
learnt, for what reasons, by how many people, to
what level, in what type of institution, by what
methods, at what cost, and so on. These are big and
often political questions that were originally deemed
outside the scope of needs analysis (Munby, 1978)
but which now give it a much broader remit
making it a matter oflanguage planning. In essence, a
language audit differs from a needs analysis in scale:
needs analysis is used to determine the various needs
of an individual or group; a language audit defines
the longer-term language-training requirements of
a company, country or professional sector, and can
thus be seen as a strategy or policy document. The
language audit may include all the levels or layers
of a needs analysis (a-e above), so that, say, the
strategy analysis component would seek to identify
delivery modes which are appropriate for the
majority of learners or trainees and which would
then become company practice or ministry policy.
Each of these approaches to needs analysis will be
examined further below.
At what point in the course should needs analysis be
carried out? There seem to be three or four possible
answers to this question - before, at the start and
during the training course (Hoadley-Maidment,
1983: 43 adds end-of-course). It has been standard
practice to conduct as much of the needs analysis as
possible before the start of the course (Robinson,
1991 : 15) but it is now generally accepted that the
procedure should be repeated during the course, so
that needs analysis becomes an on-going process.
This is a reflection of the now-common acceptance
that a concern with process is a 'good thing' in all
areas of language teaching.
(a) The first answer has been called 'off-line'
analysis (Chambers, 1980: 28) and involves analysis
in advance of the course so that the course designer
has ample time to prepare a syllabus and select or
develop appropriate training materials. Typically,
off-line approaches build up a picture of the target
situation through questions addressed to sponsors
(e.g. training managers) or those currently working
in the target situation, who may or may not have an
accurate view of learners' language requirements.
Alternative approaches to off-line analysis require
learners (if they are accessible and/ or if it is thought
desirable) to complete questionnaires identifying
their needs, although learners' perceptions of their
own needs may be ill-founded, inaccurate or
incomplete, and courses devised by off-line analyses
of this sort may frequently have to be reviewed as
learners' perceptions evolve. Early accounts of off-
line needs analysis procedures include ELTDU
(1970); Stuart and Lee (1972/85); Mackay (1978);
and Munby (1978).
(b) The second answer is 'on-line' or 'first-day'
needs analysis, which takes place when trainees
arrive to start their course. The advantages and
disadvantages are the converse of the off-line
approach: the trainer or course designer has little
time to prepare a detailed course outline, but it is
possible to ensure that the information obtained is
full, relevant and accurate, although (as with all
analyses based on input from trainees) its fullness,
relevance and accuracy may be short-lived. An early
and detailed account of an on-line analysis procedure
is given by Hughes and Knight, 1977.
(c) The third approach is a response to the limi-
tations of the second and, in particular, the realisation
that learners' needs, or, at least, their perceptions
of their needs, will change as the course proceeds
(Richterich & Chancerel, 1977: 9; Chambers,
1980: 28-30; Holec, 1980: 35; Richterich,
1983: S; Coleman, 1988: 157; Jordan, 1993: 74).
Awareness of both the demands of the target
situation and their own shortcomings become more
clearly focused. So, for example, Jordan (1993)
reports that EAP students attending a pre-sessional
course expect academic writing to be the most
difficult skill when they transfer to their subject
departments. After one term, however, the majority
find academic speaking to be the main difficulty,
findings supported by Geoghegan (1983) and
Christison and Krahnke (1986). In addition, the
instructors' perceptions of the learners' needs and
possible solutions may emerge as the course pro-
gresses (Henderson & Skehan, 1980: 38). A process
of on-going needs re-analysis is therefore required
in response to these changing perceptions, so that
both learner and teacher can identify new or short-
term priorities. It is also valuable from a motivational
point of view to have learners reformulate their
objectives periodically (Richterich, 1979: 74). It has
also been pointed out (Richterich, 1983: 3; Nunan,
1988a: 6; Jordan & Mackay, 1973) that learners
often find it difficult to articulate their needs and
preferences, especially in the initial stages of the
course (see also Ellis & Sinclair, 1989 b: 48; Sinclair
& Ellis, 1992: 213), and so on-going re-analysis is
necessary. Finally, frequent but small-scale surveys
may well provide a more accurate picture than
elaborate, large-scale procedures, 'since each new
attempt can draw on and refine the last' (Gardner &
Winslow, 1983: 75).
State of the art: Needs analysis 1 n language teaching
The question to be answered here is 'who should
decide what the language needs are?'. There are
three principal parties involved in what has come to
be called the needs analysis triangle (Hoadley-
Maidment, 1980: 1 and 1983: 40; see also Johns &
Dudley-Evans, 1980: 8):
teacher-perceived needs student-perceived needs
company-perceived needs
Ideally, these three - teacher, student and sponsor -
interact in a cooperative way (Hoadley-Maidment,
1980; Hawkey, 1983), although, as Jones (1991:
163) points out, each party may also impose
constraints. Richterich (1979: 73) states that 'any-
body' can identify language needs and he clarifies
this statement by listing nine combinations of the
three principal parties working in cooperation.
There are also various informants or sources for needs
analysis, notably former students (Allen & Spada,
1983: 135), those already working in the target
situation (Richterich, 1973 /1980: 47; Tarantino,
1988: 34) and specialist/ native-speaker informants
(Smith & Arun, 1980: 211; Price, 1980; Crocker,
1981: 9; Farringdon, 1981: 66-7; Mackay &
Bosquet, 1981: 8; Bheiss, 1988; Tarone & Yule,
1989: 33). Porcher (1983 a: 18) stresses the im-
portance of having the maximum number of sources
of information if the identification of needs is to be
Lurking behind the educational institution/
company/ sponsor is the figure of the 'specialist needs
analyst', and it is the role of this 'expert' in applied
linguistics which has sometimes been viewed with
suspicion as 'isolating needs analysis from other
aspects of teaching and learning' (Swales, 1985:
177b; see also Hawkey, 1983: 79; Tarone & Yule,
1989: 4 and 21), leading to potential conflict.
