ESP Project Leader Profile: Charles Browne

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

This ESP project leader profile features Dr. Charles Browne, who was one of my former supervisors at Sony many years ago. His bio from Meiji Gakuin University in Japan, where he is a professor, includes his work in the area of vocabulary acquisition.

Dr. Browne was born in Boston in the United States, but has lived and worked in Japan since he graduated college in 1985. He is Professor of Applied Linguistics & TESOL at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo Japan and a specialist in Vocabulary and Reading research, especially as they apply to online learning. He has more than 25 years experience working as a teacher trainer, starting with his role as the first National Chairman of the JET Program in 1987, serving on many different national MEXT committees, such as the teacher educational advisory committee and the English textbook committee, and has done countless teacher training workshops for thousands of Japanese teachers of English through his active help of local Boards of Education throughout the country. He has written dozens of research articles, books, and textbooks about these topics. In addition to his recent work in creating five important new corpus-based word lists for second language learners known as the New General Service List (NGSL), the TOEIC Service List (TSL), the New Academic Word List (NAWL), and the Business Service Lists (BSL), he has also helped to create a wide variety of free research-based language learning apps and online tools to make better use of these lists, working hard to share this knowledge with teachers and researchers through countless presentations, seminars and hands-on workshops around the world. He is married and with 3 wonderful children, and enjoys spending his free time participating in marathons, bike races, and traveling to new countries.

In his interview responses, Charlie focuses on ESP as a genre and shares a story about the development of word lists that can be used in ESP programs to meet learners’ immediate needs for communication in academic or workplace settings.


Dr. Charles Browne
Professor of Applied Linguistics & TESOL
Department of English, Meiji Gakuin University

Define leadership in your own words.

Although leadership is not a topic I have studied or thought about deeply, I have been in positions of leadership many times throughout my career, and I suppose that, for me at least, leadership is less a set of specific actions than it is an attempt to apply certain values I have in a given situation. I think that more than anything, I am guided by a sense of deeply held respect for other people, which, in terms of leadership, means that I try to listen carefully to each member of the team, knowing that each person has something valuable to contribute, not just in helping to complete the project in the way I’ve set out but quite often with better ideas about how to reach that goal.

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?

I would consider our entire New General Service List project to be a success story, one that is based on the hard work and cooperation of many people. Each of our free, corpus-based ESP word lists for TOEIC English, academic English, and business English offers the highest text coverage in the world for that ESP genre. Each word list now has an accompanying range of free resources which includes the word lists themselves; definitions written in easy English and easy Japanese; statistical data on the creation of the lists; uploads to free learning websites such as Quizlet.com and Memrise.com; free and paid iPhone and Android spaced-repetition flashcard apps such as NGSL Builder and Word-Learner; free online analytical tools to help create, edit, or analyze graded reading and listening materials based on these word lists (this includes our own OGTE tool known as Online Graded Text Editor, as well as Tom Cobb’s VocabProfile and Laurence Anthony’s AntWordProfiler); free assessment tools known as NGSLT (New General Service List Text) and NAWLT (New Academic Word List Text), which have among the highest published reliability and validity of any vocabulary test to date; and a free, graded reading and listening website that makes extensive use of these lists known as ER-Central.com.

For each list, resource, app, and tool, I had to work together with, listen to, encourage, and follow up with a wide range of professionals with many different strengths (and weaknesses), but in each case, I think that the respect and patience I showed them, while reminding them of the overall vision and value of providing so many useful resources to students, teachers, researchers, and materials developers, helped to keep the project moving forward and on track.

All of the tools and resources mentioned above can be accessed from the main NGSL website. We have many more lists and tools in the works, but I was surprised to find that the more I work on this project and the bigger it gets, the quicker we are able to build things: I attribute this to the growing number of people who have come to believe in this project and who are willing to contribute their time and effort to pushing it forward. A team effort if ever there was one!

Interestingly, this project has also been a success financially. Despite the fact that almost all the tools and resources mentioned above are open-source and 100% free, the project has somehow led to quite a number of unsolicited requests from schools, publishers, online startups, and companies for me to publish materials based on these lists (such as the Cambridge University Press In Focus series of EFL textbooks I was head-author for), create OEM apps and learning platforms that use our lists, or give pedagogic advice to improve existing online learning platforms. The requests have been so numerous that I actually needed to create my own separate company to handle them. Here, too, I think leadership and good communication skills helped me to succeed. Each client has their own needs and vision, each CEO their own way of doing business, so I think that being a good listener while keeping my focus on the larger vision and value of creating a product that is grounded in good science and pedagogy has led to many wonderful successes.


It seems to me that one vision has led to another in Charlie’s case, which brings to mind a quote of Bennis and Nanus (Carnegie, Levine, & Crom, 1995) about the relevance of vision to leadership:

[The critical point] is that a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exists. (p. 20)

You might be interested in a TED Talk that Charlie gave introducing the importance of the NGSL project. If you have any questions for Charlie, please feel free to contact him directly!

All the best,
Kevin

Reference

Carnegie, D., Levine, S. R., & Crom, M. A. (1995). The leader in you: How to win friends, influence people and succeed in a changing world. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

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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One Response to ESP Project Leader Profile: Charles Browne

  1. Margaret van Naerssen says:

    Enjoyed reading about Charles Brown and his work, and viewing his Ted Talk on the NGSL
    New General Service List on vocabulary. I’m going to share it with some teachers in FL settings
    and will probably use it in a project I’m doing on likely comprehensibility of a text in a legal case.