Business English and an American Football Star: Focus on Improvement

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

What is the connection between the learners in a business English class in Japan and the accomplishment of an American football star? In this TESOL Blog post, I will tell you that story.

My story begins in Tokyo, where I have experience teaching business English to adult learners. The classes are held once a week, and the learners are from different public, private, and academic sector organizations. There are usually from 10 to 20 students in such classes. In the same class, I may have a medical doctor, a government official, an engineer, a human resources manager, and the founder and president of a real estate company. Accordingly, I provide many opportunities for the students to interact with each other and to develop their professional networks. (It seems to me that my students value the social relationships they make in the class.) In this way, a community is formed, and some of the students may take the same class for years.

The situation above creates a challenge for me as a teacher. If the students choose to stay at the same level (e.g., beginner, intermediate, etc.) because of the community that has been formed, the day and time of the class, etc., how can I get my students to improve their English language skills? One constraint is that I cannot choose an intermediate level textbook for a class that is intended for beginners. (By the way, I refer to these classes as business English classes because we use such textbooks as Market Leader and Business Result. We are not focused on meeting specific, immediate, or near-term learner needs as we would in an ESP class; for example, a class that prepares a group of scientists to make presentations at a conference in the near future.)

In view of the above, I decided to show a short video to the students in my business English classes. (If you click on this link, an article should appear, and the related 50-second video should begin to play automatically.) Then I asked my students to try to figure out the meaning of the video. The video describes the accomplishment of an American football quarterback, Peyton Manning, who holds the record for most touchdown passes in the National Football League (NFL). The record itself is impressive, but I wanted my students to understand how Manning had achieved that record.

If you read the article at the link above, you will see that Manning is described as a perfectionist focused on constant and never-ending improvement. In my business English classes, I described what (I imagined) Manning would have been like as an English language learner. More important, we all began to focus on how we could improve our English language skills inside and outside of class.

In addition to reading the article about Peyton Manning, I had seen a TED Talk by Tony Robbins titled “Why We Do What We Do.” Robbins’ presentation made me think about what prevents people from improving. Accordingly, I became more aware in class of how I could help my students to overcome various obstacles in order to improve.

In connection to the above, I made comments in class about the following:

  1. Attitude: I said that we needed to have the attitude of Peyton Manning. We needed to be focused on constant improvement in our pursuit of perfection. Excellence would be the result.
  2. Influence: I asked my students why they should have eye contact when speaking to others in class. I explained that we communicate in order to influence others. (The importance of influence was a lesson that I had already learned from my doctoral research on leadership discourse.)
  3. Teaching: I reminded my students that they could improve their own English language skills by helping others to be better speakers of English.

My comments were intended to help my students to be more focused on improving—not only their own individual performances but the performances of everyone in class.

Finally, I took the focus on improvement one step further. In one of my classes, the chapter in our textbook was about “products.” In this connection, I showed to the students a video about IKEA before showing the football video above and talking about Peyton Manning.  I then asked my students to tell me how IKEA and Peyton Manning were similar. The answer is that they are both focused on improvement.

In sum, I empowered my students to become better learners. What are you doing to empower your students?

All the best,


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.