February 2017
ESP News



Sarangi and Roberts (1999) write:

So our understanding of the workplace as a social institution where resources are produced and regulated, problems are solved, identities are played out and professional knowledge is constituted must include among other things, a “thick description” (Geertz 1973) of talk, text and interaction. (p. 1)

This edition of ESP News provides for a deeper understanding of the ESP Interest Section.

For an overview of the ESPIS’s past, go to the ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY section, which includes the

  • mission and history of the ESPIS;
  • current steering board;
  • chairs from the establishment of the ESPIS to the present; and
  • links to 26 of the ongoing ESP Project Leader Profiles, which feature many leaders on the ESPIS steering board and are published on the TESOL International Association Blog.

Keep the history of the ESPIS in mind and the possible future restructuring of the TESOL interest sections, including the ESPIS, when you read Robert Connor’s “Letter From the Chair.” What do you think the ESPIS should be?

Leadership discussions about the future of the ESPIS will occur at the TESOL annual convention in 2017 to be held in Seattle, Washington, USA. For a list of reasons to go to the convention and the dates and times of important meetings and sessions, read Esther Perez Apple’s “From the Chair-Elect: Engage, Enrich, Empower at TESOL 2017!” I hope to see you at the convention!

In my call for articles (in October 2016) for this edition of ESP News, I wrote in an email sent to the ESPIS mailing list, “For this next newsletter, I would like the focus to be on the role of communication in ESP project success from as many perspectives as possible.” Such a focus complements the ESP Project Leader Profiles, in which the leaders talk about leadership and communication in their success stories.

  • Margaret van Naerssen illuminates the ESPIS past in drawing on the work of Sally Jacoby and indigenous assessment criteria in her article titled “Increasing Authenticity in ESP/LSP Assessment: Insiders’ Views.”
  • Ismaeil Fazel looks at the future of ESP with his focus on English for research publication purposes in his article titled “Writing for Academic/Professional Publication: What Can ESP Offer?”
  • My own article is based in the present and brings together the themes of leadership and communication as I write about preparing the unemployed for job interviews in “The Role of Leadership Discourse Research in Interview Training Success.”

The three articles in this edition of ESP News are written by authors with three different levels of experience in the ESPIS. Margaret van Naerssen was the third and fourth chair of the ESPIS, whereas I was the eighteenth chair. Ismaeil Fazel will join the ESPIS steering board as coeditor (with me) of ESP News in 2017.

A good way to learn more about the ESPIS and to interact with other researchers and practitioners is to go to the convention in Seattle in March!


Sarangi, S., & Roberts, C. (Eds.). (1999). Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kevin Knight (PhD in linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is associate professor in the Department of International Communication of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. His research interests include leadership conceptualization and development, ESP, and professional communication. (See The Leadership Connection Project.)



The convention is rapidly approaching, and I hope to see each of you in Seattle. This year’s conference has a number of ESP-focused sections, including one on how to explain and market your programs to stakeholders in the business field and in university life.

The interest sections will be undergoing changes in the coming years. Next year is likely to be the last one in which interest sections like ours continue to exist in their current form. TESOL is trying to move beyond the annual convention to be more active year-round. Check out some of the proposed changes that aim to make it easier to form discussion groups and easier to receive funding for more developed groups.

What would you like the interest sections to be? In other words, if you could design our group from scratch, what would it look like? How would it support your work, and what would it contribute to the field? This coming year is the perfect time to consider these questions, and then implement them in the new framework.

Robert Connor, PhD, is chair of the ESP-IS and the director of ESL at Tulane University. His interests include academic English and intensive courses for professional schools. Lately, he has been experimenting with massive open online courses (MOOCs).


The site of this year’s TESOL convention, Seattle, is the site of the first TESOL convention I attended 19 years ago! It was an exciting experience for me and anticipating it now, it still is! As chair-elect of the ESPIS, I think back on that convention and the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned, and the enriching experiences that began with that very first TESOL convention in 1998.

I know it can be difficult to take time off and convince your employer about the value of attending a convention, but I encourage you to do exactly that and attend TESOL Seattle 2017, 21–24 March. The investment of your time and resources is well worth the return as a chance to broaden your skills, discuss critical issues in smaller, more intimate gatherings, and dive deeper into more complex topics.

Let me list a few reasons (some personal, others general) I’m looking forward to going this year:

  • Meeting new and old colleagues and friends from around the globe.

