ESP Project Leader Profile: Ismaeil Fazel

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Ismaeil Fazel is an EAP professional and instructor (UBC-Ritsumeikan Program) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He has also earned, as part of his doctoral program, a subspecialization in measurement, evaluation, and research methodology from the University of British Columbia. Ismaeil has been engaged in the field of ESP for over a decade now, in a variety of leading roles such as practitioner, curriculum specialist, and researcher.

He has published in numerous well-known journals including English for Academic PurposesTESL Canada, and BMC Medical Education. One of his recent publications is a coauthored encyclopedia entry on English for Specific Purposes (Abrar-ul-Hassan & Fazel) in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (in press), published by Wiley-Blackwell. Ismaeil has regularly presented at the TESOL convention, the American Association for Applied Linguists Conference, and the Canadian Association for Applied Linguistics Conference. He aspires to make a difference in the lives of ESP educators around the world by promoting research-based pedagogical practices and practice-based research that address real-life issues in the field.


Ismaeil Fazel
Instructor, UBC-Ritsumeikan Program
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Define leadership in your own words.

Leadership in ESP, as with any other type of leadership, entails but is not limited to accurate identification and meticulous management of (material, social, and human) resources at one’s disposal, as well as having effective communication skills. However, being an ESP leader somewhat goes beyond the general conceptions of leadership, and also demands skills specific to the nature of ESP program delivery. A leader in an ESP project wears multiple hats, the most notable of which include being:

  • A needs assessor (pre-implementation of an ESP project) and a program evaluator consistently and constantly monitoring the quality of the program (once the ESP project is underway)
  • A course designer, a material developer, a public relations officer, and an instructor of the ESP course (if need be)
  • A skilled and savvy negotiator (and an arbiter if disputes arise) trying to deal with and meet the expectations of different stakeholders, while managing one’s instruction team.

In addition to the above requirements, what I believe lies at the heart of ESP leadership is being able to flexibly tailor the ESP program to cater to the local needs of a given context, while adhering to the core principles and precepts of ESP, which would in turn ensure the integrity and quality of the program being delivered.

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?

Back in 2004, I was asked to develop and deliver an English for Medicine course at the behest of the Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences in Bandar Abbas, Iran. Aligned with the principles and protocols of ESP program design, prior to devising the course I sought out the input of the stakeholders. To do so, I arranged multiple meetings (and a few one-on-one interviews) with the university officials as well as with the medical school faculty (and later with student representatives) to elicit and elucidate their expected outcomes of the course to be deployed. Meanwhile, I administered a placement test to the incoming students to gauge their baseline proficiency level.

Once I had the intended input and an adequately clear picture of the needs, expectations, and course objectives as expressed by the stakeholders, I set out to design the course. Essentially, the expectation was to enable students to be well-versed in the medical discourse, such that they would be able to read target medical texts, but also to produce medical reports and briefings.

To prepare the course material, I used both semi-authentic as well as (selected) commercially available materials. I asked the medical faculty to provide me with samples of authentic target texts and reports. Then, I tweaked and tailored the garnered materials to cater to the course objectives, and tried to embed problem-solving tasks and activities and offer models for language use, to the extent possible. Both formal assessments and informal measures such as input from the students, faculty, and university officials indicated satisfaction with the project. Halfway through the initial project, I was asked by the university officials to also devise and deliver other courses including English for Entomology, English for Midwifery, and English for Nursing courses.

In retrospect, I think a key and critical factor contributing to the perceived success of the project, besides developing an awareness of the local context and culture, was clear, precise, and ongoing communication with the stakeholders in that project. At frequent intervals, I arranged feedback sessions with the stakeholders—namely university officials, select medical school faculty, and student representatives. What I basically did following a feedback session was that I would send the involved parties a memo that summarized what was said or agreed upon. Doing so allowed for checking the accuracy of communication and served as a (documented) reminder of any agreements, commitments, or promises made (by me or others) in the feedback session.

As I was reading Ismaeil’s profile above, two things came to mind. The first was that in order to be a leader, you have to learn. Technical competence seems to be required to influence others, and Ismaeil outlines ESP-related technical competence (including program development/management and professional communication skills) in his definition of leadership. The second was the importance of “framing” in influencing how stakeholders perceive and evaluate an ESP program. (See my previous blog post, which is related to framing as the language of leadership.) Ismaeil reminded stakeholders that he was always conducting training in view of previous agreements, commitments, and promises. He was following through on what he said he would do. In summary, as a leader, he could show to stakeholders that he was acting (as agreed) to achieve the shared vision (i.e., the desired and agreed upon goals).

Do you have any questions or comments for Ismaeil? Please post those below or contact him directly!

All the best,



Abrar-ul-Hassan, S., & Fazel, I. (in press). English for specific purposes. In J. Liontas (Ed.), The TESOL encyclopedia of English language teaching. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

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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