ESP Project Leader Profile: Marvin Hoffland

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this TESOL Blog post, you will read the ESP project leader profile of Marvin Hoffland. In addition to his activity on the ESPIS steering board, he is a senior lecturer of English and Economics at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Klagenfurt, Austria. He has been teaching and developing ESP/EFL courses in the areas of business, medical, and technical English in the Department of Engineering and IT since 2002.

fachhochschule technikum kaernten - medizinische informationstechnik bild: Marvin Hoffland / hochschullehrer

Marvin D. Hoffland, MSc | Carinthia University of Applied Sciences / FH Kärnten | Senior
Lecturer of English, Moodle Administration | +43-5-90500-3215 | |

Define leadership in your own words.

Leadership, of course, takes on many roles and can have many definitions. In my own personal experience here at an Austrian institute of higher learning, I believe my greatest contribution to leadership has simply been an ability to stay focused and persistent. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” What does this have to do with teaching ESP, you may be asking? Often, ESP lecturers do not have the materials or the knowledge to teach specific content (e.g., technical English, medical English) so we do “the next best thing” in the short term. But through determination, willingness to learn new things, and persistence, we can integrate our language courses into the overall “technical” curriculum of our respective departments in the long run.

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 always like to deal with concrete examples, so I have chosen as an example a set of lectures (a micro-ESP example) that I developed when I first began teaching at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences (CUAS).

Project: Material Development for Medical Engineering/Medical Informatics (MedIT) Students

Background: As in most technical fields, a person’s ability to describe a process is vital in the career of an engineer. The technical English textbooks that were available to me at the time had two examples of processes: 1) “How does a fax work?” and 2) “How does a microwave work?” Even without an in-depth needs analysis, it was quite clear that second semester students of MedIT simply would not be interested in technological processes that they would never develop nor work on in their career fields. Their curriculum contained (and still does) programming courses, electronic courses, anatomy, and physiology, as well as business and English. The “easy” choice would be simply to use the textbooks at hand, but would it be the right choice to discuss technology that is outdated and of little interest? The idea to replace “describe the process steps of a fax” activity with something more ESP for my MedIT students came from a Newsweek article that described the implantation of a stent-like device in the carotid arteries to prevent stroke.

Delivery: Using the Newsweek article “Hold the Clotting” as a base and combining language elements of anatomy (heart, carotid arteries, cranial arteries), physiology (stroke, emboli, necrosis), medical engineering (catheter, stent, imaging), and business (FDA, clinical studies, efficacy, proof of concept), I was able to develop a two-lecture activity with the goal to define two processes: 1) how a stroke occurs and 2) how the Diverter (name of the stent-like device) is inserted and how this device prevents strokes from occurring.

The first lecture consisted of readings (the Newsweek article, technical IEEE papers about the device itself), identifying key vocabulary, and a presentation where I incorporated audio files to help with the pronunciation of medical terms that I was unfamiliar with (endothelial, atherosclerosis, etc.). After working on the pronunciation and the necessary vocabulary, the second lecture was focused on the process descriptions and the applicable linking phrases. Utilizing two videos (the first for stroke, the second for the Diverter’s implantation and stroke prevention) from the company’s website, students broke into groups and developed step-by-step dialogs to describe both processes. After sufficient time, groups were chosen to narrate each process using the video automation to accompany them.

Outcome: It worked. By taking the risk of failure (going outside of my comfort zone introducing material where I was by no means an expert) and developing my own materials that better fit the needs of my students, the students were very active in the classroom participation and in other process description exercises in other courses (describe how food passes through the digestive system; how are gases exchanged in cardio-pulmonary system?) they were able to consistently use linking phrases and verbs used in describing processes and in anatomy and even in business contexts (trend analysis of shares over time). Moreover, this was one of those times when students actually asked me to do more activities like this.

Since this experience, I have continuously searched for authentic materials (FastCompany, Mayo Clinic, Apple, newspapers, etc.) that combine this unique mix of technology, medical applications, and business to meet the future career needs of medical engineering students.

Closing Comments: At a TESOL conference a few years past, I attended a session of a fellow ESPer Charles Hall, who is also a featured ESP Project Leader, and his words still provide me guidance. He described a situation where a young MA TESOL graduate had just started her first teaching job at a technical university in Moscow. There are no other language teachers and she is “embedded” in the Department of Electronics, and her technical colleagues expect that she teaches ESP. By the way, all other course descriptions are in Russian and her colleagues don’t speak English very well. What does she do? She goes into her first lecture and her first question is “Class, how do we order a taxi in London?” The moral of the story, or at least what I think Charles was indicating, is that ESP is challenging, and the ESP practitioner is often alone and not equipped to deal with daunting tasks of performing the necessary needs analysis and then having the technical expertise to teach content-based materials.

My advice to up and coming ESP lecturers is to, if necessary, do the next best thing—teach English for general purposes—and continuously work on doing the right thing: Teach ESP. How can you do this? If you are the lone language teacher in your department like myself, review the entire curriculum and plan your language materials accordingly; talk with your colleagues and try to establish cross-curricular activities; and most importantly, try out new materials outside of your comfort zone. This often leads to situations where your students know the content better than you, which in turn can have very positive aspects: They are more willing to communicate to show their knowledge and you as the lecturer are continuously learning and expanding your understanding as well.

Marvin points to creativity. In this connection, Goleman (2013, p. 46) writes that clear goals, freedom in how to reach them, and sufficient time are crucial.

Please post any questions or comments for Marvin below.

All the best,



Goleman, D. Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

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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3 Responses to ESP Project Leader Profile: Marvin Hoffland

  1. Margaret van Naerssen says:

    Marvin’s decision not to go with the outdated texts–good move even though it meant going outside of his comfort zone.
    And importantly, drawing on the students…the tasks he mentioned, drawing on processes they had learned in other courses.
    This reminds me of two situations in a polytechnic college underscoring value of building on the students’ knowledge. Case #1 physiotherapy students were totally involved in an upcoming singing marathon–and my lesson on describing processes was about to fail. Sudden inspiration:-asked them to describe the physiological processes of singing the note “doh”. Once they realized I was serious–they really got into it. They supplied the technical knowledge and I supported the communication of this knowledge. They also wanted to do and suggested other processes, e.g., physiological effects of calling someone to ask her out on a date (being nervous), the physiological processes involved in stepping on a cockroach (a widespread pest in that city), etc.

    Case #2 I had groups of 2-3 students develop inventions for a task in their field– similar to the cartoons of Rube Goldberg (US) and Heath Robinson (UK) –of whimsical inventions. Then they had to describe to the class how they worked, followed by short written process descriptions. I’ve since learned there are similar models of this humorous approach in other countries.

  2. Charles Hall says:

    “most importantly, try out new materials outside of your comfort zone. This often leads to situations where your students know the content better than you, which in turn can have very positive aspects””

    very important and concise advice that should be the bedrock of ESP in creating a learning-centered environment! Thanks, Charles

  3. Nahida El Assi says:

    A really interesting article. Thanks for sharing, Kevin.
    What Marvin said is feasible and down to earth. There are devoted teachers, out there, who will take his ideas and advice and replicate the experience.

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