  • Finding ways to have TESOL support the work of practitioners, researchers, and activists.

  • Taking advantage of the 30 Pre- and Postconvention Institutes on 20, 21, 25 March, organized around content-based instruction, literacy development, pronunciation, teacher observations and coaching, and academic writing.

  • Choosing from nearly 1,000 educational sessions and visiting more than 120 exhibitors in the English Language Expo.

  • Learning from ESP experts while fulfilling a commitment to lifelong learning.

  • Hearing keynote speakers (Sherman Alexie, Dudley Reynolds, Guadalupe Valdés, Yong Zhao) inspire and enlighten us.

  • Learning about research and best practices that improve learning outcomes.

  • Attending the ESPIS open meeting, Wednesday, 22 Mar, 5 pm–6:30pm, Room 618 in the Washington State Convention Center.

  • Collaborating with other interest groups to form InterSections that address the role of ESP in other fields.

  • Soaking up the ESP academic session, Thursday, 23 March, 1 pm–2:45 pm, where experts will explore ethnographic methodologies that they use to examine language use in context.

  • Exploring the latest CALL technology in the Electronic Village and Technology Showcase.

  • Attending the Workshop for Novice Researchers on Saturday, 25 March.

  • Hearing Elaine Tarone speak about the “Relationship Between Alphabetic Print Literacy and Oral English Language Acquisition” on 22 March at the coffee talks—a great way to talk to leading TESOLers about critical issues.

  • Attending the IS Organizational and Leadership Meetings.

  • Going to social gatherings during the convention—a chance to interact informally and have fun!

And, as if these reasons weren’t enough, there’s the opportunity to come together as a professional organization and enjoy Seattle: Pike Place Market, The Great Wheel (one of the largest Ferris wheels in the United States), the Seattle Aquarium, and the famous Space Needle.

Finally, at the TESOL convention thank Robert Connor, our current chair, for his leadership over the past year, and I will look forward to becoming 2017–2018 ESP chair.

See you in Seattle!

Esther Perez Apple, MA, Linguistics

Esther Perez Apple is founder and principal of Perez Apple & Company, which specializes in business communication. She provides communication skills training for multinational professionals that raises their communicative competence linguistically, socially, and strategically. Esther’s areas of expertise include workplace communication skills, workplace/business English, pronunciation, and social pragmatics. Esther is a speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant. To find out more, visit http://www.perezapple.com



We know that involving workplace/subject matter specialists (insiders) is a best practice in English for ESP/Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) when we develop customized training for the needs of specific populations. As Douglas (2001) notes, when doing needs analyses we commonly mine the target situation for target language use (TLU), but we can do more.

This article revisits Jacoby’s 1998 concept of Indigenous Assessment Criteria (IAC) which shows us how insiders’ intuitive insights can help us drill deeper into the communicative situation for greater authenticity in our ESP/LSP programs and assessments (Douglas, 2000, 2001).

What Are Indigenous Assessment Criteria?

In his very thorough article on IAC and language testing, Douglas (2001) asks where IAC come from. Let’s begin with Jacoby’s initial observations.

Linguist Sally Jacoby, collecting data for her doctoral research (1998), sat in on conference presentation rehearsals by physicists (native and nonnative speakers) to study the evaluative feedback on presentations by each other and by mentors. She noticed that feedback was not on the linguistic aspects of accuracy and style, commonly used as performance assessment criteria in second language testing (Jacoby & McNamara, 1999).

Instead—professional standards (criteria) of excellence were generally applied across the board, irrespective of the presenter’s native/nonnative speaker status. Comments were part of professional development. What is acceptable communication in a specific community? What is valued in the professional culture? Such feedback promotes professional socialization (Jacoby, 1998; also on socialization see van Naerssen & Brennan, 1993).

Drawing on her ethnolinguistic perspective, Jacoby classified these types of intuitive comments as “indigenous assessment criteria” (IAC). These are criteria used by subject or workplace specialists when assessing communication performances of apprentices in the specialty field. Staying within an ethnolinguistic perspective, “insider” has become a more accessible synonym for “indigenous,” at least in the context of assessment: insider assessment criteria (IAC).

Jacoby drew criteria for assessment of communication skills from community-based individual interactions, not from linguists/testers imposing standards from outside. She went beyond even the formal standards for performance within a specific job context (e.g., supervisor checklists, professional standards). She captured informal evaluative comments regarding performance (Douglas, 2000, 2001).