Hutchinson and Waters (1980) lay the blame for this
separation of needs analysis from pedagogic concerns
on elaborate analysis models requiring an expert
analysis (e.g. Munby, 1978) and a feature of later
models has been a reaction against sophistication
towards simpler models (Gardner & Winslow, 1983:
74). Some of these place the teacher in the central
role (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: 78; Tarone & Yule,
1989: 21; but see Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 7 for
spurious 'teacher-created needs', Bowers, 1980 b:
73; Bachman & Strick, 1981: 45 on teachers'
preconceived ideas; and Chambers & McDonough,
1981 on the arguments for and against the separation
of needs analysis and teaching). Alternatively, they
may involve the learner (Allwright & Allwright,
1977; Abbott, 1978: 98) more centrally in the needs
analysis process. The involvement of the learner in
the process that Robinson (1991: 14) calls 'par-
ticipatory needs analysis' has several advantages
which have been catalogued by Nunan (1988 a: 5):
- Learners come to have a more realistic idea of
what can be achieved in a given course.
- Learning comes to be seen as the gradual accretion
of achievable goals.
- Students develop greater sensitivity to their role as
language learners and their rather vague notions of
what it is to be a learner become much sharper.
- Self-evaluation becomes much sharper.
- Classroom activities can be seen to relate to
learners' real-life needs.
- Skills development can be seen as a gradual, rather
than an all-or-nothing, process.
(For other discussion oflearner-centred needs analy-
sis, see Tarone & Yule, 1989: 46-47; see Kennedy,
1980: 120, Richterich, 1973/1980: 47, Richterich,
1983: 3, and Porcher, 1983a: 19 for pitfalls.)
However, if needs analysis is to be a cooperative
process, there is a need for a common language
between trainers and trainees (see Hoadley-
Maidment, 1980: 3 and 1983: 40-1 on the use of
the mother tongue in needs analysis) or for a shared
terminology for describing objectives which is
accessible to both language specialists and non-
specialists (Crocker, 1981: 15; Gardner & Winslow,
1983: 72; Yates, 1977: 47; Harbord, forthcoming).
At the other end of the scale, employers and
governments have had to formulate or re-evaluate
their language-training policies in the light of
changing economic or political circumstances, and
have commissioned language audits from experts in
order to determine their needs and the most efficient
ways of achieving them (Emmans et al., 1974). One
outcome of such a language audit might be a re-
consideration of who the learners actually are: 'the
most effective way of bringing about change in
language use in one part of a system may be to
provide input in a quite different part of the
system ... we cannot take it for granted that the
"learners" in a large organisation will be easily
recognisable as such' (Coleman, 1988: 167).
For whom
The usual assumption is that the needs analysis is
carried out for the benefit of the user, i.e. the student
or trainee. However, language audits are more
likely to be carried out from the viewpoint of the
requirer - institutions or even countries needing the
services of trained personal with identifiable foreign-
language knowledge (van Hest & Oud-de Glas,
1990: 8).

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
Needs analysis is carried out through a series of steps
or phases - Schutz and Derwing (1981 : 35) list eight
such phases - but perhaps the crucial one is' selecting
the information-gathering instrument'. There are
many ways to carry out a needs analysis ranging
from major 'scientific' surveys to informal tools put
together by an individual teacher for and with
his/her class (Richterich, 1983: 9). Of course, any
project may employ more than one method,
although 'the scope and objectives of the inquiry
will largely determine the nature of the in-
vestigation, and hence the choice of the most
appropriate investigatory instrument' (Schutz &
Derwing, 1981: 37). Richterich (1983: 9) even goes
as far as to say that the method used in each case
must be unique if it is to accommodate all the
variables of persons, institutions, time and place.
Needs analysis methods can be classified in various
ways. Berwick (1989: 56-61) makes a distinction
between inductive (i.e. observations and case studies
from which courses can be generalised) and, more
common, deductive methods (i.e. questionnaires,
surveys or other data-gathering instruments which
provide various forms of information as the basis of
course design). Berwick does not catalogue the
methods for gathering data for needs analyses, but
Richterich and Chancerel (1977: 11), Richterich
(1983: 12), van Hestand Oud-de Glas (1990: 12-13)
and Jordan (1977: 13-18; forthcoming) list various
methods covering both inductive and deductive
approaches. Jordan's (forthcoming) list includes ten
methods of collecting data for a needs analysis:
(1) Pre-course placement/ diagnostic tests Pre-course
placement tests estimate the approximate language
level of the student, but the main application of such
tests is selection and for this reason diagnostic
information tends to be limited. The Cambridge
Syndicate's International English Language Test-
ing System is one of the few public tests providing
results in the form of a profile, enabling the teacher
to diagnose areas of weakness and strength according
to skill.
(2) Entry tests on arrival These tests potentially
have greater diagnostic value and are therefore
more precise in identifying learners' language
weaknesses and lacks. Such tests function according
to their underlying construct of language: tests of
underlying linguistic competence (e.g. Chaplen,
1970) may have good predictive validity Qames,
1980b) but little diagnostic value, while those
covering a broader range of skills (e.g. the English
Language Teaching Development Unit's Test Bat-
tery; see Yates, 1977) may have limitations of
practicality. Placement interviews may lack pre-
cision but provide valuable information akin to that
generated by structured interviews (see 6 below).
(3) Self-placement/ diagnostic tests Despite prob-
!ems in self-reporting Qordan, 1977, notes a tendency
for weaker students to over-estimate their language
ability; Blue, 1988, found over- or under-estimation
varied with cultural background), self-assessment
has been used with success to enable learners to
identify their own level oflanguage proficiency and
areas of special priority (see All wright & All wright,
1977; Floyd, 1984; Tarantino, 1988, and Brookes &
Grundy, 1990, for examples; see Oskarsson, 1977,
for a survey of procedures; see Ward Goodbody,
1993, for later discussion). Self-assessment may also
present problems when grouping students (but see
Spaventa, 1980).
