Magical Moments in the Lives of Business English Learners

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

I was recently watching the February 2016 TED Talk by Stephen Wilkes, which is described as follows:

Photographer Stephen Wilkes crafts stunning compositions of landscapes as they transition from day to night, exploring the space-time continuum within a two-dimensional still photograph. Journey with him to iconic locations like the Tournelle Bridge in Paris, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and a life-giving watering hole in [the] heart of the Serengeti in this tour of his art and process.

The title of his TED Talk is “The Passing of Time, Caught in a Single Photo.” However, the “day to night” approach is not time-lapse photography.  It involves the collection and then selection of “magical moments” captured on film from one location and from day to night. The day-to-night compositions are indeed stunning.

When I viewed what Wilkes was doing, the power of the day-to-night approach hit me  from a metaphorical perspective.
In this connection, the Riddle of the Sphinx came to mind:

Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?

Answer:  Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a walking stick in old age. (Source: Wikipedia)

We can also view our lives as a day-to-night experience. Our birth is the sun rising, and our death is the sun setting.

As I watched Wilkes’ TED Talk with students who had arrived early to a business English class, these ideas rushed into my head. So, at the start of class, I pointed out that throughout our lives we have magical moments, such as those that Wilkes captures on film, and we keep such moments as our “precious memories.” In doing so, we are actually doing the same thing as Wilkes. We are building a composition of the magical moments of our lives, from birth to death. Of course, our compositions are not yet finished.

I then asked the students to talk in pairs about the magical moments in their lives and the compositions that they were creating.  One magical moment for me was seeing the light of excitement in the eyes of one of my students, who was 84 years old, as he explained (to his partner in the class activity) his ideas about making a composition consisting of the magical moments in our lives.

A short time after the business English class, I had the opportunity to show the “day-to-night” TED Talk to a group of unemployed adult learners who were preparing for job interviews in a government-sponsored Hello Work program. In this context, I asked the students to reflect on their lives, their professional careers, and their success stories in view of the day-to-night approach. I reminded the students that each of their precious memories contained “stars” (or impressive details) that made their stories shine brightly. I asked the students to look for those stars and include them in their job interview responses.

In connection with my business English classes, I have come to recognize that the business professionals (active and retired) who register for such classes are there for various reasons.  The majority of the students need to learn English for professional communication in their workplaces. One reason that senior learners (such as the 84-year-old man) come to my classes is to keep their minds sharp as they age. Other students come to class because they have the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with interesting people outside of their workplaces.  Over time, the students in my classes develop professional networks and become friends. Accordingly, they register for the same classes for years. I have even been invited to speak at the wedding receptions of couples who have met their spouses in my classes.

I have come to view TESOL International Association and the English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS) in the same way as my business English classes. Have you ever thought about why we stay involved with TESOL and the ESPIS? Why do we return to the TESOL annual convention year after year? What do we stay involved with the same interest section and the same people? There are many different professional and social reasons, including friendship.

What are the magical moments in your life? What does your life composition look like? I highly recommend that you take the time to watch Wilkes’ TED Talk and to reflect on and be grateful for those magical moments of light, goodness, and love in your own life.

All the best,

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 Magical Moments in the Lives of Business English Learners

  1. Elise says:

    Hi Kevin.
    I admire that you know your students well and learned their motivation of taking the class. This is a good way to get to know your students and use their background knowledge.
    I also like your idea of “magical moment”. This is an interesting topic in language class, and students would be willing to talk about it.

  2. Margaret van Naerssen says:

    Kevin–I love the activity you’ve done in class–those magic moments
    And sounds like you’ve really connected with your students.
    And the fact that they’ve formed a community–and you’ve become
    a part of that community.
    And if they are non-native speakers, I’m sure their language stretches
    and grows as they reach deep down inside to express those moments

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