Hello, ESPers worldwide!
In this ESP project leader profile, we go to England to meet an expert in ESP, Andy Gillett, who has represented the IATEFL ESP Special Interest Group in events with the TESOL ESP Interest Section, including a month-long online threaded discussion about ESP and a TESOL-IATEFL webinar about how ESP projects can create positive social change. Please see his bio.
Andy Gillett specialises in ESP, especially English for academic purposes. He worked for many years at the University of Hertfordshire where he was programme leader for the MA in English Language Teaching. Since 2009, Andy has been involved in consultancy work in various countries, as well as continuing to teach MA students. He is currently teaching a research methods module to MA business students in Hertfordshire and has recently produced writing materials for an ESRC-funded project at Coventry University and a course for vocational English teachers for the British Council. He is a member of IATEFL and TESOL and has been involved in the ESP special interest groups since they began. He was a leading member of BALEAP, for which he was chair from 2003–2005.
In his interview responses, he shares with us his insights into English for academic purposes (EAP).
English Language and Educational Consultant
Define leadership in your own words.
The most useful definition of leadership from my point of view is Northouse’s (2007, p. 3): “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” Defining leadership as a process means that it is the interaction between the leader and the followers that matters. Leadership, therefore, involves groups of people and collaboration with a common purpose.
Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?
The ESP projects that I have been responsible for have always involved a range of stakeholders, with a shared goal.
I have for several years now worked with students and teachers on a pre-master’s programme at a U.K. university. This was a 16-week course to prepare students for entry to a business master’s degree. It involved a range of students, all who needed to develop some aspect of their studies before they could proceed on to their choice of master’s degree programme. Some of the students—particularly from the Far and Middle East—had a relevant undergraduate degree, that had not been taught in English. Some—often from Africa or South Asia—had undergraduate qualifications in a nonbusiness subject, such as engineering or bioscience. There were also students from countries (e.g., USA) where the undergraduate qualification was considered to be too general for direct entry to a narrow U.K. master’s degree. In the pre-master’s programme, the subject matter included the business subjects, taught by a business specialist, and ESP, taught by me, and we needed to work together.
Students in the pre-master’s programme take four courses from the range offered, depending on the master’s degree they hope to follow. I have been involved with several, including the economic context, business strategy, and human resource management, but the one I spent most time with was accounting and financial management, something which I did not know much about myself.
It is clear, therefore, that the ESP needs of the broad range of students in my class vary widely. However, the one thing they share is the need to write accounting and finance assignments in a professional academic way in a U.K. university. I say “professional academic” because, although it is an academic course, it is intended to have professional relevance. The language needs include the use of the English language, the relevant language of accounting and financial management, and the language requirements of a U.K. university.
As I am not an expert in accounting and financial management, collaboration between me and the different stakeholders involved—all sharing the goal of helping students to succeed—is essential.
The most important aspect of our course design was that we (I and the business expert) shared the teaching. I could—and did—attend all her classes and she attended some of mine. All the materials that I used were from her teaching and the tasks that I worked with came from her. Moreover, the students were assessed jointly.
As far as collaboration was concerned, the most important person was the business teacher. I did, however, need to involve the current students, previous students, teachers of the master’s courses the students intended to go on to, the leader of the pre-master’s programme, teachers (both ESP and business) of the other courses the students were taking, university administrators, and sometimes government and embassy officials related to visas.
The main piece of assessment undertaken by the students was a report to a potential investor in a well-known international company; the actual company changed regularly. The purpose was to advise the potential investor, using financial information from the company’s annual report. My task was to work with the business teacher to help students understand and communicate the financial information presented in the annual report, concentrating on the balance sheet or statement of financial position. It was necessary to work with the business teacher both to understand these documents and find out about the relevant language (vocabulary, syntax, etc.) to communicate this. There were interesting lexical and grammatical challenges. For example, the business teacher used the word “variance” to refer to the difference between the budgeted amount and the actual amount, rather than the square of the standard deviation—which the students knew about. All the students also had difficulty distinguishing between “a 2% increase” and “an increase of 2 percentage points.” For example, a change from 40% to 44% is a 4 percentage point increase, but is an actual 10% increase. This was something I had never paid attention to before and needed my collaboration with the business teacher to sort out.
From a writing point of view, I followed Nesi and Gardner’s (2012) approach, which means first identifying (in collaboration with the business teacher and the students) the primary purpose of the text and the genre family involved. Then, from an examination of previous students’ work and teacher recommendations and comments, I could identify the cognitive genres needed (Bruce, 2008) and work out the lexical and grammatical realisations.
Much of what and how accounting students and professionals write is not intuitive to an English teacher, and, without the collaboration of the groups of people I worked with, it would not have been possible for us to achieve our goal of successful students. I also learned a great deal about accounting, which came in very useful when I became treasurer of an academic teachers’ association.
I am very pleased that Andy has shared with us his account of EAP practice, which I believe will benefit many ESP practitioners now and in the years to come.
Do you have questions or comments for Andy? Please feel free to contact him directly!
All the best,
Bruce, I. (2008). Academic writing and genre: A systematic approach. London, England: Continuum.
Nesi, H., & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Northouse, P. G. (2007). Leadership: Theory and practice (4th ed.). London, England: Sage.
Andy, I appreciate you highlighting the constant need for ESP instructors to take a position of humility, or lifelong learning. For those of us who have been in the field for many years, it is easy to begin thinking we “know it all”, to begin thinking of ourselves as content experts in addition to being language experts. Your profile reminds me that there is always more to learn, and that there is always value in developing and maintaing our relationships with true subject area experts. We need this not only when we are working in new areas of ESP but also when we are working in ESP fields where we have long experience. Because language in every field is always growing and changing, this close work with content-area colleagues helps to keep what we are teaching up to date, relevant and fresh.