What Interested the Language Testing Community About IAC?

The value of identifying IAC was quickly recognized by the international language testing community, especially by like-minded language testing experts working in specific purposes contexts. Douglas (2000, 2001) reports on the work of an Australian language tester who then went on to collaborate with Jacoby, (i.e., Jacoby and McNamara). McNamara had actively employed such an approach in test development in Australia, in work with medical practitioners. Douglas and Myers had studied the criteria used by veterinary professionals in assessing the communication skills of those becoming veterinarians.

How Were IAC Introduced to the TESOL ESP Interest Section Community?

After becoming aware of Jacoby’s ongoing research, the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS) invited her to present on her work at a TESOL convention in an ESPIS academic session as part of exploring ways of linking research and practice. In 1998, Jacoby also further explained IAC for ESP practitioners.

It is not enough to ask specialists directly about criteria as this may not capture some of the detailed insider criteria a specialist might use. We need to look at what insiders say and do all the time as part of their professional culture.

These insider criteria can be identified through detailed observations of evaluative communication in a workplace/ professional culture between trainers and trainee/ novices/ newcomers to a field or to workplace tasks. The researcher focuses on the routine responses (verbal and non-verbal) a trainer makes to routine workplace/ professional. (TESOL, 2000, Section VI)

On a very sad note, Sally Jacoby died of cancer in 2007. Her work on IAC, however, has been kept alive, especially in the language community, by those concerned with ESP/LSP.

Douglas (2001) notes that IAC are not intended to replace other forms of language assessment. Rather, “our LSP tests will stand a much better chance of being appropriate in the specific purpose context as perceived by subject specialists if they are grounded in assessment criteria derived from an analysis of the target language use (TLU) domain” (p. 185). Jacoby, McNamara, and Douglas also note that as IAC are situation specific, it is more difficult to translate these to assessments that can be valid for wider use without research on their reliability.

Where Else Are IAC Approaches Found?

As occasionally happens with insightful ideas, similar perspectives have developed independently of Jacoby. Below are two ESP cases (Landa and Lockwood, from TESOL, 2000) that illustrate other places where IAC-types of insights have been found. No doubt others also may have independently taken such a perspective.

Landa (TESOL, 2000), in his ESP work with pharmacists, looked at the judging in the Annual Counseling Competition sponsored by the American Pharmaceutical Association. He examined the criteria used in competition to promote effective communications with pharmacy clients.

Lockwood (TESOL, 2000) reported on accessing supervisor feedback on agent–customer telephonic interactions. In this case study, we can see how insider feedback, which reflected good customer service, was incorporated into both training and language testing.

A large bank in a major world city has a number of foreign customers. English is the primary language used with these customers. The bank had telephone recordings of such interactions which could be examined. After numerous communication problems, the bank assigned special telephone lines and customer service agents to handle such customers. A training program was proposed.

The workplace language testing specialists worked closely with the supervisors to incorporate, into the testing instrument, what they, as professionals, felt were the criteria reflecting good customer service. Teams of raters included a supervisor and a workplace language trainer.

The above examples come from personal communications for case studies which appeared

in the 2000 TESOL Best Practices in Workplace Language Training document. Unfortunately, these were not included in the shorter Effective Practices in Workplace Language Training, published by TESOL in 2003 and 2014.

What Might IAC Look Like?

Below are some examples of IAC on the overall performance in physicists’ presentations. Some may apply in other fields as well, but they may also differ. There may also be individual variation among the insider evaluators.

  • Designing visuals to accompany the talk which are coherent and legible
  • Keeping to the time limit
  • Avoiding verbosity
  • Articulating the significance of the topic to the profession
  • Stating arguments and labeling visuals clearly
  • Stating arguments and labeling visuals clearly
  • Making effective, convincing arguments
    (Source: Table 1, Jacoby and McNamara, 1999, as cited in Douglas 2001: 177).

How Does an IAC Approach Apply to ESP/LSP Program Development?

As can be seen in Lockwood’s (TESOL, 2000) example, use of an insider assessment criteria approach is not restricted to language testing. In strong ESP/LSP program development, ideally identifying IAC should become a part of doing an initial needs analysis. This then provides the input for the development of criterion-based performance objectives, including prioritized IAC. These criterion-based objectives then shape the training based on real-life situations. Assessment of performance in such an ESP/LSP program would be based on the criterion-based objectives, which would include the prioritized IAC. We all would agree that there should be a match between what is taught and what is tested.

