A Variety of ESP Topics Covered at the JALT CUE SIG Symposium

Paul McAleese, Nara Institute of Science and Technology

The third JALT College and University Educators (CUE) English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Symposium was held on September 13, 2014 at Waseda University in Tokyo. The one-day event aimed at bringing together educators from across Japan to build on their knowledge and share ideas in the field of ESP. The symposium attracted over 70 attendees and included three keynote presenters, a round table, panel discussion, and two poster presentation sessions.

Keynote Presentations

The first keynote presenter was Yasushi Ikebe from the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Mirai-kan). He has extensive experience researching and working abroad including two years at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the United States. His presentation began by focusing on how his language needs evolved as he grew up and started pursuing his career. While living in another country, he recalled how he lacked the ability to interact effectively in spoken English, even in informal social contexts like parties, and how he struggled with the everyday cultural aspects of English, such as humor. Similarly, he found oral interaction challenging on a professional level, especially in roundtable-type discussions or group teleconferences. 

The next keynote presenter to take the floor was Michael Handford who lectures at the University of Tokyo on professional discourse analysis and intercultural communication. Handford contended that there is presently a large gap between research and what is found in teaching materials, particularly in the area of spoken language in professional contexts. Referring to his research using authentic data from engineering and IT companies combined with corpus analysis, he further argued that, while educational materials contain ample language describing business, there is a general lack of content related to language used by people actually doing business. He further focused on the large degree and nature of language devoted to the function of problem-solving.

The final keynote presenter was Brian Paltridge, a professor of TESOL at the University of Sydney and widely published in fields such as ESP and discourse analysis. In the first part of his presentation, Paltridge provided an overview of current ESP research including the origins and development of the genre concept, specialized corpora, and English as a lingua franca. In the second part of his presentation, Paltridge outlined future directions of ESP, including areas that are still underexplored in research. Giving particular mention to learner needs and identity in ESP, he emphasized the increasing importance of needs-analyses that address this issue in more depth, specifically, helping learners to see themselves more clearly in their contexts and becoming their “ideal selves”. Ethnography in the ESP classroom, ESP for community membership, and moving beyond native-speaker models were also outlined as future directions in the field. 

Roundtable and Panel Discussion

Following the final keynote presentation, the participants were split into three groups and were asked to discuss how an ESP approach might contribute to the success of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Each group was given 45 minutes to discuss the topic from slightly different perspectives and then asked to present their ideas to the other groups with the three keynote speakers given the option to add comments. Ideas ranged from comprehensive needs-analyses to building intercultural awareness and the use of English as a lingua franca. It was also mentioned that such events provide not only unique opportunities to further motivate ESP learners, but also unique research opportunities for ESP educators based in Japan.

Poster Sessions

Each of the two poster sessions had about ten posters on display, allowing the audience to experience a range of ESP topics including quantitative research, teaching methodology, and syllabus design. Participants mingled freely and shared ideas while visiting the posters.

Overall, I felt the symposium was well worth attending. The caliber of the keynote speakers was particularly impressive and, with the wide range ESP topics covered, it offered something for everyone. More information can be found on the CUE website < jaltcue.org>.