ESP For Social Change: What Is Your Passion?

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

How often do you ask yourself the following questions?

  1. Who are my students?
  2. Why are they learning English?
  3. Why am I teaching them English?
  4. In addition to English communication skills, what are my students learning from me?

As ESPers, I think that we ask and answer questions 1 to 3 in a typical needs analysis. In this TESOL Blog post, however, I would like to explore all four questions in the context of ESP for social change.

Social change is something that I have often seen in the dreams and activities of non-ESPers in TED Talks. For example, I was recently looking for TED Talks related to surfing, as one of my personal dreams is to spend time in the waves on a surfboard! I came across the following: Just Add Surf: Easkey Britton at TEDxDublin. A bit more web-surfing (no pun intended) took me to Waves of Freedom where Dr. Britton is listed as co-founder and chief disruption officer. The mission of the organization starts off with: “The power of surfing as a creative medium for positive social change.”

Dr. Britton’s organization above is an example of connecting one’s passion (e.g., surfing) with social change (e.g., the empowerment of women worldwide). After watching her TED Talk, I asked myself the question, “What is your passion?” In my case, I love my work! I am passionate about what I do as a researcher and trainer in the field of professional communication in English.

After answering the question above, I began to think about how the work I was doing was related to social change. What came to  my mind was that my joy as a teacher is empowering my students to create and to achieve visions independently and in collaboration with others. In the classroom, I aim to create a learning community in which my students develop into better learners, communicators, and leaders.

As leaders, my students decide themselves how they want to change their environments. For example, one of my undergraduate student teams in a leadership seminar decided to create an event to clean a local beach. Another team chose to teach English to children at an orphanage. A third team professionally managed a live comedy performance in Tokyo in order to raise money for the victims of an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Other students have created leadership seminars on campus featuring CEOs of organizations as well as student leaders of campus clubs. Such project-based learning is connected to my own conceptualization of leadership as achieving visions in collaboration with others.

In the ESP project leader profiles, I also see the drive for social change. Consider the four ESP project leader profiles that have been posted since May 2015. (Please click on the names of the ESP project leaders to read their profiles.)

What do you see in those four ESP project leader profiles? From a social change perspective, I see a focus on “inclusion and diversity,” “helping the poorest of the poor,” “empowerment of staff in the hospitality industry,” and “improving the quality of corporate training worldwide.” People seem to know how they want to change the world.

I think that we need to give thought to how we can leverage our research skills, program development skills, and training skills to improve the world. When I watch TED Talks and read the ESP project leader profiles, I am reminded that changing the world is not impossible, although it may require us to work harder.

In regard to hard work, consider the success story of Lani Lazarri, the owner of Simple Sugars. (I mentioned Shark Tank and Simple Sugars in a previous blog post. Ms. Lazarri was driven to develop a skin care product based on her own personal need.) As Sara Bauknecht writes on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website:

“Shark Tank” not only introduced Miss Lazzari to Mr. Cuban but also to other entrepreneurs who’ve had their time in the tank. They find each other on social media and swap “Shark Tank” stories and business experiences. For Miss Lazzari, one of the greatest lessons she’s learned along the way is to trust herself, even when what’s ahead seems impossible.

“If someone had told me before ‘Shark Tank’ that I would be working until 3 in the morning for six weeks straight … I think I would have been, ‘Oh my gosh. How am I going to be able to handle it?’

“You really just have to get to work and work through it, and you’ll get there in the end.”

In view of the above, one good idea is for ESPers to strengthen our connections and our convictions through our interactions with each other.

In closing, I would like to share with you another TED Talk that inspired me in connection with social change. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (“Peace activist”) talks about “why [he believes] the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse.” As Phil Collins sings in one of his songs, “Another Day in Paradise,” we should all “think about it!” After that, we should do something about it!

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.
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2 Responses to ESP For Social Change: What Is Your Passion?

  1. Kevin Knight Kevin Knight says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I am hoping that all ESPers can give TED Talks about the good work being done worldwide!

    (I know that Kristin and Ronna have given TED Talks.)


  2. Valerie S. Jakar says:

    An astounding contribution, Kevin. Thank you. Your blog was inspiring and informative.
    When I began reading about your call for bringing about ‘social change ‘ I was about to send a comment asking for your concept of social change, and remarking that you were coming from a place of privilege. But reading on , I saw that you were actually engendering in your students a sense of social responsibility that overrides political or social bias. Bravo.
    So when are you going to give the first TED TESOL-ESP talk???

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