Concluding Remarks

As time passes in our professional fields, too often valuable insights from our past are lost or forgotten. Also, similar insights might appear in different forms as “new discoveries.” To provide a more coherent sense of our profession, it is valuable to revisit important insights that might still apply today. While use of IAC still lives in ESP/LSP testing, I hope the insiders’ intuitive views are also remembered when we do needs analyses in our ESP/LSP program development. Collaboration between ESP/LSP practitioners and workplace/subject matter specialists should be a key practice for increasing authenticity in our programs. Thus, I felt it would be valuable to revisit Jacoby’s concept of indigenous (insider) assessment criteria (IAC) to consider how it can enrich our work.


Douglas, D. (2000). Assessing languages for specific purposes. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Douglas, D. (2001). Language for specific purposes assessment criteria: Where do theycome from? Language Testing,18(2), 171–185.

Jacoby, S. (1998). Science as performance: Socializing scientific discourse through the conference talk rehearsal. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.

Jacoby, S., & McNamara, T. (1999). Locating competence.English for Specific Purposes, 18(3), 213–41.

TESOL Workplace Language Training Task Force. (2000). Section VI: Conduct an Instructional Needs Assessment, Best Practice 4. TESOL Best Practices in Workplace Language Training, unpublished document. TESOL International Association: Alexandria, Virginia.

van Naerssen, M. & Brennan, M. (1993). Language socialization in professional cultures: Language for Specific Purposes. Cahiers de APLIUT. Paris: Association des professeurs de langues des instituts universitaires de technologies.

Margaret van Naerssen (PhD, applied linguistics) is an EFL/ESL teacher trainer and a linguistics consultant in forensic cases involving nonnative English speakers. She was the third ESPIS chair and the codirector of the English for Science & Technology Center in Beijing (UCLA & Chinese Academy of Sciences). She enjoys teamwork on needs analyses and materials development.


In this brief piece, I aim to argue for and emphasise the need and opportunities for ESP professionals to play a more proactive and leading part in responding to the growing worldwide demand for courses and workshops on writing for academic and professional publication.

Academics, professionals, and practitioners are increasingly encouraged and expected to share and disseminate ideas worth sharing within their professional or scholarly communities of practice and beyond. From another perspective, in today’s communication era, the communicative needs and demands of academics and professionals are continually changing and expanding. Changing times have ushered in new communicative needs and demands, an important one being writing for publication in English—which is the de facto language of academic and professional publication.

The mounting importance of, and burgeoning interest in, publication preparation pedagogy has been increasingly recognized and has even resulted in the introduction of a new term in English for Academic Purposes (EAP): English for research publication purposes (ERPP), leading to a special issue on ERPP in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes in 2008. Since then, references to ERPP (as a subfield of EAP) seem to have gained increasing currency. ERPP was originally defined by Cargill and Burgess (2008) as follows:

English for Research Publication Purposes (ERPP) can be thought of as a branch of EAP addressing the concerns of professional researchers and post-graduate students who need to publish in peer-reviewed international journals…While EAP programs in universities can address some of these needs in a general way, the real-life, specific issues for academics whose L1 is not English wishing to publish in English are often broader and more complex. (p. 75)

As indicated in the quote above, the chief, though not the sole, clientele of ERPP courses comprises EAP academic writers. Some pedagogically sound initiatives in this area include ERPP programs by Cargill and O’Connor (2013) as well as Corcoran and Englander (2016), among others. The point that I would like to drive home in this paper, though, is that more attention needs to be paid—particularly by ESP professionals—to pedagogical support geared toward both academic and professional spheres. Needless to say, academic and professional publication includes, but is not confined to, research publication, which has thus far received considerable attention from experts. Academic and professional publications, in fact, run the whole gamut of content and form, from articles to reviews and commentaries. Some TESOL-related examples along these lines include long or short pieces published in various publication venues, including practitioner-oriented journals (e.g., TESOL Journal), research-fronted academic journals (e.g., The Journal of English for Academic Purposes), or even newsletters and blogs affiliated with professional associations (e.g., ESP News; the TESOL Blog). Quite clearly, not only researchers but also—perhaps equally if not more importantly—professionals and practitioners in different fields and occupations can potentially benefit from sharing and learning from ideas worth sharing and novel views of their local or global peers. The dissemination and communication of novel views and ideas is often best achieved if published and accessed via various print or online platforms.

