Under the Ice in a Business English Class in Japan

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

One thing that I really like about the classroom is the opportunity to “create” on the spot. I love those “magical moments” when seemingly unconnected things are brought together to make a lesson. The joy is in seeing a connection and in making the connection visible to my students. In this TESOL Blog post, I share one example of how such a magical moment occurred.

A few days before a business English class, I watched a video titled, “Johanna: Under the Ice.” (If you have not seen the short video, I advise you to watch it now before you read the remainder of this blog post; it is fewer than 4 minutes.) The video is introduced with the following:

Finnish freediver Johanna Nordblad holds the world record for a 50-meter dive under ice. She discovered her love for the sport through cold-water treatment while recovering from a downhill biking accident that almost took her leg. British director and photographer Ian Derry captures her taking a plunge under the Arctic ice.

For me, the video was surprising and inspiring (as I explain toward the end of this blog post), so I wanted to show the video to my students in the business English class. At the same time, I was thinking that the video was in no way connected to the lesson I had planned for that day.

The lesson I had planned included doing one of the short, two-page, business case studies in Market Leader (Pre-Intermediate; Pearson ELT); in other words, a case study about choosing from 10 investment options in order to create an international ice cream business. I could see a clear connection with “leadership” in the lesson, as the students would be “communicating to create and to achieve a vision.” In order to help the students to see the connection between my conceptualization of leadership above and the business case study activity, I wrote the following questions on the board about the business case study:

  • What is the situation?
  • Is there a problem? If so, what is the problem?
  • What is the goal/vision/desired end-result?
  • What are the options for achieving the goal?
  • What action should be taken to achieve the goal?

It was after I had written the questions on the board that I saw the connection to the video. Accordingly, I began to answer the questions on the board about Johanna after the students had seen the video. (I.e., She was injured in a biking accident. She was about to lose her leg. She had the option of cold water treatment. She chose that option. She became a world record holder.) The video became an unexpected introduction to the business case study.

Over time, what has stayed with me about that video is the metaphor of “under the ice.” As a former competitive swimmer and water polo player, I could appreciate the joy of being in the water, but how many people would choose to put themselves under the ice? Then I thought about what you often hear people say in sports, “No pain, no gain.” In that sense, I did put myself under the ice as a swimmer and water polo player.

In the video, Johanna explains how being under the ice opened up a whole new world to her. From a metaphorical perspective, choosing to learn a foreign language or to live in a foreign country could also be considered to be putting oneself under the ice, because those who do so can gain a whole new world.

What can we conclude? From a leadership perspective, achieving a goal or vision may require going under the ice. As one leader shared with me, “It’s like physical exercise. You don’t like the work, but you like the results.” So, what does it mean to go under the ice in your context? Let’s all go under the ice!

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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