The Importance of Collaborations in ESP

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In The Handbook of English for Specific Purposes (2012), Johns asks an important question: “What will the future of ESP bring?” (p. 18). In regard to the role of the researcher, which is of particular interest to me, she writes the following:

…researchers will continue to view themselves as taking one or several professional roles. In their widely circulated overview of ESP theory, research, and teaching, Dudley-Evans and St John (1998: 13-17) listed five key roles of the ESP practitioner:

teacher, course-designer and materials provider, collaborator (often with a subject or vocational specialist), researcher, and evaluator….the collaborative role is one that is essential in a number of ESP contexts; and in these situations, research and teaching often interact. (p. 19)

This focus on collaboration brings to mind a paper that deals with research that can be used to create professional development programs for lawyers: The Language of Lawyer-Client Conferencing (Candlin, Crichton, Koster, & Maley, 1994, pp. 1–68). The aims for the professional development programs are listed below:

  • To raise lawyers’ awareness of the strategic potential of the linguistic resources available to them in the lawyer-client conference
  • To enable lawyers to evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies through authentic examples of lawyer-client conferences
  • To sensitise lawyers to the collaborative, goal oriented nature of the lawyer-client conference

Achieving these aims requires lawyers to be aware of key characteristics of the conference as [a communicative] event… (p. 46)

I like the idea of collaboration on program design (and implementation) focused on crucial sites of engagement (Candlin, 1997), such as the lawyer-client conference, where improved communication can have a significant impact on organizational performance.

The themes of discourse, research, and collaboration are also addressed in a chapter (in the aforementioned Handbook of ESP) titled “English in the Workplace” by Marra, who states the following:

…there are increasing calls to encourage learners to develop analytic skills rather than teaching particular formulae or strategies….A focus on discourse analytic rather than English language skills encourages a move away from the decontextualized nature of some ESP materials and toward a focus which allows learners to assess and evaluate the English they meet in their own workplace interactions. (p. 180)

The body of research which specifically considers English in the workplace is continually growing, and greater engagement between practitioners and researchers will lead to productive and ongoing working relationships, with new and evolving research agendas tailored specifically to those issues most pressing for ESP. (p. 187)

I have been a fan of the Language in the Workplace Project in New Zealand since I heard Janet Holmes describe it in a presentation at the APacLSP inaugural conference in Hong Kong in 2008, and I was pleased that it was discussed in Marra’s chapter.

Communication in the workplace can be used to empower and/or to control. For me, the appeal of collaboration is the opportunity to improve the workplace for all stakeholders. In this regard, I agree with others that the corporate client, the researcher, and the trainer should be working closely together on a project basis.

Candlin, et al. (1994) note that it was not “easy to set up a program of taping lawyer-client conferences” (p. iv).  A fellow researcher also recently reminded me of the challenge of getting past corporate gatekeepers. However, as an ESPer who wears several hats, I am inspired by the possibilities that collaboration offers!

Moreover, advances in technology are making it easier than ever to interact with project members worldwide. Networking, relationship building, professional qualifications/competence, and integrity are necessary to build the trust required for access!

In my view, TESOL is in an ideal position to provide opportunities and professional development for such collaborative efforts in ESP. I would like to see more information (via presentations, discussions, webinars, etc.) about the creation and best practices of professional communication teams, and I look forward to creating opportunities for interaction between researchers, practitioners, and prospective clients!

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 The Importance of Collaborations in ESP

  1. Agustin Ariel Moreno Nistal says:

    Good article. ESP practicioners could desing a course if they don´t keep in mind the interdiscipinary relationships within the subjects or disciplines in which they´re moving in. Here close collaborations plays an outstanding role. If ESPers don´t collaborate with other professors, it will be impossible for them to grasp all the range of vocabulary from the matters students are studying. Consequently no course for ESP could be desingned.

  2. Albert says:

    I agree with Dudley-Evans and St John (1998: 13-17). Most ESP practitioners I have known play these five key roles: teachers, course-designers and materials providers, collaborators (often with a subject or vocational specialist), researchers, and evaluators.

    Collaboration with subject specialists is an important role that an ESP practitioner should play. I teach English for Engineering and I have designed an EST course. I did it in collaboration with engineering faculty.

    An effective ESP practitioner is a good researcher too.

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