(4) Observation of classes Yalden (1987a: 132)
suggests classroom observation as an approach
requiring little explanation if 'a checklist or set of
notes is at hand'. She seems to have in mind
observation oflearners' classroom performance with
an error-analysis checklist of the type provided for
roleplay by MacGregor (1979) or an evaluation
sheet (North, 1991), or more formal classroom-
observation procedures (Porcher, 1983 a: 19; Fur-
neaux et al., 1991: 76-7). Jordan's (forthcoming)
summary of the findings of classroom observation
of EAP students in British universities suggests that
this approach is principally of value for deficiency
analysis. He adds that informal class or progress tests
perform a similar function in providing indicators
of present needs or deficiencies.
(5) Surveys based on questionnaires In an early
example, Jordan and Mackay (1973) used a ques-
tionnaire to survey 106 students at two British
universities to assess their learning priorities, and the
questionnaire is now established as the most
common method of needs analysis. Gardner and
Winslow (1983: 74-5) identify objectivity as the
principal advantage of questionnaires but also admit
to expense and a very low (7 % ) rate of return plus
a difficulty in achieving a balance between asking
too many questions and asking too few. Classifi-
cations of questionnaires are offered by Richterich
and Chancerel (1977: 59-77) and Mackay and
Bosquet (1981: 9), and analyses of their advantages
and disadvantages for needs analysis are given by
Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41); Schutz & Derwing
(1981: 37) and Low (1991). Basic rules for question-
naire construction are given by Utley (1992: 40).
(6) Structured interviews Jones (1991: 155) refers to
the 'intrinsic superiority' of the interview as an
information-gathering technique for needs analysis.
Mackay (1978) points out the advantages of the
interview over the questionnaire: completeness of
coverage and the opportunity to clarify and extend
because of the physical presence of the analyst
(although this requirement is also the principal
shortcoming). Porcher (1983 a: 18) adds economy,
Gardner and Winslow (1983: 74) include familiarity,
degree of co-operation and lower levels of specialist
training, and Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41) the
State of the art: Needs analysis 1 n language teaching
establishment of rapport. Richterich and Chancerel
(1977: 78) offer a classification of interviews and
guidelines for their content and conduct are offered
by Hoadley-Maidment (1980, 1983: 46-51) and
Utley (1992: 40-2). Discussions of the advantages and
disadvantages of this approach are given by Mackay
and Bosquet (1981: 9), Schutz and Derwing (1981:
37), Hoadley-Maidment (1983: 41) and Jones (1991:
155). Interviews may be combined with ques-
tionnaires to exploit the advantages of each method.
(7) Learner diaries O'Brien (1989) analysed 15 EAP
student diaries and found that they tended to focus
on four areas: course input, tutor performance,
learner performance and external factors affecting
study (home-related anxiety, food and accom-
modation, and personal variables). The first area, in
particular, could provide the basis for students and
tutors to work towards a negotiated syllabus. A
more structured survey of diaries was carried out by
Parkinson and Howell-Richardson (1990) under
four headings: in-class activities, out-of-class activities,
my problems and what I have learnt. The findings
suggest that there is 'a high correlation between rate
of improvement and the amount of time which
students spent outside class in social interaction with
native speakers of English'. In addition to student
diaries, teacher diaries (Porcher, 1983 a: 19-20;
Bailey, 1990; Porter et al., 1990; McDonough,
1994) can be a source of needs analysis. Diaries,
however, are essentially retrospective, i.e. last year's
diaries are useful when planning next year's course,
and this is an obvious limitation.
(8) Case studies, i.e. in-depth investigations of the
learning needs and difficulties of individual students
or groups (Richterich (ed.), 1983, is a major source
of such case studies). Schmidt (1981) conducted a
case study of lecture comprehension and essay
writing of an advanced student and James (1984)
carried out an investigation with a Brazilian student
writing a thesis on the sociology of medicine con-
cluding: 'Students need help with what they find
most difficult. What they find most difficult can
only be discovered by observing them at work on
the job'. Dudley-Evans (1988) extendsJames' work
with a case study of four students' theses and
suggests that the language tutor may be able to give
clearer advice on the 'move structure' of a thesis
than the subject tutor. The advantages of the case
study as a means of needs analysis, especially in
providing a process-oriented definition of needs, are
discussed by Schmidt (1981: 208-9).
(9) Final evaluation/feedback At the end of the
course, a test or evaluation provides information for
the student on the effectiveness of learning which
can be used as the basis for future self-improvement
(Hoadley-Maidment, 1983: 43). For the teacher, it
indicates the soundness of the initial needs analysis
and can suggest ways in which future courses could
be improved.
(10) Previous research Considerable research has
been conducted into the needs and deficiencies of
certain categories of learners. The research can be
divided into two types: case studies of individuals or
small groups (see Robinson, 1991 : 13-14 for a
survey; Bell, 1981: 159-70 and Cumaranatunge,
1988, for examples of on-site observation or
'shadowing') and surveys of large groups, notably
those of business people (EL TDU, 1970; Stuart &
Lee, 1972/1985; Lee, 1977: Hagen (ed.), 1988);
doctors and patients (Candlin et al. 1974, 1976, 1981)
and academic students Oordan & Mackay, 1973;
Jordan & Matthews, 1978; Ostler, 1980). Richterich
(1973/1980: 68-84) offers a classification of groups
of adults with sample needs.
The kind of data to be gathered by the needs
analysis will inevitably vary according to the
instrument used and the purpose of the survey (van
Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 7-13), but most of the
following areas are likely to be covered (Schutz &
Derwing, 1981: 37, who give percentages of total
questions for guidance):
(a) general personal background (7 %)
(b) occupational speciality or academic field
(1 %)
(c) language background (14%)
(d) attitudinal and motivational factors (8 %)
(e) relevance of language to target use (10 %)
(f) priority of basic language skills in target use
(g) functional registers and job tasks in target use
(h) course content and method of instruction
(13 %)
(i) reaction to project (1 % )
How long
The length of time taken to carry out a needs
analysis will obviously vary with the scale and
method. However, Gardner and Winslow (1983:
76) report that the reason most often given for not
setting up and implementing needs analysis pro-
cedures was pressure on staff time. In part, this
problem stems from a lack of awareness on the part
of institutions and employers of the value - or even
existence - of needs identification.
