Ms. Fiona HO



Fiona joined the Center for Language Education (CLE) at HKUST in 2016 and taught a range of undergraduate courses. In the past few years, she led The Informal Curriculum for Language Learning (iLANG) team and students to organise events which successfully raised students‘ interest in English language and complement their academic learning. She believes the important factors which motivate students to learn are mutual trust and respect.


2023 Conference Presentation

Enhancing language self-efficacy of EFL university students through experiential learning: a study of the learning league project

Fiona Sze Han Ho, Nick Wong, Angie Wing Chi Li, Lo Lau

2021 Academic Blog

“Writer-responsible” or “reader-responsible” language? Choice and challenges teaching English business writing to L2 students

Fiona Ho

Center for Language Education, HKUST

 This discussion focuses on teaching business writing to ESL learners in university ESP courses. Some business courses emphasize teaching students to master “writer-responsible” language in English business writing only. “Writer-responsible” language means language elements that writers use to put forward their meaning explicitly (Beamer, 1994). These are not limited to use simple language, no business jargons for audience who may not share common language schema, document conventions and directness in English expository prose.  

Other than “writer-responsible” language, there is “reader-responsible” language which is equally important in business writing. It refers to language elements, for instance, indirect language and metaphors, are highly cultural.Readers cannot take meaning literally and involve meaning interpretation(Beamer, 1994). Coxhead (2018) pointed out metaphors can carry important elements of meaning; it can represent over 4% of an academic lecture which almost 50% of L2 learners find it difficult to identify and understand. The percentages would perhaps be even larger if all kinds of “reader-responsible” language are included. Imagine the L2 learners who find it difficult to fully understand lecture content because of the language used. They will face a lot ofchallenges when they interact in the business world as they are expected to understand and use both “writer-responsible” and “reader-responsible” language effectively. As ESP teachers, one of our goals is to empower L2 students to communicate meaningfully, understand the culture they interact with and be part of it. Therefore, we may wish to reconsider the need to teach “reader-responsible” language in ESP business writing classroom. 

If there is a need to teach “reader-responsible” language in ESP business writing courses, we may wish to look at competence of teachers. Being able to understand “reader-responsible” language requires a lot of exposure to meaningful input in the subject area. A research investigated ESP teaching in Turkey and Latvia tertiary institutions (Çelik et al., 2018), which the training ESP teachers received were quite similar to that of Hong Kong, indicated having the subject knowledge is important alongside English language skills and pedagogical knowledge when teaching ESP courses. There is a gap between the English language knowledge they had and that required to teach ESP courses effectively. Looking into the context of Hong Kong, most ESP teachers are well equipped with rich general English language knowledge and have learnt theories in teaching with practical experiences. However, most may not have received training in the subject areas they teach in ESP classrooms. The ESP teachers in Turkey and Latvia had gained subject knowledge for their ESP teaching through years of practical experience in ESP classrooms, their colleagues, self-study and professional development courses (Çelik et al., 2018). The easier and more economical ways for ESP teachers in Hong Kong to gain subject knowledge are perhaps acquiring from their teaching and learning from peers. As ESP teachers of business, we understand the business world is everchanging and keep up with field knowledge best benefit our students. Course leaders, course designers and material writers of ESP business courseshave an important role to play on ESP teachers’ subject knowledge for two reasons. First, their decisions on course, material selection will benefit all ESP teachers on the course in terms of subject knowledge. Second, new ESP teachers on the course who had not received any training in the subject area may pick up subject knowledge faster through reading course materials and sharing ideas with their peers if the course culture is a supportive one. The management of a language teaching unit will enjoy larger flexibility on manpower allocation across courses as teachers could adapt to teach different ESP courses easily as support is available.  


Beamer, L. (1994). Teaching English business writing to Chinese-speaking business students. Business Communication Quarterly, 57(1), 12-18.​

​Çelik, S., Stavicka, A. & Odina, I. (2018). Are we really teaching English for specific purposes, or basic English skills? The case of Turkey and Latvia. In Y. Kırkgöz & K. Dikilitaş (Eds.), Key issues in English for Specific Purposes in Higher Education (1st ed., pp. 243-264). Springer.

​Coxhead, A. (2018). Vocabulary and English for Specific Purposes Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives. Routledge.​

​Permyakova, T., & Utkina, T. (2016). The study of conceptual metaphors in ESAP L2 writing: range and variability. Research in Language, 14(4), 437-451.​

​Stewart, T. (2018). Expanding possibilities for ESP practitioners through interdisciplinary team teaching. In In Y. Kırkgöz & K. Dikilitaş (Eds.), Key issues in English for Specific Purposes in Higher Education (1st ed., pp. 141-156). Springer.

2021 Conference Presentation

Trickle Up Effect - Cross-curriculum Proficiency and Competence Development in a Student-led Language Enhancement Programme

Fiona Ho / Lee Pui

3rd International Conference on English Across the Curriculum

English Language Buddy Scheme has been a crucial part of the informal language curriculum in HKUST since 2016. In the scheme, students of higher English language proficiency (student leaders) plan and facilitate social activities to be conducted in English, while any student who want to practise conversational English with student leaders and other students can join the social activities. Over the years we have seen these student leaders performing as “more competence peers” as in the “Zone of Proximal Development” theory (Vygotsky, 1978), running programmes with an admirably high level of sophistication, enthusiasm and creativity. 
In the session we are going to present our findings from our analyses of student feedback, based on which we realized that this scheme not only enhances English language proficiency of both buddies and participants, its benefits also “trickle up” various aspects of their formal curriculum, including their major courses. The communicative competence, global awareness and inter-personal skills could even be carried forward to their endeavours beyond graduation. 

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.