ESP Project Leader Profile: Jen Cope

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

So far, we have published more than 25 profiles in the ESP Project Leader series, with projects on six continents. The first profile from Australia was Phil Chappell. In this second profile from Australia, we meet Jen Cope.

Jen Cope recently received her doctorate from the University of Sydney, Australia. Jen has developed a theoretical model to analyse discourse and a pedagogical approach to help English learners develop critical literacy skills. She has published book chapters and journal articles and presented extensively at international conferences. Jen is a researcher and educator, who works at Macquarie University in the master of applied linguistics and TESOL program and is an Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow in the English department. At the University of Sydney, Jen has taught in the master of education in TESOL program and participated in the linguistics department’s English literacy project. Additionally, Jen has extensive experience managing and teaching ESOL courses at TAFE NSW (a major Australian vocational college). Prior to her academic career, Jen was a publisher of financial, business, and legal texts.

I first met Jen at the University of Sydney, where we were both participating in the TESOL Research Colloquium. We had both published chapters in an IATEFL ESP SIG book edited by Prithvi Shrestha. (See Cope, 2015). Jen’s responses below focus on her ESP research.


Jen Cope
Researcher and Educator, Sydney, Australia
Contact: or

1. Define leadership in your own words.

In the ESP context, I believe that a leader ultimately helps to facilitate the development of English language skills of learners. This can be achieved as a teacher, a researcher, or an innovator of pedagogy. Importantly, leaders should be proactive in helping ESP language learners to engage with and participate in their domain as well as being responsive to their needs. To ensure that the ESP community benefit from innovative practices, a leader should disseminate their research results and pedagogy while encouraging ESP teachers and practitioners to implement new ideas in their practice.

2. 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?

My current experience of being an ESP leader relates mostly to a pedagogical approach I have devised to help develop critical literacy skills of language learners in academic and professional language learning contexts. The approach was informed by the findings in my doctoral research project (Cope, 2016), and I view it as one of my ESP project success stories.

My research study examined how cultural differences can affect the presentation of similar content in three countries in which English is the first language (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). I employed critical discourse analysis and presented a pedagogical approach with practical techniques for raising learner awareness of cultural differences in language use. My English language teaching practice was one of the main motivations for selecting my research study. Some years previously, I had taught on an ESP course to a group of Vietnamese bankers in Sydney, Australia. Owing to limited Australian-specific materials, I adapted British and American ones.

My doctoral study found that while language constructions between the US, UK, and Australian contexts were fairly uniform, the use of certain textual devices varied somewhat. Culturally specific references embedded in texts, however, differed hugely between each country. This finding contested previous assumptions that proficient English learners can understand English language texts, regardless of where they were published, and confirmed that it is also necessary to understand references relating to the specific cultural setting in which the text is produced to gain a deep and full understanding of it.

Scholarly literature acknowledges the importance of developing critical literacy skills of English-language learners (Hammond & Macken-Horarik, 1999), to highlight and unpack ideologically loaded ideas (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997), and hence to empower learners through participating in the discourse (Cope, 2009).

I have communicated my pedagogical approach to developing critical literacy skills through publication (Cope, 2015; 2016) and at numerous international workshop and conference presentations. Such presentations are attended by second language research scholars, TESOL professionals, and teachers. The pedagogical approach draws on genre-based instruction (Paltridge, 2012) and consists of a series of steps. Each step asks a series of questions related to contextual and textual features to guide learners towards discovering and understanding deeper or ‘hidden’ meanings in texts. In communicating the pedagogical approach to benefit ESP learners, I address the following issues:

Context Matters
Contextual factors affect the use and meaning of English language across cultures, making it important to recognise the interdependence of context and meaning. Developing the ability of ESP learners to unpack meanings allows them to make connections between a text’s language and contextual references relevant to understanding the text.

Contextualising ESP Teaching Materials
Materials need to be recontextualised, as exemplified by adapting US and British materials for the Australian-based ESP course for Vietnamese bankers, or pre-analysis by ESP teachers is required for texts set in other cultural contexts. Identifying main topics, names, and events make texts more accessible to ESP learners.

Enabling ESP Learners to Participate in the Discourse
ESP learners understandably might not wish to challenge opinions of authoritative writers, owing to lack of confidence, cultural constraints, or unfamiliarity. Yet, for ESP learners to achieve their real-world goals, Basturkmen (2010, p. 8) asserts that English is the means to engaging in “academic, professional or occupational pursuits.” Incorporating critical literacy skills into ESP instruction encourages learners in their achievements.

I continue to receive excellent feedback on my pedagogical approach with an increasing number of teachers applying it to their practice. The approach can be modified and applied to different contexts. I am delighted to contribute this innovative approach to developing language learners’ critical skills and to assist them in contributing their own valuable experience to their academic and professional fields.

Jen’s focus on research and practice is inspiring.  It reminds me of my own research on leadership discourse and its application to the training of my students in Japan. I hope that we will see more alignment between research and practice in the future. Do you have any questions or comments for Jen? Please feel free to contact her directly.

All the best,


Basturkmen, H. (2010). Developing courses in English for specific purposes. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cope, J. (2009). Accessing the vocational college from an ESL perspective: A systems of genres analysis. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 4, 21&nfdash;57.

Cope, J. (2015). From critical analysis to critical literacy in ESP: Developing skills for greater understanding of UK, US and Australian English texts. In P. N. Shrestha (Ed.), Current  developments in English for academic and specific purposes: Local innovations and  global perspectives (pp. 9–25). Reading, England: Garnet.

Cope, J. (2016). Blame, responsibility and positioning in the global financial crisis: A critical analysis of US, UK and Australian newspaper opinion texts. (Doctoral thesis, The University of Sydney, Australia).

Fairclough, N., & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T. A. van Dijk (Ed.),   Discourse as social interaction (pp. 258–284). London: SAGE.

Hammond, J., & Mackin-Horarick, M. (1999). Critical literacy: Challenges and questions for ESL classrooms. TESOL Quarterly, 33(3), 528–544.

Paltridge, B. (2012). Genre and English for specific purposes. In B. Paltridge & S. Starfield (Eds.), The handbook of English for specific purposes. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons. Doi: 10. 1002/9781118339855.ch18.

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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