Target-situation analysis
The most common form of needs analysis is devoted
to establishing the learners' language requirements
in the occupational or academic situation they are
being prepared for - target situation analysis
(Chambers 1980: 29). The earliest TSA procedures
were designed to determine how much English was
used (Ewer & Hughes-Davies, 1971: 16), usually
using a questionnaire (Mackay, 1978). Surveys of
this kind provided a strong justification for TESP

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
courses but they did not give a clear picture of what
the language was used for. The most widely-used
procedure for providing detailed data about the
precise uses of the target language by different
groups of personnel was devised by the English
Language Teaching Development Unit (ELTDU,
1970) and subsequently adopted by others (e.g.
Stuart & Lee, 1972/85; Gardner & Winslow, 1983;
Hagen (ed.), 1988). This procedure sub-divides the
four traditional language skills and so arrives at a
classification of 20 'activities' to cover all business
and commercial situations. Some of these surveys
were carried out on a vast scale and obtained data
from training or personnel managers, but the
advantage of scale must be balanced against the fact
that the data were collected at second-hand.
The most well-known approach to TSA was that
devised by Munby (1978) for the British Council.
The basis of Munby's model is a two-part instrument
consisting of a communicative needs processor which is
then converted into a communicative competence
specification. Munby aimed to be systematic and
detailed where EL TD U was brief and simple;
EL TDU concentrated on 'activities', whereas this is
the one component ('events') for which Mun by
offers no inventory. The Munby model is well
enough known not to need explanation here - brief
accounts are available from Munby himself (1977)
and Hawkey (1980a and b), and the model has been
converted into a four-page questionnaire by Harkess
(reproduced in West, 1992: 75-82). Munby's work
has attracted a lot of attention as 'the most
comprehensive' approach to needs analysis (Dickin-
son, 1987: 90) and 'a watershed for the field of
LSP' (Riddell, 1991 : 73; Hutchinson & Waters,
1987: 54), but much of this attention has been
critical (Swales, 1980: 68-9; Davies, 1981 a and b;
Hawkey, 1983: 84; Coffey, 1984: 7; Hutchinson &
Waters, 1987: 12 & 54; Coleman, 1988: 156;
White, 1988: 88-9; N unan, 1988 a: 24). The rigour
and complexity of the Munby model tended to halt
rather than advance development in the field of
needs analysis: 'real advance in this area that was
originally seen as being so critical to ESP is now
lacking' (Chambers, 1980: 25). However, it is now
possible to see that the subsequent developments in
needs analysis have either been derived from Mun by
(Dickinson 1987: 90) or in many ways been a
reaction to the shortcomings of Munby's model.
Discussion of these shortcomings may be sum-
marised under four headings.
Complexity. Munby's attempt to be systematic and
comprehensive inevitably made his instrument
inflexible, complex and time consuming (Coffey,
1984: 7; Frankel, 1983: 122; McDonough, 1984:
33). It has been estimated that it can take two full
weeks to work through (Carrier, 1983: 3, but see
Porcher, 1983 a: 15 for indications that any large-
scale needs analysis is likely to be a lengthy process)
and so it is difficult to repeat during the course, thus
setting initially-perceived needs in stone. The
complexity and impracticality have been enough to
put many off altogether (Schutz & Derwing, 1981 :
32; N unan, 1988 a: 43; Berwick, 1989: 52). All
subsequent systems of needs analysis have striven for
simplicity - the systems of Holliday and Cooke
(1982), for instance, start with a blank piece of
paper, and Harbord (forthcoming) makes use of a
'Chinese take-away' approach, i.e. clients choose a
selection of dishes from a set menu of 14 modules.
Learner centredness. Despite Munby's claim, his CNP
is not learner-centred (N unan, 1988 a: 24) : the
starting point may be the learner but the model
collects data about the learner rather than from the
learner. The very sophistication of the variables and
their associated inventories and taxonomies tends to
mean that the profile is drawn up by a needs analysis
specialist with limited reference to the participant,
what White (1988: 89) calls a 'hands-off' approach.
As a reaction, more recent needs analysis procedures
have been developed which deliberately adopt a
very different starting point, reasserting the value of
the judgement of the teacher (Tarone & Yule, 1989:
21) or involving the learner from the start (e.g.
Allwright & Allwright, 1977) without the re-
quirement for a needs analysis expert. At the other
end of the spectrum, Coleman (1988: 156) notes
Munby's 'tendency to idealise the individual lan-
guage learner', making large-scale application of
the model to the analysis of needs of heterogeneous
groups problematic.
Constraints. Munby saw constraints as matters to be
considered after the needs analysis procedure had
been worked through, leading to an inevitable
'compromise phase' (Mackay & Bosquet, 1981: 16;
see also Trim 1973/1980: 22; Ellis & Sinclair,
1989 b: 49) where what is needed has to be
balanced against what is feasible. These constraints
were classified (Mun by, 1978: 217) as socio-political
(e.g. status of the target language), logistical
(financial constraints, numbers of teachers available),
administrative (time available), psycho-pedagogic
(previous learning methods) and methodological
(recommended methods and materials available).
Many (e.g. Frankel, 1983: 119; Hawkey, 1983: 84)
felt that these practical constraints should be
considered at the start of the needs-analysis process
and, in later statements, Munby revised his view
somewhat, allowing that 'political factors affecting
the target language and the homogeneity of the
learner group should be applied at the needs analysis
stage' (1984: 64, added emphasis). Nevertheless, it
was Munby's failure to consider such constraints in
his 1978 model that led to the development of means
analysis (Holliday & Cooke, 1982; Holliday, 1984).
