ESP, Trust, and Empowerment

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

When I first came to Japan in the mid 80s, I was a relatively young teacher. I recall working with mid-level managers in the training center of a large Sony factory. Sometimes the managers would disagree with the answers I gave to the activities in a textbook. However, they stopped challenging me when I did one simple thing—I explained that my answers were from the teacher’s manual. (I would also open the teacher’s manual and point to the answer in the text.) I was amazed at how quickly the students accepted the authority of the teacher’s manual. To this day, I will tell students the correct answer to a problem and ask the class, “How did I know the correct answer?” My standard response is, “The teacher’s manual.” I always give them a big smile as I hold up the teacher’s manual. I also like to add, “If you want to be a  teacher, get a teacher’s manual!”

While I was editing documents in a government office in Japan, sometimes an official would challenge my word choice. Unfortunately, I did not have a teacher’s manual, so I referred to the next best authority—Google. You can use Google to show someone how many times an expression is used. (Place the expression in quotation marks, and conduct a Google search. The number of “results” will appear.) Based on Google search results, I would show the official that no one in the world used the expression that he was suggesting. However, millions of people were using the expression that I was recommending. After a short period of time, officials would only ask for my advice after they had first conducted a Google search for an expression. (They were very fast learners!) This experience brings to mind the saying  “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I wanted to teach people to fish! I did not want to do all of the fishing for them.

It seems to me that ESP is all about empowering our learners to use English language skills as communication tools in their work or training. (See slides 7 and 8, adapted from Lomperis & van Naerssen, 1992, in our ESP PowerPoint.) For this reason, we need to continue to study professional communication and become more proficient researchers and trainers. We also need to learn to empower our learners with not only books (such as a teacher’s manual) but also with technology (such as Google). In this vein, check out the posts of some of the other TESOL bloggers for great ideas! At Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Japan, there is the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC). You might also find the SiSAL Journal to be of interest.

Finally, if you are interested in knowing more about how “trust” is discursively constructed, you should take a look at:

Candlin, C. N. & Crichton, J. (Eds.) (2013). Discourses of trust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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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6 Responses to ESP, Trust, and Empowerment

  1. Philip Scott says:

    I have found that if students are doubting there is not much one can do except try to give more examples that can get the student thinking about the words and get them to forget the doubting frame of mind for long enough to learn. The doubts are rooted in the nature of language learning since a student is always going to have a sense of authority over language learning, after all, they have taught themselves to speak as small child.
    An example is when we teach “will” or “going to”. I explain that will is for the moment of decision making, after a question. And I give the example of how a marriage proposal is done. The man asks the woman “will you marry me?” and the question or answer is never , ” are you going to marry me? – yes I am going to, it is always ” I will” . such examples that catch the imagination of the student will keep the good ones off the doubting path and back onto the learning path.

  2. Kevin Knight Kevin Knight says:

    After a Business English class today, an adult learner asked me to explain the difference between “will” and “going to” to talk about the future. (Melissa’s post immediately came to mind.) For many years, I used Betty Schrampfer Azar’s Understanding and Using English Grammar in my classes so I was prepared to respond to the learner’s question. (Before I began to explain, I wrote the title of the book and the author’s name on the board. I wanted the learner to have the opportunity to get the book.) In addition, I showed the learner Unit 3 of Business Venture 2 in explaining how the present progressive/continuous is used to talk about future arrangements. The learner was grateful for the explanation. (I agree that we need to be able to explain why the answers in the teacher’s manual are correct. Further, as we all know, there may be mistakes in the teacher’s manual.)

  3. Melissa Silva says:

    I certainly understand Kevin’s approach to his particular situation and agree that ‘the teacher’s manual’ carries weight; however, my experience also proves that being able to explain the grammar from an expert viewpoint gives a teacher credence and helps students feel more comfortable. Many cultures still expect the teacher to be the expert who is always correct, and, from a professional standpoint, we should both understand and be prepared to explain English grammar. Linguistically we know that it is a fluid language that is changing before our eyes, and we also must be able to give examples of this to prove the point. Whether we use methodologies that stress form/function or use strategies and techniques that enable students to learn native-like chunks in a more communicative fashion, we should be the grammar experts.

  4. Walton says:

    Interesting. I had similar experiences in Kazakhstan with both the automatic acceptance of the answer key or teacher manual as correct and locals trying to correct my English. It’s interesting when the two interfere such as when the book lists something like, “She said her name was Sarah.” as the answer, but you tell students that “She said her name is Sarah.” is also correct. These incidents have caused my students to lose trust in me and my English, but I don’t know how to balance that with empowering them to discover that languages evolve and that there isn’t always one correct answer.

  5. Ardayatmo Mitroatmodjo says:

    That was so interesting hiow Japanese people have a good respect for the teacher.

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