From Languaging to English for Occupational Purposes

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

I was inspired by Dudley Reynolds’s  TESOL President’s  Blog titled Languaging in a New World.  He writes:

Freeman in a keynote address to the 2014 TESOL international convention laid out a number of pedagogical principles that could be drawn from her work with complexity theory, but she summed them up as the need to teach learners rather than language. This means creating exercises that help students notice and appropriate forms and patterns that work well in their interactions with people and texts.

I could immediately relate to the idea of empowering students not just to learn the language in a textbook but also to develop the language skills needed to achieve the their goals.

In a book titled Native American Wisdom, there is a quote from “Luther Standing Bear (1868?-1939) Oglala Sioux chief”:

Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, “thought comes before speech”  (pp. 58-59).

I want my students not only to think before speaking but also to think before learning, with the aim of achieving their goals through their communication.

To help students achieve that objective, I have used a conversation from a business English textbook in which a business person reports to his boss how much progress he has made on a project.  Based on the conversation, I ask my students in class to evaluate the performances of the business person and his boss.  Next, I show my students how they can significantly improve the performance of the business person by (1) deleting all of his negative language in the conversation and (2) projecting confidence.  I remind my students that they need to think about what they are learning. They need to think before they speak.

With the aim of providing to another group of students (in a leadership seminar at my university) with language that is effective in the workplace, I shared one of Sheryl Sandberg’s articles in The Wall Street Journal.  I wanted my students to see the following story of successful communication:

A freelance film director recently described walking into a negotiation. She was ready: She had armed herself with stats and evidence and had practiced her pitch. But instead of diving into why she deserved the project—and the money that came along with it—she began with the following: “I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.”

She could see the wheels turning in the minds of her colleagues. But she was right. When women ask for what they deserve, they often face social pushback—and are viewed as “bossy” or “aggressive” simply for asking. So she came up with a solution: Call out the bias before it could surface. It worked.

In a class discussion that followed the reading of the article, I had my students consider what strategies they could use to overcome barriers that they would possibly face when communicating with different groups of stakeholders.

In regard to winning the support of stakeholders, Anne Lomperis writes in a recent article in ESP News (the newsletter of the ESPIS)  about getting the buy-in (or support) of stakeholders in EOP (English for occupational purposes) contexts.  From Anne’s article, we can learn communication strategies that will help us in our role as ESP practitioners.

All the best,


Borgenicht, D. (Ed.). (1994). Native American wisdom.  Philadelphia: Running Press.

Lomperis. A. (2016). Stakeholder buy-in in English for occupational purposes contexts. ESP News. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association. Retrieved from:

Sandberg, S, with contribution from Thomas, R. (2016). Sheryl Sandberg: Women are Leaning In – but They Face Pushback. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from:

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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2 Responses to From Languaging to English for Occupational Purposes

  1. Morgan May says:

    Thank you for writing such an insightful article on cultivating effective language skills. Would you mind citing the specific business English text you use to evaluate the supervisor and employee’s communication skills?

  2. Christina Kline says:

    Hello Dr. Knight,
    The recommendations and practices that you describe in your blog are incredibly useful! Research has proven that we need to support our EL students’ basic social language as well as their content-area specific vocabulary. Your philosophy truly bridges the gap between research and classroom instruction by explicitly teaching students how to take their language knowledge and apply it to real-world scenarios in the work environment. We know that knowing how to read, write, and speak a language does not necessarily mean that they know how to adapt their tone, syntax, and other characteristics of the language. I especially love any strategy that empowers the students! Thank you for sharing your expertise!

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