Given the premium placed on publications, there has been a growing demand among academics and professionals for courses and workshops on writing for academic or professional publication. In response, workshops and courses have increasingly been offered, often through language support centres. Yet, as Flowerdew (2013) reminds us, “those teaching on such courses usually do not have the sort of specialist training” (p. 315) that this undertaking demands. Such workshops often—though not always—tend to be generic and not tailored to the needs and wants of attendees. Rather than focussing primarily on the know-how (i.e., practical aspect) of writing to publish, such workshops often address the know-what and the know-why of scholarly publication, which while worth knowing, fall short of attending to the needs and demands of academic or professional attendees. By and large, my anecdotal experience and observations suggest that pedagogical interventions to instruct and hone writing for publication are generally perceived to lack the expected efficacy. On that note, findings emerging from my longitudinal (18-month) multiple case study on socialization of doctoral students into writing for publication, at a Canadian university, have also highlighted the need for further support and scaffolding in responding to the writing-for-publication needs of doctoral students.

Against this back drop, the question here arises as to what field has the cachet, or rather the research-informed base and expertise, to best respond to the increasing need for the design and delivery of writing-for-publication programs. As rightly asserted by Flowerdew (2013), “A well-prepared cadre of ESP practitioners would be in a position to claim this territory” (p. 315). The potential yet crucial role of ESP in filling this gap has also been noted by Hyland (2009).

But why would ESP be in the best position to fill this void? For one thing, ESP, with its flexibility and dynamism, has the capacity to assess and address the communicative needs of those attending writing-for-publication courses. As earlier noted, a common anecdotal complaint about publication preparation programs is that they often are not tailored to the needs and wants of the attendees. ESP approach and its salient features—notably its focal emphasis on needs assessment—make it an ideal candidate in this respect. It goes without saying that, when it comes to publication preparation programs, more than anything, learners’ needs should take the centre stage. A one-size-fits-all approach, as with other similar pedagogical programs, would fail to address learners’ particular needs and demands, which can vary from one context and group to another. For example, graduate students and their professors may, quite conceivably, have different needs and demands in terms of publication preparation and training. By the same token, professionals across different fields (e.g., medical professionals as opposed to engineers) can have different needs in terms of publication preparation and pedagogy. Besides its need-driven agenda, ESP has also been gaining ground in such areas as genre-based pedagogy, which can potentially offer valuable insights to be used in devising publication preparation pedagogy. Yet another strength of ESP is its emphasis on the ongoing involvement of stakeholders in the process of program design and delivery. There are obviously other distinct benefits to adopting an ESP-based approach, which space precludes mentioning here.

Overall, there is a case to be made for giving ESP a more central and formative role in designing publication preparation and pedagogy. ESP, with its solid and well-researched precepts and pedagogy, has what it takes to best equip academics and professionals with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for academic and professional publication. This can also open up new opportunities for ESP professional and practioners to be involved in the design and instruction of publication preparation pedagogy.

This is, however, not to say that the existing workshops and programs in this area are not helpful or informative. Rather, the point here is to call for further involvement of ESP professionals and practioners in writing-for-publication programs. There is clearly a growing demand for training and preparing academics and professionals for publication. This demand can be perhaps best fulfilled by drawing from the principles and pedagogical practices of ESP. I would like to end with echoing Flowerdew’s (2013) call on ESPers to take on a more proactive role in this area:

There is an urgent need, therefore, for ESP practitioners to up their game. This is a field where there is an important need and it is an area that offers unique challenges and opportunities for the ESP profession to demonstrate its value. It is time for ESP practitioners to respond. (p. 315)


Cargill, M., & Burgess, S. (2008). Introduction to the special issue: English for research publication purposes. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7(2), 75–76.

Cargill, M., & O’Connor, P. (2013). Writing scientific research articles: Strategy and steps. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Corcoran, J., & Englander, K. (2016). A proposal for critical-pragmatic pedagogical approaches to English for research publication purposes. Publications, 4(1), 6.

