Two 30@30 Specialists Model ESP Best Practices in Costa Rica and Indonesia
After a record 2020 year – that saw a 3000% increase in our virtual programming – the Specialist Program is celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout 2021. Since 1991, over 800 English Language Specialists – representing the best of America’s educators from all 50 States – have encouraged critical thought and erudition, celebrated their cultural diversity, and showcased their American values and civic engagement strategies to millions of educators and students in 130 countries.
In January we introduced our 30@30 –a group of 30 alumni who have had a profound impact on the Specialist Program as well as the field of English language education. In addition, upon returning to their home states, these leaders have added immense benefit to their local economies, communities, and institutions.
In our May story, Kay Westerfield shares her contributions to English for workforce development in Costa Rica and Charles Hall describes the power of listening in Indonesia.
Kay Westerfield has taught international business communication and provided teacher training in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) for over 35 years in as many countries. Through this experience she has perfected her technique of addressing global educational challenges in academia and in workforce language training in cultures as diverse as those in Togo, Turkey, and Taiwan. Westerfield’s long-term work in Costa Rica began in 2013 with the English = Employment project that was started by Carmen Chinchilla, Cultural Affairs Assistant at US Embassy San José, and continued with subsequent visits and virtual conferences into 2019.
The overarching goal of the project was to work with local partners in tertiary institutions and the Ministry of Education for Technical/Vocational Schools to revamp the national education system to meet the global communication needs of the national workforce. Stakeholders in academia and industry wondered why after 11 years of English courses, graduates still couldn’t communicate.
The demand for bilingual employees was increasing. For example, Límon and Liberia (two of the top five cities in Costa Rica with the highest rates of youth unemployment) could offer good employment opportunities for young people if they had mastered English and had basic technical and customer service skills. Límon had an upcoming $1 billion port expansion, and Liberia was a hub for Costa Rica’s tourism industry, where a new group of target language learners, police and other first responders, was requesting language training to accommodate growing numbers of international tourists.
Because Chinchilla knew many of the key individuals in education, industry, and workforce development in the country, she “had a vision for how the State Department could support Costa Rica in developing their workforce in terms of English communication skills.” Chinchilla and Westerfield brought together four key institutions at the forefront of Costa Rican workforce development for consultations and seminars in ESP best practices to build a strategic partnership: the Ministry of Education for Technical/Vocational Schools, Universidad Técnica Nacional (UTN), Universidad Nacional (UNA), and the National Learning Institute for workforce training.
And the outcomes? “Pretty exciting,” reported Westerfield. The consultancy demonstrated a return on investment through: 1) the strategic development of well-designed ESP curricula taking into consideration the sectors most urgently needed in the Costa Rican economy and collaborating with subject matter experts; 2) information sharing and curriculum articulation among the partner institutions; 3) a new Masters in Applied Linguistics with an Emphasis on Teaching English for Specific Purposes at UNA Heredia to meet the demand for trained ESP teachers/trainers; and 4) a heightened sense of a shared national mission among the partner institutions. The faculties have strengthened their collaboration to support long-term sustainability of their efforts. Westerfield also noted that two people now involved in directing ESP programs at UTN and UNA had received scholarships from US Embassy San José in 2012 to participate in her e-Teacher course, Best Practices in ESP, offered by the Office of English Language Programs and University of Oregon.
The English = Employment project recognized that training in English for Specific Purposes has circles of economic and social impact. It matters. The benefits extend beyond the individual and the walls of their company to their family, community, and ultimately to the growth of the nation’s economy. (See research into the economics of language.) During her travels, Westerfield would ask airline representatives in Saudi Arabia, front desk hotel workers in Moscow, or scientists in France whether English was important for their job, and received the reply, “I wouldn’t even have gotten the interview if I didn’t know English.” As one ESP science learner in West Africa put it, “English is a lifeline.”
Westerfield concluded that “ESP is booming. More and more multinational corporations are adopting English as their workplace language to increase efficiency. There is a critical need for effective workplace language training and support for both students and faculty, especially given the transition to English as a medium of instruction (EMI). ESP is a fascinating and exciting field. As an ESP practitioner, you’re always learning something new.”
Specialists, start your engines!
Dr. Charles Hall has some advice for Specialists: talk less and listen more. In fact, listening to the audience before doing anything else is the cornerstone of his methodology. He has refined his approach in over 40 countries, including East Timor, Indonesia, South Sudan, Venezuela, and Yemen. He has crisscrossed the globe working on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), English for Specific Purposes (ESP, especially tourism, law, and medicine), and training teachers and teacher trainers.
First, he has people give him the answers. “We have formal and informal focus groups and conversations,” he said. “I remind them they are the experts. Their job is to help me understand what they need.” He then involves them in designing a program to suit their needs.
“Some of our colleagues never quite understand that need to listen,” he continued. “They come in with big banners and wagons with answers. I come in with big wagons of questions and heaps of patience, empathy, and cautious humor.”
This initial inquiry is essential in any country, but in Indonesia, it was mandatory. With over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is a multicultural, multilingual, and multi-religion country. Some of the participants in the project at the national police academy in Jakarta came from that sprawling city; others came from an island that does not even have family names (even their official documents list just one name). With such a disparate audience, he did not dare design a program without surveying their needs at the outset.
His questioning revealed that the police needed to be encouraged to rethink the image they wanted to present to tourists. He discovered that, “As in many countries, police are often indistinguishable from the military,” and consequently not someone that ordinary people would instinctively approach in a crisis. “That attitude needed to change,” Hall said. “We had to help the police learn to work with victims of crime, not just perpetrators. They needed to learn how to become friendlier and approach tourists without seeming aggressive but being professional all the while. If a crime occurred, the officer should provide guidance and offer counseling, making it a less traumatic experience.” This training was a tall order, but immediately understandable to both the police and their superiors. In two similar projects in two other countries, Hall shadowed police for a couple of days as they worked with distraught tourists who were simply lost or whose ATM cards had just been pickpocketed. In one episode, he was able to review the video and photos of the events where a police officer went up to an older American couple who were looking confused at a map and asked in a commanding voice, “What are you doing?” The look of terror on the couple’s faces in the photo surprised the trainees who had no idea how terrifying they were when they were using their ‘police voice.’ Hall had them role play different ways to approach tourists and then used that to develop materials and protocols for dealing with victims and bystanders rather than perpetrators. Sometimes, he would slide in content about human rights. “You work with humans, not criminals,” he would remind them.
After many projects such as the one with Indonesia’s police, Hall has determined three essential rules for anyone working overseas.
Rule 1: Listen (see above).
Rule 2: Culture shock awaits everyone. There is no way to avoid it, Hall said, “since we all bring expectations with us to other countries.” These expectations are often invisible to us just as water is indistinguishable to a fish. Although he was often brought in as the “expert,” he still didn’t know what to expect. Charles said he deals with the inevitable with his roll-with-the-punches advice. “I expect to be surprised but I never know what’s going to surprise me. Our reactions sneak up on us, and we think, ‘Wow – I didn’t see that coming!’” He also cautions travelers to be on the lookout for their own insidious ethnocentrism, those moments of thinking “That’s not the way we do it.” He tells the English Language Fellows he works with, “You’re going to be surprised, so just be surprised.” On one assignment, the project, city, and institution where he was going to spend three weeks were all changed for political reasons after he was already in the plane en route. When he arrived and was told the news, he shrugged and simply said, “Ok, let’s go!”
Rule 3: Whatever works.