Needs Analysis in Language Curriculum Development

In the context of English as a Second Language (ESL)/ English as a Foreign Language (EFL), curriculum development means “a practical activity which aims to improve the quality of language teaching through the use of systematic planning, development, and review practices in all aspects of language program” (Richard, 2001, et Kayi, 2008). Kaur (2007) claimed that developing a curriculum will be challenging and can cause many problems in language teaching and learning if ESL/EFL instructors do not know about students and their needs. Similarly, the curriculum of English for Academic Purpose (EAP)/English for Specific Purpose (ESP) is developed based on learners’ needs (Banesh, 1996). Johns & Dudley-Evans as cited in Banesh (1996) defined learner needs as the “identifiable elements” of “students’ target English situations”. Thus, teachers should pay attention to the learners’ needs and be able to analyze them in order to develop an effective language curriculum. This paper endeavors to explore information that is required to do need analysis and to identify how such information can be collected for designing language courses.

Focuses of Needs Analysis

Needs analysis is a process of collecting and analyzing information about learners in order to set goals and contents of a language curriculum based on their needs (Kayi, 2008). It examines what learners already know and what they need to know (Nation & Macalister, 2010). Many scholars indicate that knowing about learners’ needs such as “their learning objectives, language attitudes, expectations from the course” are necessary in order to design an efficient curriculum (Brindley, 1984; Nunan, 1988, Xenodohids, 2002, et Kayi, 2008). By gathering such information, therefore, the needs analysis can guarantee that the course will contain the relevant and useful things for students to learn.

There is a wide range of information that can be gathered in needs analysis. According to Hutchinson and Waters as cited in Nation & Macalister (2010), needs are divided into target needs and learning needs. They suggest that the information of target needs can be analyzed by looking at: “necessities, lacks and wants” (Nation & Macalister, 2010). Besides that, they also make another major division to collect the data of needs. There are present knowledge and required knowledge, and objective needs and subjective needs. Hence, they roughly make a pair that “lacks fit into present knowledge, necessities fit into required knowledge, and wants fit into subjective needs”.

According to Dudley-Evans, needs analysis holds some aspects that include target analysis, the present situation analysis and the learning needs analysis. The present situation analysis deals with the identification of learners’ ‟ weaknesses or lacks‟ (Petrova, 2008). Meanwhile, the target and learning needs are also known as the objective needs and the subjective needs (Petrova, 2008; Nation & Macalister, 2010). The analysis of target or objective needs looks into the requirements of the language used in the contexts where the course participants likely have to use English. The learning or subjective needs analysis examines the learners’ perceptions toward what the course should be like. In other words, the analysis of objective needs should reveal the language skills or the language focus that should be developed more so that learners are able to cope with the target situation in the future. In addition, such learning styles and expectation of learners cannot be ignored in the organization of courses as they might foster their learning.

Other information that is necessarily identified is about students’ necessities, lacks and wants. Firstly, necessities deal with “what the learner has to know in order to function effectively in the target situation” (Kaewpet, 2009). As the illustration, if the purpose of the course is to prepare students to enter the university, the needs analyst should analyze the kind of language needed to do assignments or used in every day university class. Such information about the language element that is mostly demanded can be gathered though interview with the university students who are considered having enough experience on the target situation.

Secondly, according to Nation and Macalister (2010), lacks analysis involves looking at where the learners are at the present. It can comprise what is being learners’ strengths and weakness on the target language. There are several ways of gathering this information: 1) looking at the documents of students’ learning product in the previous; 2) interviewing the teacher who is responsible of giving marks or grades; 3) interviewing the students on how they perceive the assignment and how they deal with it; and 4) providing test that measures the language proficiency of students.

Lastly, Nation and Macalister (2010) also describe “wants” as what the learners view about what they need and what they think useful for them. Regarding this element, Berwick and  Brindleyas cited in Kaewpet (2009) state that the learners’ needs of English depend on “various expectations, interpretations and individual value judgments”. On the other hand, Vandermeeren as cited in (Kaewpet, 2009) points out that the researchers or the needs analysts also have attitudes concerning language needs, “which inevitably influence their choice of objectives and interpretation of the findings”. Since this type of information is subjective, it should be seen whether the learners’ views and the needs analyst’s views are the same or not. It is therefore important to ensure that the interpretation is taken from the various perspectives, which might consist of the learners, teachers, and institutions.

There are a number of tools for collecting the information in this needs analysis. Nation and Macalister (2010) said that “information about objective needs can be gathered by questionnaires, personal interviews, documentation (for example, gathering exam papers or text books and analyzing them), observation (for example, following a learner through a typical day), informal consultation with teachers and learners, and tests. Subjective needs are discovered through learner self assessment using lists and scales, and questionnaires and interviews”. As the example, some of the tools were employed by Kayl (2008) in his case study on “Developing an ESL Curriculum Based on Needs and Situation Analysis”. In order to collect the data, he observed students in an adult ESL program, gave students questionnaires to determine their needs, and then interviewed the teacher with the same purpose.

Furthermore, Kaewpet (2009) claimed that “learner needs should be analyzed on an ongoing basis because they are likely to change over time, depending on contextual and human affective variables”. Nation and Macalister (2010) also said the similar that the times of needs analysis can include needs analysis before a course begins, needs analysis in the initial stages of a course, and ongoing needs analysis during the running of the course. Petrova (2008) added that the needs analysis should be conducted before the course begins if nothing is known about the target learners. On the other hand, if the purpose of needs analysis is “evaluating and revising the program”, it is reasonable to conduct it when the course is over. Thus, the needs analysis can be carried out in the particular time, depending on its purposes.


Basically, needs analysis is like a research that is carried out to find out the information and answers of certain questions that are being asked. To conduct needs analysis, it is important to set the questions and purposes as soon as possible then use these as the guide in choosing the methods and tools for data collections. Good needs analysis involves asking the right questions and finding the answers in the most effective way (Nation & Macalister, 2010).

Good needs analysis covers a range of information of needs using a range of data collection tools. Because needs are not always clear and are likely changing, it is important that needs are gathered from the multiple perspectives at a variety of times. The perspectives can vary according to the type of needs, the source of information, the type of information and the tools for gathering the data. Overall, needs analysis are useful and helpful in providing a range of information that is used as a guide for the course design, syllabus design or curriculum development.


Benesch, .S. (1996). Needs Analysis and Curriculum Development in EAP: An Example of a Critical Approach. TESOL Quarterly, 30 (4), 723-738.

Kaewpet, C. (2009). A Framework for Investigating Learner Needs: Needs Analysis Extended to Curriculum Development. Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 6 (2), 209-220.

Kaur, S. (2007). ESP Course Design: Matching Learner Needs to Aims. English for Specific Purposes, 6(1).

Kayl, H. (2008). Developing an ESL Curriculum Based on Needs and Situation Analysis: A Case Study. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 4 (1), 29-49.

Nation, I.S.P., & Macalister, J. (2010). Language Curriculum Design. New York: Routledge.

Petrova, I. (2008). Need Analysis as a Starting Point for Designing A Syllabus for English for Specific Purposes Course. MA Thesis. University of Tartu Department Of English Language And Literature.


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