Flowerdew, J. (2013). English for research publication purposes. In B. Paltridge & S. Starfield (Eds.), The handbook of English for specific purposes (pp. 301-321). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hyland, K. (2009). English for professional academic purposes: Writing for scholarly publication. In D. Belcher (Ed.), English for specific purposes in theory and practice (pp. 17–38). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Ismaeil Fazel is a PhD candidate and a sessional lecturer at the Department of Language and Literacy Education of the University of British Columbia, Canada. His main research interests are academic writing, EAP, and language assessment. He has published in journals such as English for Academic Purposes and TESL Canada. One of his recent publications is a coauthored encyclopedia entry on English for specific purposes (Abrar-ul-Hassan & Fazel) in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (in press).


In an organizational leadership seminar that I teach at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan, we were looking closely at behavioral-based interview questions in the career guide of a large university in the United States. All of the questions seemed to be asking for examples of leadership.

Consider the following nine questions from the career guideof the University of California, San Diego (UCSD; 2013).

  1. Describe a situation in which you saw a problem and took action to correct it.

  2. Describe a time when you had to organize a project under a tight timeframe.

  3. Tell me about a situation in which you used teamwork to solve a problem.

  4. Give me an example of a time you had to deal with an irate customer/client.

  5. Describe your leadership style and give me an example of a situation where you successfully led a group.

  6. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

  7. Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.

  8. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

  9. Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it. (p. 26)

Now, let’s look at how leadership is conceptualized. In Conversations on Leadership, Liu (2010) had conversations with “global management gurus” (i.e., leadership experts) including Kouzes, Bennis, Senge, Gardner, and Kotter. From those interviews, he summed up leadership to be the following:

  • “First, leadership is about activity, not about position.” (p. 3)

  • “Second, leadership is about change, not about management.” (p. 4)

I discovered the same core themes of act and change in the data obtained from my own semistructured interviews of leaders in the public, private, and academic sectors (Knight, 2015). In view of the conceptualizations of leadership above, the nine behavioral-based interview questions from the UCSD career guide are asking for examples of leadership. In other words, the interviewer is asking the interviewee, “Are you able to influence others and thereby change our organization for the better?”

So, what is an organization? Schneider (2001) writes:

A growing literature on organizations takes the perspective that knowledge in organizations and organizations themselves are constituted through communicative practice (e.g., G. Miller, 1997b; Sarangi & Roberts, 1999; Taylor & Lerner, 1996). Organizations, from this perspective, are regarded as ongoing social accomplishments in which “resources are produced and regulated, problems are solved, identities are played out and professional knowledge is constituted” (Sarangi & Roberts, 1999, p. 1) through social interaction. From such a perspective, knowledge in organizations cannot be regarded as a fixed, stable body of facts or information. Rather, it must be seen as situated, dynamic, constantly negotiated, and constantly shifting, as members of organizations work to have their version of the organization legitimated as the one that counts. (p. 228)

When you view organizations from the perspective of Sarangi and Roberts (1999) above, you recognize the importance of communication skills for personal success in an organization. In the light of the relationship between communication and success, how can you prepare your L2 learners to tell their success stories in job interviews?

In the career manual of the University of California, Davis (2010), readers are advised to answer behavioral questions, such as those nine questions from UCSD listed above, with the S.T.A.R. method. Using the S.T.A.R. method, the response to a behavioral question is divided into the following four parts listed in order:

  1. Situation
  2. Task/Problem
  3. Action
  4. Result (University of California, Davis, 2010, p. 42)

In my own classes in Japan, I advise my students to create a portfolio of S.T.A.R. stories that they can use to respond to various interview questions, not only behavioral questions. I remind my students that the key to success in telling such stories is not to memorize a story but instead to memorize the details that make a story into an impressive one. The students also need to remember to include such details in the telling of their S.T.A.R. stories.

For example, in one of my classes for unemployed adult learners at Kanda University of International Studies, one of the students had a leadership story that could be divided into the following four parts of the S.T.A.R. framework. (The following is my adaptation of that story for this article.)

  1. Situation: It was a cold day in winter.

  2. Task/Problem: The flights at an airport had been cancelled. Many passengers were waiting in front of the check-in counter.

  3. Action: The student took care of the passengers.

  4. Result: The passengers could eventually board flights.

Without certain details, the story above is not as impressive as it could be. The following details were elicited from the student and added to her story.

