The Personal Brands of ESPers

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

As an ESPer, what do you consider to be your area of expertise? Do you specialize in working with a specific group of professionals such as medical doctors or lawyers? Do you excel in training others to make presentations or to negotiate business agreements? Do you help students to become admitted to (or to succeed in) a specific major on campus (e.g., biology or economics)? In this TESOL Blog post, I consider how our areas of expertise as ESPers can become our personal brands as professionals.

I began to think about the personal brands of ESPers after I received a relatively recent e-mail sent to the members of the TESOL ESP Interest Section. Margaret van Naerssen had sent the e-mail in order to find an ESPer with expertise in preparing athletes for an international athletic competition.

In response to van Naerssen’s request, I conducted a Google search and discovered an organization that specializes in such training of athletes. In a promotional article, the organization is described as having expertise in providing language training for Olympic athletes.

“EF English First has an established reputation as a reliable partner for quality education,” said ROC President Alexander Zhukov. “The training opportunity will be provided for both the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games candidates and potential teams for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games. We have already started to prepare for the 2016 event.”

“The Olympic athletes need English to travel, communicate freely with colleagues from across the world, and foreign media,” Zhukov said. “Knowledge and experience, which everyone gets during the Games, form the post-Olympic heritage, which drives our country forward.”


Following its mission to break down language, geographic and cultural barriers, EF has participated in international sports events preparation for the past 25 years. Among them are the Olympic Games in Seoul (1988), Volvo Ocean Race (1997), Olympic Games in Beijing, Asian Games in Guangzhou (2008), and Universiade in Kazan (2013).

Such positioning of EF as described above caused me to think about myself as an ESPer. In what area (or areas) would I consider myself to have expertise? What is my personal brand as an ESPer, and how do I market myself to others?

In a Forbes article online, Shama Haymar writes about seven things that you can do to create an impressive personal brand.  These seven things are replicated in the list below.

1. Start thinking of yourself as a brand.

2. Audit your online presence.

3. Secure a personal website.

4. Find ways to produce value.

5. Be purposeful in what you share.

6. Associate with other strong brands.

7. Reinvent.

While reflecting upon what it means to have a personal brand as an ESPer, the personal brands of other ESPers popped up in my mind. It was as if I were completing the following statement:

When I think of [a certain type of English], I think of…

Consider the following examples:

  • When I think of medical English in Japan, I think of Najma Janjua.
  • When I think of business English in Europe, I think of Evan Frendo.
  • When I think of legal English, I think of Debby Lee.
  • When I think of hotel English, I think of Ronna Timpa.
  • When I think of ESP online training, I think of David Kertzner.
  • When I think of aviation English, I think of Anne Lomperis.
  • When I think of principled ESP, I think of Margaret van Naerssen.
  • When I think of ESP in Taiwan, I think of Yinghuei Chen.
  • When I think of an ESP mentor, I think of Kay Westerfield.
  • When I think of professional communication research in ESP contexts, I think of Christopher Candlin.

In actuality, I thought of many more ESPers than appear in the list above. Through such reflection, I recognized that I know all of the ESPers in the list. One might say that I am following Haymar’s advice  in item 6; I am “associating with other strong brands” in writing about the ESPers above in this TESOL Blog post.

Thinking of the personal brands of the ESP professionals above also made me think of my students’ personal brands. In this connection, I asked adult learners in a pair-work activity to tell their partners their personal brands; specifically, they were asked to share the three words that describe their reputation (or the image they are trying to project) in the workplace.

As far as my own personal brand is concerned, I have described my areas of expertise as business English and international management/international relations because of two of my graduate degrees (MBA and MPIA) and professional experiences. I also view leadership communication as part of my personal brand because of my doctoral research involving leaders in the private, public, and academic sectors. In addition, I teach organizational leadership seminars for undergraduates in Japan.

How should we be thinking of you? How would you complete the statement above about yourself? Let us all know your personal brand!

Best regards,


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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