Language. One criticism is that Munby fails to
provide a procedure for converting the learner
profile into a language syllabus (Richards, 1984). It
State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

was also somewhat strange that Munby should
adopt classifications oflanguage in his skills selection
process that were derived from social English,
especially the work of Wilkins (1976) and the
Council of Europe (van Ek, 1975). The work of
Candlin et al. (l974a-d, 1976, 1981; see also Ranney,
1992) clearly demonstrated that ESP language
functions are related to 'job-specific tasks' (Candlin
et al., 1976: 246) and, as such, are likely to differ
from those used in social or general discourse,
although categories relating to business socialising
are prominent in most surveys. It is also clear that
the language used in real-world ESP situations
differs from that predicted by course designers
(Williams, 1988, on business meetings; Mason,
1989, on service encounters; Lynch & Anderson,
1991, on seminars; Jones, 1991, on technical
employees). It is for this reason that subsequent
needs-analysis procedures have tended not to work
with a pre-ordained inventory of language items,
and certainly not items derived from non-ESP
Deficiency analysis
The approaches to needs analysis that have been
developed to take account of learners' present
needs/wants as well as the requirements of the
target situation, may be called analyses of learners'
deficiencies or lacks (All wright, 1982: 24; Robinson,
1991 : 9 refers to this process as combined target-
situation analysis and present-situation analysis):
'start from the target situation and design the
curriculum around the gap between the present
abilities of the target trainees and the needs of the
situation in which they will find themselves at the
end of the training programme' (Smith & Arun,
1980: 210). Most systems taking this approach
include two central components: (a) an inventory of
potential target needs expressed in terms of activities,
and (b) a scale that is used to establish (and
subsequently re-establish) the priority that should be
given to each activity. For example, the ELTDU
system (Yates, 1977) has 27 activities, all described
on an eight-point attainment scale (see Carroll &
West, 1989, and Alderson, 1991, for more on similar
banded scales). In a less complex system, Allwright
and Allwright (1977) list 12 activities that, on past
experience, were judged to be potential needs for
doctors visiting Britain - reading medical textbooks,
writing medical papers, giving papers/lectures
at medical conferences, etc. Learners are first asked
to establish whether or not each potential need is an
actual need, and then to establish their present level
of difficulty ( = deficiency) in each activity on a
none/ some/ a iot scale. A similar procedure is
described by Shaw (1982), while Richards (1990:
29) provides an extract from a questionnaire where
learners are asked to indicate how frequently each
task should be taught, ranging from not at all to 7 or
more times per semester.
A refinement of the Allwright system of com-
bined present-situation analysis and target-situation
analysis is illustrated by Bheiss (1988), who adopted
a more formal procedure for establishing syllabus
priorities. This system has three components: (a) a
list of potential target-situation skills supplied by a
specialist informant, in Bheiss's case a university
nursing tutor; (b) a needs questionnaire using a '0 =
unnecessary to 4 = essential' scale to establish target-
situation need for each of the sub-skills; (c) a lacks
questionnaire using a '0 = no difficulty to 4 = very
difficult' scale to establish the present-situation
deficiency of each of the sub-skills. Each ques-
tionnaire is given to either specialist tutors or
students and the overall needs and lacks of the group
are calculated. Learning priorities are then estab-
lished by multiplying the two scores together,
which has the effect of accentuating the scores at
either end of the scale.
Other aspects of deficiency analysis may include
discovering whether students are required to do
something in the target language which they cannot
do in their mother tongue: 'Teaching a student to
do something in English which he or she can already
do in Spanish is a very different problem from
teaching him or her something in English which he
or she cannot do in Spanish' (Alderson, 1980: 135).
Strategy analysis
As was noted at the start of this survey, the 1980s
saw the extension of needs analysis from what
(syllabus content) into how: 'language tutors spe-
cifically need to know the preferred learning styles
and content expectations their students hold when
they learn a language' Qames, 1980a: 8; see Mackay
& Bosquet, 1981: 17-18+ appendix 2 for' classroom
procedures: strategies and associated techniques'
selected by teachers but with student feedback
questionnaire). The obvious focus for this analysis is
methodology (N unan, 1988 a: 17) but related areas
of relevance in a strategy analysis (Nunan, 1988 a:
189-91 developed from Brindley 1984) are pre-
ferences in terms of grouping size, extent of
homework, learning in/out of class, learning styles,
correction preferences, use of audio/visual sources,
and methods of assessment.
It is learning strategies which have been the major
focus of attention: 'there is a growing recognition
within the profession that specification of the end
products (the syllabus design component of the
curriculum) must also be accompanied by spe-
cifications of methodology (that is indications on
how to reach that end point) ' (N unan, 1988 a: 17).
Allwright (1982) was a pioneer in this area (see
Dickinson, 1987: 93-4 for discussion) and sub-
sequent instruments of analysis have become ever

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
more sophisticated: Oxford (1990: 283-300) offers a
comprehensive 'strategy inventory for language
learning' (SILL), with a diagnostic profile designed
to interpret a learner's results in terms of currently-
preferred strategies. Tarone and Yule (1989: 9)
discuss the conflict that may arise between teachers'
and learners' expectations and suggest that there
may be three solutions - fight 'em,join 'em or channel
'em. The problem is particularly acute where learners
bring with them inefficient learning strategies, and
this situation is well documented (summarised by B.
Robinson, 1981: 29). Robinson himself cites rote
learning as one such strategy and several writers
(Henderson & Skehan, 1980: 35; Chamberlain,
1980: 105; Watt, 1980: 40; Hawkey & Nakornchai,
1980: 73; Dudley-Evans & Swales, 1980: 93;
Bowers, 1980a: 110; Blue, 1981: 59; Hoadley-
Maidment, 1983: 39) note that many learners take a
passive, non-participatory, teacher-dependent at-
titude towards language learning (type 1 learners in
the classification offered by James, 1980 a: 13).