  • It was the coldest day in Japan. It was snowing. All of the airplanes were grounded because they were frozen. There were only two machines in the airport that could thaw out an airplane. They could only take care of one airplane at a time.

  • There were 150 passengers in front of the ticket counter. There was not transportation in or out of the airport so the passengers could not go to a hotel.

  • The student’s manager was not taking any action to take care of the 150 passengers.

  • At the airport, the student had worked in the food service section prior to working at the check-in counter. Accordingly, she took the initiative to obtain meals and blankets and pillows for all of the passengers.

  • The student also organized her other two colleagues (i.e., not the manager) at the check-in counter so the three ground staff were each in charge of caring for 50 of the 150 passengers.

  • After two days, the passengers could board flights. The situation ended without any problems because of the initiative of the student to take a leadership role.

Before the story above was elicited from the student in class, she believed that she did not have a leadership story to tell. After this story was shared with her classmates, her level of confidence increased dramatically because she (and others) recognized her impressive actions as a leader.

In addition to being important in a job interview, confidence is also very important for graduate school admissions interview success in my experience. In preparing L2 learners for MBA admissions interviews in English as a counselor in Japan, one of my activities was to take the role of the interviewer in mock interviews. The students participating in the interviews had been taught that their lack of confidence about their English language skills could be misunderstood to be a lack of confidence about something else, such as future performance in the MBA program or past accomplishments. Accordingly, in addition to being able to tell their S.T.A.R. stories with impressive details, the students needed to be able to tell such stories with confidence!

As ESPers, we add value by conducting research of professional communication and applying our findings in the training of our L2 learners. By helping our learners to use English language communication skills as a tool in their training or work, we are helping our learners to obtain their career goals and to change their workplaces for the better.

NOTE: This article is based on Knight (2014), “ESP Interview Training: Identifying Leadership,” first published on the TESOL Blog. Adapted with permission.


Knight, K. (2015). Analysing the discourses of leadership as a basis for developing leadership communication skills in a second or foreign language. Sydney, Australia: Macquarie University.

Liu, L. (2010). Conversations on leadership: Wisdom from global management gurus. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons (Asia) on behalf of Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.

Sarangi, S., & Roberts, C. (Eds.). (1999). Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schneider, B. (2001). Constructing knowledge in an organization: The role of interview notes. Management Review Quarterly, 15(2), 227–255.

University of California, Davis. (2010). Career resource manual 2010-2011. Geneva, Illinois: College Recruitment Media.

University of California, San Diego. (2013). Career guide 2013-14. San Diego, California: UC San Diego Career Center.

Kevin Knight (PhD in linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is associate professor in the Department of International Communication of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. His research interests include leadership conceptualization and development, ESP, and professional communication. (See The Leadership Connection Project.)



Statement of Purpose/Goals

The English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS) is open to TESOL members who are interested in research and instruction designed to meet the unique English language needs of students and working adults in specific areas of study and employment by providing special training beyond that which is normally acquired by the average English speaker. The ESPIS fosters the sharing of ideas, expertise, and specialized curricula among ESP practitioners to promote quality research, education, and professional development in ESP.


ESP has long been an international movement with great strengths in research and teaching in many parts of the world, including developing countries. Establishing the ESPIS both indicates and validates TESOL's commitment to its international responsibilities.

Daphne Mackey, Kay Westerfield, and Adrian Pilbeam initiated the work to establish an ESPIS at the 1990 TESOL convention in New York. Meetings were well attended by participants interested in promoting the international sharing of ESP experience and expertise.

The proposed IS was given proposals to review for the 1992 TESOL convention in Vancouver and was allotted slots for presentations and discussion groups. The petition to recognize the ESPIS was overwhelmingly approved by the Interest Section Council in Vancouver and was ratified by the Executive Board shortly thereafter. Kay Westerfield was appointed chair (1992–1993), with Laraine Kaminsky as chair-elect. Mary McSwain and Roberta Rettner became the first editors of TESOL ESP News, and Peter Master, the first editor of the TESOL Matters ESP column. In fall 1992, the IS was also awarded its first TESOL Special Projects Grant, submitted by Angela Castro with IS support, to establish the Directory of ESP Professional Services. Today, the ESPIS enjoys active participation from an ever-increasing membership and continually explores better ways to serve ESP professionals in more efficient and effective ways.

