December 2012
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Akiko Tsuda, Nakamura Gakuen University, Japan


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 23520736.

English is the official language of many international conventions for researchers, professionals, and academics. In this article, based on semistructured interviews with first-time Japanese participants in an international convention on dietetics, I explore the experiences and English language needs of junior researchers and present suggestions for teaching English for specific purposes (ESP) for international conventions. This study is a part of the project “ESP for Intercultural-Minded Dietitians: Needs Analysis and Materials Development” by the scientific research fund of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan.

ESP in Japanese Higher Education

As Japan is an English as a foreign language (EFL) country, various genres of ESP, such as medical science, engineering, and business, have been studied there, and many case studies on ESP in Japanese higher education have been reported. 21 seikikino ESP (Terauchi, Yamauchi, Noguchi, & Sasajima, 2010), coauthored by ESP practitioners in Japanese higher education, compiles the results of these studies, covering almost all the ESP genres that have been taught in Japan. However, this publication is written in Japanese, and to date, no English translation has been made; thus, it is difficult for non-Japanese ESP practitioners to access the information it contains. In addition, the majority of decision makers in foreign language education, including EFL education, in Japan are Japanese. Native-English-speaking teachers are sometimes marginalized in the process of decision making for ESP program designs.

Although universities in other Asian nations such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia designate English as the language of instruction, higher education courses in Japan are held in Japanese. EFL classes have historically been taught in Japanese by Japanese English professors, except in cases in which such professors were familiar and comfortable with the Direct Method.

Generally, Japanese undergraduate students use textbooks written or translated into Japanese. Yet if they advance to graduate school and enter academia, they are often expected to participate in international arenas, regardless of their English proficiency. This can be problematic in that except for some research-oriented universities, institutions do not typically provide adequate ESP programs in graduate courses, leaving researchers to learn ESP through their own independent efforts.

Method and Results


The 16th International Congress of Dietetics, the largest academic event for dietitians, was held at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre September 5–8, 2012. As in the case of other worldwide conventions, participants had to follow the (English) instructions on the website to register, book workshops and accommodations, and make inquiries.


The three participants (R1, R2, R3) in this study were Japanese women attending their first international convention. They were nationally registered dietitians who belonged to the same university. Each gave her own poster presentation at the convention. The participants all had previous experience giving poster presentations in Japanese at several conventions in Japan and felt confident in their ability to give a poster presentation in their native language. However, this was the first time they had attended or presented at an international convention, and it was also their first visit to Australia. None of them used English on a daily basis in their personal lives, but they read articles in English for their studies. Table 1 summarizes the participant characteristics.

Table 1. Participant Characteristics




Overseas experience




Associate professor

1 year research in the United States and several tourist visits





Several tourist visits to the United States






Before Departure

Twelve months before the convention. From September to October 2011, I conducted individual interviews to build a rapport with the participants and explain my research aims.

One month before the convention. I held an individual interview with R1 and a group interview with R2 and R3, with the presence of another researcher who worked in the same department and had several experiences in international conventions. None of the participants had created their posters yet because of their busy schedules.

During the Convention

Observation at the venue. I observed the participants during their designated sessions at the convention. Because of the large venue, most audience members looked at the posters but did not discuss the contents with the presenters.

One Month After the Convention: Interviews

[Question 1] How do you rate your performance on a scale of 1 to 10? Provide justification.


7. I was able to communicate, but it was not enough. I couldn’t collect new information.


7. I got my research into shape.


3. I was not able to follow the English.

[Question 2] What was the worst trouble you faced?


I came down with a cold. I asked for table salt at the hotel front desk and gargled with it. Without English speaking skill, I couldn’t have done that.


I had difficulty registering on the website in English.


I had difficulty registering on the website and communicating through email in English. I had no idea where to look for information on the website. I had no idea how to skim for information in the program booklet.

[Question 3] How many people did you talk to during the poster session?


I spoke with 4 Japanese attendees in Japanese and around 16 non-Japanese speakers in English. I was able to talk about topics that I had questions about. Without my 1-year research leave, I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to ask them.


I didn’t speak with any participants. Instead, I avoided them, as I’d had no time to proofread the presentation or practice it.

R3 (same as R2)

I didn’t speak with any participants. Instead, I avoided them, as I’d had no time to proofread the presentation or practice it.

[Question 4] Did you attend oral presentations or workshops given by other researchers?


I attended a presentation given by another Japanese researcher. I had planned to participate in workshops before my departure, but I needed to stay in my hotel room because I was sick.


I attended an oral presentation given by another Japanese participant (different from the presentation R1 attended). The presenter just read the text aloud and didn’t interact with the audience. The presentation inspired me, but at the same time, I think it might be hard for someone who hasn’t studied abroad to give an oral presentation [in English]. I had no time to prepare for my presentation, but I won’t change it for next time.


I didn’t attend any presentations.

[Question 5] Did the convention affect your way of thinking in any way?


Presentations in international conventions provide not only researchers themselves but also universities with good opportunities to convey information to an international audience. Now, I’m thinking about participating in the future convention in Taiwan.


Without reflecting on the presentation, I have returned to my usual busy schedule.


Now I’m interested in traveling abroad, and not just for conventions.

[Question 6] Do you have any comments on English education for junior researchers?


To attend international conventions, it is necessary to have English reading skills to understand poster presentations and listening skills to keep up with oral presentations. Knowledge of the concept of paragraph writing in English articles might be helpful to skim for information.


English conversation skills and reading skills to understand English articles are important.


Listening skills are very important for attending international conventions. Survival English is also necessary. Before attending a convention, it would be helpful to read or listen to English lectures online, read and write emails in English, and know travel vocabulary. It might be good to simulate presentations with anticipated questions for poster presentations.


The interviews with the three junior researchers suggest that overseas experience and a career in academia may affect their confidence, anxiety, and avoidance in communication at international conventions. Because this study was limited to three researchers from one university department, further detailed studies should be conducted to support the results.

English is the common language of global researchers, so ESP for international conventions should be introduced into Japanese university course offerings, in collaboration with subject specialist teachers. This study clarified that international conference participants, as presenters, audience members, and travelers, have unmet needs regarding English language use. Compared to students, researchers have specific goals for studying English (e.g., registering for conventions, exchanging research information, communicating during travel), and their motivation to learn is rather high. At the same time, however, they often lack sufficient time for preparation; therefore, ESP programs for international conventions should be designed to run efficiently so as to teach as much as possible in a limited amount of time.


Terauchi, T., Yamauchi, H., Noguchi, J., & Sasajima, S. (Eds.). (2010). 21 seikikino ESP: ESP in the 21st century: ESP theory and application today. Tokyo, Japan: Taishukan.

Akiko Tsuda is a full-time lecturer at Nakamura Gakuen University, in Japan, and has obtained a master’s degree in education (TESOL) from Temple University and an MA and PhD in social and cultural studies from Kyushu University. Her research interests include curriculum development, ESP/EAP, and intercultural communication.

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