Tarantino (1988) and Strevens (1988: 40) show that
previous school learning experience influences both
proficiency and learning style, while James (1980 a)
suggests that learning styles relate to cultural
experience - the culture in which learners have
learned to succeed and the one in which they hope
to succeed. Where these two cultures differ (what
Dudley-Evans & Swales, 1980: 91 call 'education
shock'), there is potential for conflict, especially
where the learner is willing to make only minimal
or negligible changes in learning processes. Some
writers have gone further and attempted 'cultural
profiles' of learners from various backgrounds
(Hawkey & Nakornchai, 1980; Dudley-Evans &
Swales, 1980; Reid, 1987). Brew (1980: 123) suggests
that 'creating an atmosphere of dialogue where
students can be helped to articulate and explore for
themselves their attempts to make sense of the
learning environment is important'. The range of
learning/teaching styles selected for any course
obviously has implications for learner-teacher rel-
ationships Qames, 1980a: 16-18) and roles (Wright,
1987). It also has implications for learner training
and the development of learner autonomy (Holec,
1980; Hoadley-Maidment, 1983; Holec, 1985; Ellis
& Sinclair, 1989a, b).
Means analysis
The failure of the Munby (1978) model to take
account of matters of logistics and pedagogy led
to debate about practicalities and constraints in
implementing needs-based language courses (sum-
marised by Swales, 1989: 86): 'in the real-world of
EL T, there has to be a creative synthesis of theoretical
principles and practical constraints, and ... where
these conflict, as they sometimes do, the latter must
take precedence' (Frankel, 1983: 120). Chamberlain
and Flanagan (1978) and Hawkey (1983) list these
practicalities and constraints, and Bachman and
Strick (1981) attempt to quantify them. Others have
argued that instead of thinking about constraints,
course designers should consider how plans can be
implemented in the local situation. This approach
has received powerful expression in what Holliday
and Cooke (1982; Holliday, 1984) call 'means
analysis' or 'the ecological approach'. According to
this view, the question for the course designer is
'how to make ESP take root, grow, bear fruit and
propagate in the local soil' (1982: 126). The course
designer or teacher first identifies the relevant
features of the situation (the 'ecosystem') and
then sees how the positive features can be used
to advantage to accommodate what would con-
ventionally be seen as constraints. Holliday (1984: 45)
identifies four principal steps in such a means
analysis: (1) observe lessons, taking random notes
on all significant features; (2) use the notes to
construct a report on the lesson to form the basis of
discussion with the teacher; (3) review all the
original notes and draw out significant features
common to all observations; (4) construct a
communicative device (chart, diagram, etc.) which
expresses the findings. This device then forms the
basis of realistic negotiation of the course between
all interested parties in the light of available resources
and options (Crocker, 1981 : 9).
This approach is directly opposite to the way in which needs
analysis is usually done, where the categories are defined before
the observation and are based on linguistic descriptions and not
the situation being observed. The Means Analysis approach
allows sensitivity to the situation and prevents the imposition of
models alien to the situation (Holliday, 1984: 45).
Mountford (1988) and Swales (1989) have de-
veloped the scope of means analysis further by
suggesting other factors which need to be taken into
consideration by curriculum specialists if courses are
to have any chance of success, especially in 'alien'
learning environments. Swales lists five such factors:
e classroom culture (Holliday, 1984; cf. Mount-
ford' s learner factors)
e EAP staff profiles (T. Johns, 1981; Chamberlain,
1980; cf. Mountford's teacher factors)
e pilot target-situation analysis
e status of service operations (Drury, 1983; Tan,
1988; cf Mountford's institutional factors)
e study of change agents (Kennedy, 1987, 1988;
White, 1988: 136-56).
On the basis of the data thrown up by analysis of
these five factors, Swales argues, decisions can be
made. The literature contains project case studies
(Frankel, 1983 ; Drury, 1983 ; Holliday, 1984) but no
documentation of a full means analysis. It is, of
course, true that many programmes have been
successfully implemented, but this success becomes
evident only with hindsight. Means analysis is an
attempt to reduce the hit-and-miss nature of many
State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

projects and this kind of approach, which is normally
discussed in EAP contexts, has parallels with more
systematic approaches to EOP and general language
course design (Holliday, 1994) which have involved
investigations of the 'objective context' (Porcher,
Related questions of culture include cultural
factors that must be taken into account in conducting
the needs analysis itself (Hoadley-Maidment, 1980:
3). It is also possible to see the EOP equivalent of
classroom culture as the business culture of the
target situation (Reed, 1992) : 'What makes them
tick will be different from your own cultural
background and upbringing. They will have dif-
ferent attitudes to business relationships, to neg-
otiations ... to life in general' (Embleton, 1992: 31).
Language audits
The early literature on language audits (e.g. Pilbeam,
1979) defined them in rather narrow terms derived
from ELTDU experience (ELTDU, 1970; Stuart &
Lee, 1972/1985): (a) analysis of needs based on on-
the-job tasks; (b) assessment of current staff capa-
bilities by means of a sophisticated placement test;
(c) a training specification drawn up to bridge the
training gap between present performance and
required performance in the target language. The
scope oflanguage audits has now been broadened to
include any large-scale exercise forming the basis of
strategic decisions on language needs and training
requirements carried out by or for (i) individual
companies (e.g. Hagen (ed.), 1988; Embleton,
Haney & Gannon, 1992) or institutions (e.g.
