ESP Best Practices in View of Leadership Conceptualization

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Next month (July), we will have another ESP project leader profile to add to those of Kristin Ekkens (May; healthcare industry) and Charles Hall (June; tourism, helping the poorest of the poor). In this TESOL Blog post, I consider “ESP best practices” in view of conceptualizations of leadership. I expect that I will have more to write on this topic by March 2016 as more leaders contribute their profiles.

As many of you may have read, ESP is already conceptualized as “providing leadership.” According to Johns, Paltridge, and Belcher (2011):

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has an established tradition that has undoubtedly provided leadership, as well as an intellectual “nudge,” for what is still generally called “General English” or, more disparagingly, “English for No Obvious Reason.” As John Swales demonstrated in his 1988 ESP history (Episodes), developing an appropriate pedagogy for a specific group of learners has always been the goal of ESP practitioners. Studying language, discourses, and contexts of use—as well as student needs, in the broadest sense—and then applying these findings to the pedagogical practices, is what distinguishes ESP from other branches of applied linguistics and language teaching. In a more recent historical overview, Belcher (2004) noted that:

“Unlike other pedagogical approaches, which may be less specific needs–based and more theory-driven, ESP pedagogy places heavy demands on its practitioners to collect empirical needs-assessment data, to create or adapt materials to meet specific needs identified, and to cope with often unfamiliar subject matter and even language use….” (p. 166)

For readers of this blog post who are unfamiliar with ESP, you might want to take a look at the following ESP PowerPoint for practitioners and clients (Knight, Lomperis, van Naerssen, & Westerfield, 2010). In view of my own research on the process of conceptualizing leadership, I am particularly interested in the reference above to ESP providing leadership.

What is the meaning of leadership? It would be better if I asked, “How do people conceptualize leadership, and why?” For example, I see leadership in “ESP best practices.” Before I can explain “why I see leadership,” I need to first present ESP best practices. In this connection, I would like to refer you to slide 14 of the ESP PowerPoint. In that slide, you can see the following description of ESP best practices.

Best Practices were developed for the following areas by the TESOL Task Force on Standards for Workplace Language Training: Guidelines for Workplace Language Trainers (J. Friedenberg, A. Lomperis, W. Martin, K. Westerfield & M. van Naerssen, 2000-2001).

  1. Develop an effective, current strategic plan
  2. Conduct effective marketing
  3. Assess the client organization’s needs
  4. Determine an appropriate program design
  5. Develop a proposal and negotiate a contract
  6. Identify and arrange program administration and staffing
  7. Conduct an instructional needs assessment (INA)
  8. Create an instructional design/curriculum
  9. Select and develop appropriate training materials
  10. Deliver training
  11. Evaluate course(s) and program, and apply recommendations

A version of this content can be found in the 2003 TESOL publication Effective Practices in Workplace Language Training.

What can we learn from looking at only the words used to list the 11 best practices in the PowerPoint? I used NVivo 10 software to conduct word frequency analyses. A word frequency analysis of exact words generated the first word cloud.  The second word cloud was generated by a word frequency analysis of similar words.

1.ESP best practices exact words

2.ESP best practices similar words

As you can see above, the theme that emerges from the first word cloud is program development whereas the second word cloud displays ESP as a creative activity.

In my view, how are program development, creativity, and leadership connected? In Knight and Candlin (2015, p. 36), my own conceptualization of leadership appears in an illustration with the following: “Leadership is making real a vision in collaboration with others.” Further, please consider what I wrote about leadership in one of my December 2013 blog posts.

As a researcher of professional communication, I recognize that many different conceptualizations of leadership exist. For me personally, however, I like to view leadership as a communication process consisting of two parts: 1) communicating to create a vision and 2) communicating to achieve a vision. Leadership is considered by many to be an “influence relationship,” and in my personal conceptualization of leadership, leadership would involve influencing others through communication associated with the goals of part 1 and part 2.

Now, let’s view the ESP best practices above through the lens of my own conceptualization of leadership. From such a perspective, communication and actions to collaborate on the creation and achievement of a vision become apparent. In my mind, we are practicing leadership when we follow best practices in creating ESP programs!

In view of the above, an awareness of “ESP project leadership” is important for understanding both ESP and leadership, not to mention the professional communication of ESPers. Be sure to check out the next ESP project leader profile, which will be posted in July!

All the best,



Johns, A., Paltridge, B., & Belcher, D. (2011). Introduction: New directions for ESP research. In D. Belcher, A. Johns, & B. Paltridge (Eds.), New directions in English for specific purposes research, (pp. 1-4). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Knight, K., & Candlin, C. N. (2015). Leadership discourse as basis and means for developing L2 students into future leaders. In P. Shrestha (Ed.), Current developments in English for academic and specific purposes: Local innovations and global perspectives (pp. 27–49). Reading, United Kingdom: Garnet.

Knight, K., Lomperis, A., van Naerssen, M., & Westerfield, K. (2010). English for Specific Purposes: An Overview for Practitioners and Clients (Academic and Corporate). PowerPoint presentation submitted to Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL Resource Center.

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.
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