ESPIS Leaders

  • Chair: Robert T. Connor
  • Chair-Elect: Esther Perez Apple
  • Past Chair Jaclyn J. Gishbaugher
  • Newsletter Editors: Roberta Diamond, Kevin Knight
  • Community Manager: Tarana Patel
  • Secretary/Archivist: Karen Schwelle
  • Member-at-Large: Christina DeCoursey, Robin Sulkosky, Marvin Hoffland
  • English for Occupational Purposes Representatives: Elizabeth Mathews, John Butcher
  • English for Academic Purposes Representatives: Julia MacRae, Andrew Millford

ESPIS Chairs

ESPIS chairs serve for a 3-year term: as chair-elect (1 year), chair (1 year), and immediate past chair (1 year). The dates below refer to the 1- year term (between TESOL annual conventions) when the listed leader held (or will hold) the position of chair.

  • 2018–2019: Marvin Hoffland (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria)

  • 2017–2018: Esther Perez Apple (Perez Apple & Company, USA)

  • 2016–2017: Robert Connor (Tulane University, USA)

  • 2015–2016: Jaclyn Gishbaugher (Ohio State University, USA)

  • 2014–2015: Kristin Ekkens (C3 Consulting, USA)

  • 2013–2014: Yinghuei Chen (Asia University, Taiwan)

  • 2012–2013: Najma Janjua (Kagawa Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Japan)

  • 2011–2012: Kevin Knight (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan)

  • 2010–2011: David Kertzner (ProActive English, USA)

  • 2009–2010: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan (Sultan Qaboos University, Oman)

  • 2008–2009: Oswald (Ozzy) Jochum (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria)

  • 2007–2008: Karen Schwelle (Washington University in St. Louis, USA)

  • 2006–2007: Ruth Yontz (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

  • 2005–2006: Charles Hall (University of Memphis, USA)

  • 2004–2005: Debra Lee (Nashville State Technical Community College, USA)

  • 2003–2004: Mark R. Freiermuth (University of Aizu, Japan)

  • 2002–2003: Ethel C. Swartley (Drexel University, USA)

  • 2001–2002: Jane Lockwood (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)

  • 2000–2001: Thomas Orr (University of Aizu, Japan)

  • 1999–2000: Judith Gordon (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

  • 1998–1999: Leslie Olsen (University of Michigan, USA)

  • 1997–1998: Joan Friedenberg (Southern Illinois University, USA)

  • 1995–1997: Margaret van Naerssen (University of Pennsylvania, USA)

  • 1993–1995: Laraine Kaminsky (Malkam Consultants Ltd., Canada)

  • 1992–1993: Kay Westerfield (University of Oregon, USA)

ESP Project Leader Profiles (On theTESOL Blog)

The ESP Project Leader Profiles were announced by former ESPIS chair Kevin Knight in April 2015 in his role as an ESP blogger for TESOL International Association. The majority of the ESP project leaders featured in the profiles have been former ESPIS chairs and/or members of the ESPIS steering board. The projects in the profiles have been conducted on six continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia! The profiles are listed as a reference in TESOL’s ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program Online because of their value to all English language instructors, researchers, and leaders worldwide. A new profile is added approximately once a month. Please contact Kevin Knight if you are an ESP project leader or can recommend an ESP project leader for the ESP Project Leader Profiles.

  1. 5 May 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kristin Ekkens

  2. 2 June 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Charles Hall

  3. 4 July 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ronna Timpa

  4. 11 August 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Evan Frendo

  5. 8 September 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jaclyn Gishbaugher

  6. 6 October 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Anne Lomperis

  7. 20 October 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ethel Swartley

  8. 3 November 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: David Kertzner

  9. 1 December 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Margaret van Naerssen

  10. 15 December 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Marvin Hoffland

  11. 12 January 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: John Butcher

  12. 26 January 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Karen Schwelle

  13. 23 February 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Esther Perez Apple

  14. 8 March 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kevin Knight

  15. 5 April 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan

  16. 3 May 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robert Connor

  17. 17 May 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jigang Cai

  18. 14 June 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ismaeil Fazel

  19. 28 June 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Yilin Sun

  20. 26 July 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Tarana Patel

  21. 23 August 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Prithvi Shrestha

  22. 6 September 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robin Sulkosky

  23. 18 October 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Philip Chappell

  24. 2 November 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jie Shi

  25. 13 December 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Laurence Anthony

  26. 24 January 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Barrie Roberts