Coleman, 1988), (ii) professional sectors (e.g. Rich-
terich, 1971; Brown et al., 1993) or (iii) countries
(e.g. Denmark - Looms, 1983; Portugal - Rod-
rigues, 1983; Hungary - Teemant et al., 1993) or
regions (Hagen (ed.), 1988). At their most basic,
language audits simply provide data about the
current state of language needs in the sector; at their
most sophisticated they lead on to the development
of an integrated policy or strategy which may take
months or even years to implement: 'the first issue
concerns the efficiency of the present system, the
second implies changes with a view to a future
system ... ' (Looms, 1983: 62). The basic issues of
definition, prerequisites and procedures are surveyed
by Utley (1992), the strategic reasons for a language
audit are established by van Hest and Oud-de Glas
(1990: 6), and the stages of proceeding in various
types of audit are set out by Pilbeam (1979 -
company audits), Berggren (1987 - company
audits), van Hest and Oud-de Glas (1990
- company audits), Lynch et al. (1993 - company
audits), Hagen (1988 - regional audits), Dubin and
Olshtain (1986 - national educational audits) and
Richterich (1971 - national vocational audits).
Looms (1983: 66-7) discusses the problems of
definition, coordination and objectivity involved in
carrying out a language audit, but guidelines in
formulating the basic operational questions are
offered by Olshtain (1989).
Language audits have become important as a
response to changing economic and political cir-
cumstances, notably the single European market,
economic developments in the Middle East and
south-east Asia and political changes in eastern
Europe, although audits can also be prospective (van
Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 16). Richards (1984)
points out that needs analysis was espoused in a
climate of language planning within the Council of
Europe (see Emmans et al., 1974, for a Council of
Europe survey of national requirements in foreign
languages). Although there has been nearly 20 years
of such work in Europe, the results have often been
limited and disappointing. Hagen (1988) surveys
company language audits ranging from 1972 to
1981 and reports depressing results: 'Despite the
findings on employers' needs, it is still apparent that
many firms remain unconvinced of the commercial
advantages of taking on personnel with foreign
language skills' (1988: xviii). Despite the origin of
language audits within mainstream needs analysis
for specific-purpose language teaching (notably
ELTDU, 1970, and Stuart & Lee, 1972/1985), it has
to be said that much of the recent literature of
language audits is not always 'clear and worked
out' (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 15).
The primary limitation oflanguage audits derives
from their very scale:
as these data take the form of statistical averages, which may
indeed be representative for a common core of learning
objectives, but do not coincide with the particular situation of
the individual learner, the picture has to be completed by a
further needs analysis involving personal contact with the
individual learner ... (van der Handt, 1983: 32).
Nunan (1988a: 44) points out that needs analysis
and syllabuses planned on a needs basis have been
widely criticised. While some of this criticism may
be justified, 'recent critics have generally failed to
appreciate the significant shift which has occurred
over the years, and still tend to equate needs analysis
with the sort of narrow-band ESP approach which
typified the work of people such as Munby '.There
has been a broadening of the scope of needs analysis
to encompass the full educational process - the
determination of objectives, contents and curricula,
for the production and testing of new materials, for
the development of autonomous learning, assess-
ment by the learner, feedback for the conduct and
reorientation of the project, teacher education and
re-education, and 'for running an entire system'
(Richterich, 1983: 12). Nevertheless, needs analysis
is still perceived to have limitations.

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
Limitations of needs analysis
Several criticisms of needs analysis and its ap-
plicability to language teaching have emerged since
the mid-1970s (Richterich, 1983: 2-5; Gardner &
Winslow, 1983: 77-8). The most fundamental
remains the lack of awareness of the existence of
needs analysis as a tool in course design, as well as
narrower problems of familiarity and expertise.
There is also little information on the validity or
reliability of the instruments used and the results
obtained (van Hest & Oud-de Glas, 1990: 13). More
general areas where limitations have been identified
are discussed in the following sections.
Needs analysis in general EL T. Most of the literature
on needs analysis originally came from the realm
of TESP but needs analysis procedures have in-
creasingly come to be seen as 'fundamental to the
planning of general language courses' (Richards,
1990: 2; but see Trim, 1980: 50 and Hutchinson &
Waters, 1987: 53 for practical difficulties). Ashworth
(1985: 78) and Yalden (1987 a: 130-56) give outlines
of the scope of needs analysis in ESL situations, and
Dubin and Olshtain (1986: 25) point out that needs
are 'more pronounced in the ESL [situation] in
those cases where the target language plays a crucial
role in the overall process of acculturation ... the
learners might be painfully aware of immediate,
daily needs in order to begin to function in the new
community'. They go on to apply this observation
to young learners and adult ESL students, whose
needs not only include social-survival needs outside
the classroom but, additionally, the need to learn the
TL in order to have access to other academic
In the field of EFL as opposed to ESL, there has
been an increasing application of needs analysis,
especially as learner training has become an es-
tablished component of course books (Sinclair &
Ellis, 1992). Harding-Esch (1982) describes a
'MAFIA' model for general learners in Britain,
where MAFIA stands for motivation - aims -
functions - information - activities. The aim of the
procedure is to get learners to identify their own
aims and objectives in a language course before
selecting a course or materials (see Dickinson, 1987:
95 for a summary). The broader context of needs
analysis in state-sector TENOR situations is dis-
cussed by Holliday (1994).
Needs analysis for young learners. Young learners may
seem to present the ultimate TENOR situation of
learners whose needs cannot yet be defined, and
Rixon's (1992: 80) observation that many countries
have adopted syllabuses which have a structural
basis would seem to support this. However, whole-
language classrooms (Goodman, 1986) emphasise
the creation of individual meaning and Williams
(1991 : 206-7) proposes a content-based approach in
which 'the purpose is learning other things (other
than language) ... and in order to participate in these
things in a foreign language, certain language skills
will be needed'. In the case of second-language
learners where the target language is also the
medium of instruction, needs are defined in terms of
different school disciplines (Tongue, 1991: 112-13;
Martin, 1985, 1986). Ellis (1991 : 192) takes a broader
approach and sees learner training as an effective
method of developing an awareness of needs in
young learners. For a further discussion of the needs
of young learners, see Porcher (1983 b).
Seif-assessment of needs. Strevens (1980: 27) points
out that early models of needs analysis (e.g. Mun by,
1978) reflect little that has to do with 'personalised
instruction', although subsequently needs analysis
has been seen as 'a sine qua non of all learner-centred
teaching and of all learning which is matched to the
learner's resources, expectations and interests'
(Richterich, 1983: 2). Holec (1980) and Dickinson
(1987: 88-98) outline applications of needs analysis
to general self-instructional language learning, and,
while pointing out that 'the vast majority of
learners do not have any [needs]', Dickinson suggests
that a needs analysis questionnaire can be used to
help learners assess their achievement of their
objectives. He cites an 'aims and objectives'
questionnaire (Cousin, 1982) as an example of such
a procedure which lists a range of general language
objectives (correct model of spoken English, reading
speed, etc.) and asks the student to estimate the
necessity and priority of each one. A somewhat
similar needs analysis questionnaire is described by
Blue (1988). Bloor and Bloor (1988: 66-7) describe
a learner's questionnaire designed to serve as the
basis for a subsequent consultation with a counsellor
in order to determine learning objectives.
Converting needs into goals. Needs analysis has been
accused of being both too limiting and not limiting
enough: Richterich (1972, cited by Trim, 1980: 62)
and Widdowson (1983; 1987, cited by Nunan,
1988 a: 43-4) suggest that syllabuses which specify
precise needs or ends result in restricted competence
(Maley, 1980: 37 and Holec, 1985, address the
same concern), while Dubin and Olshtain (1986:
102) complain that 'an assessment of individual
needs could result in multiple course objectives'.
The first objection is discussed approvingly by
Tomlin (1988) but has been dismissed as 'logico-
deductive rather than empirical' (Nunan, 1988 a:
44); the second objection is well handled by Shaw
(1982) and Holec (1985), who offer alternative
procedures for converting individual needs into
teaching objectives either through group nego-
tiation (Shaw, 1982) or through the development of
self-directed or autonomous learning programmes
(Holec, 1985).
Requirements for an effective needs analysis procedure.
Several commentators have now produced con-
siderations or requirements for an effective needs
State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching

analysis procedure. Dickinson (1987: 98), for
example, lists eight considerations:
- Is the questionnaire to be used by the learner or by
a specialist (teacher, helper, counsellor)?
- Is the questionnaire complete in itself or is it
designed to act as the basis of an interview with a
- Is it designed to elicit needs irrespective of whether
facilities exist for meeting them or only to the level
for which teaching/learning facilities and materials
- Should it elicit information on learners' preferred
learning strategies, etc.?
- Will the questionnaire be concerned with identi-
fying the time available?
- Should the questionnaire endeavour to analyse
needs into short-term objectives?
- Will the questionnaire attempt to suggest ap-
propriate materials to meet objectives?
- Will the questionnaire attempt to guide the
learner in ways of assessing the achievement of
Ways forward for needs analysis. The last two points
in Dickinson's analysis lead to areas currently
thought to be beyond the scope of needs analysis -
materials selection and self-assessment. Most needs
analysis procedures do not begin to handle the leap
between needs analysis and methods/materials
selection or development. It is often stressed that the
two processes are closely linked (Porcher, 1983 a:
17) but moving from the former to the latter is
Oxford Placement Test (Allan 1985/1992)
usually seen as a subjective matter Qones, 1991: 166)
of teachers' intuition or inspiration:
there exists a wide range of alternatives, both in teaching
methods and in types of materials, and ... the way to make their
own lessons work effectively with their own particular students
is to develop the ability to select from those alternatives (or
even to create novel approaches) in accordance with what they
perceive to be their students' needs (Tarone & Yule, 1989: 3;
but see Porcher 1983 a: 21 for a rejection of 'irrational
Crocker (1981 : 9) points out that 'there is no
necessary content or methodology for an LSP course
since the only criterion for course evaluation must
be whether what is used works'. However, it has
been pointed out that this intuition may be unsound
or, in ESP situations, totally lacking: 'the only way
round the problem is to have an intuitive feel for
what is appropriate for scientists, and it is just this
intuition that the EST teacher, with his literary
background, does not possess' (Greenall, 1981: 25).
Richterich (1983: 3) is also pessimistic: 'Relating
teaching to language needs remains the most difficult
problem to resolve in the implementation oflearner-
centred teaching systems'. For this reason attempts
have been made to establish a more sophisticated
picture of needs through computer analysis Qones,
1991) and to link perceived or identified priorities to
a database cataloguing potentially suitable teaching
materials (Nelson, 1992, 1994). Nelson's model
integrates placement testing, needs analysis and
materials selection:
Needs analysis carried out:
a) of the students
b) of the company point of view
PRELININARY COURSE DESIGN - defined by subjed areas
MATERIALS chosen from Materials Data Base
COURSE BEGINS - negotiation students about course plan
l Mid-course evaluation:
students evaluate course so far; possible re-orientation, new materials, etc
FINAL TEST: course specific
Flnal evaluation of the course by the students

State of the art: Needs analysis in language teaching
Dickinson's final consideration - self-assessment - is
both topical and relevant. Dickinson (1987: 98-102)
suggests learner contracts as a means of self-
assessment of objectives using a model adapted from
Knowles (1975), while others have suggested
questionnaires to assess progress (Blue, 1988).
It may be, however, that there is most to be
gained from adopting simpler approaches to needs
analysis (Harbord, forthcoming) or improved train-
ing in needs analysis techniques. In a recent survey
of British master's degrees (Brown, 1992: 7), it was
revealed that there was little principled discussion of
approaches to syllabuses or curricula. More rigorous
discussion of these areas might lead to greater
knowledge and application of the various needs
analysis approaches and, therefore, teaching pro-
grammes which are more firmly based on the
various needs of the learners.
Ack11owledge111et1ts: I should like to thank the following
and former members of the School of Education, University of
Manchester for their assistance: Gerry Abbott, Mike Beaumont,
Richard Fay, John Harbord, Lindsay Howard, Bob Jordan,
Gary Motteram, Mike Nelson, June O'Brien, Teresa O'Brien,
Gillian Walsh and lsao Yasuhara. I should also like to thank
Mike Crompton of Manchester Metropolitan University for
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