MWIS Newsletter

MWIS News, Volume 22:1 (February 2009)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue...
TESOL 2009 Letters From Cochairs and Chair-Elect and an Announcement from the Newsletter Editor

A Letter From the MWIS Cochairs
Linda Butler, ButlerESL@crocker.com, and Lawrence Zwier, zweir@msu.edu

As usual, this has been an active year with a lot of important issues being discussed on the MWIS e-list. The shortened convention schedule, which we experienced for the first time in New York, has probably been the topic of most concern.

There was also the issue of whether members should mention their commercial publications on the e-list. This strand included the following comment from TESOL's programs and services manager, Valerie Borchelt: "Although the e-list rules request that no 'messages promoting the purchase of a commercial product, book, program, or service posted by or on behalf of the publisher or author (i.e., commercial messages)' be posted on the e-list, it is acceptable for an author to mention his/her published material if the material is relevant to the discussion on the e-list."

In these and other e-list discussions, our membership held true to the IS's tradition of reasoned, civil discourse. No matter what your position on any of these issues, you can take pride in belonging to this community. Please join us in expressing thanks to e-list moderator Bill Walker, who has agreed to continue in the role for another year.

We're happy to report that our annual networking reception at the TESOL convention will be held at the convention venue in Denver. There will be a cash bar. You may remember that last year things were not so convenient. Kelly Sippell, Dorothy Zemach, and other members had to arrange the New York reception off-site. The logistics will be simpler in Denver. The reception will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, with the exact location to be announced on the e-list as convention time draws near.

We'd also like to pass on some statistics about the proposals submitted for the convention. A total of 45 proposals (of all types) were submitted for consideration by MWIS. All of the proposals for Discussion Groups—10 of them—were accepted. In addition, eight other adjudicated sessions (papers, demonstrations, a colloquium, and a workshop) were accepted. This makes for an acceptance rate of just under 23 percent for proposals other than Discussion Groups. MWIS will also present one Academic Session and one InterSection, which are further described by Chair-Elect Gena Bennett in this issue. Many thanks to Gena for organizing those sessions. Thanks also to all the MWIS reviewers who worked so hard to evaluate proposals.

One last note: The resignation last spring of Dorothy Forbin¡Xbecause of the demands of her work and her leadership role with CAMELTA (TESOL's affiliate in Cameroon)—means that Gena Bennett has been serving as sole chair-elect. She will serve as MWIS's chair in 2009-2010.

Finally, many thanks to Christy Newman for a great job as MWIS Newsletter editor.

Linda and Larry 
MWIS Cochairs

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A Letter From the MWIS Chair-Elect
Gena Bennett, genabennett@yahoo.com

As the 2008-2009 MWIS chair-elect, I have had the pleasure to put together two MWIS-sponsored sessions for the 2009 convention in Denver.

Our official MWIS Academic Session, entitled "Beyond Writing: Exploring the Visual Aspect of Materials Writing," will be held Thursday, March 26, at 3:00 p.m. in Room 705 at the Colorado Convention Center. As visual elements in second language learning materials can be more than a way to decorate a page or illustrate text, an understanding of the role of the visual is imperative for materials writers. This session has been designed to examine ideas such as how international students approach art and how visuals may enhance the acquisition and retention of language as well as the various types and functions of illustrations so that materials writers may be more informed to take advantage of this important aspect of second language learning.

MWIS is also cosponsoring an InterSection with the Applied Linguistics IS on Saturday, March 28, at 3:00 p.m. in Room 708. This session, entitled "Applied Linguistics Informing Materials Writing." will explore the interface of research in applied linguistics and materials writing. To enhance materials writers' appreciation of the application, balance, and suitability of research in second language learning materials, researchers from the applied linguistics field will discuss how they envision their findings being disseminated into the ELT classroom; materials writers will discuss how they incorporate research findings into their writing; and editors will discuss how ELT publishers view research in materials submitted for publication.

Although we have only three official days in Denver, I believe MWIS members will take full advantage of the opportunity to network, learn, and network (yes, I said it twice!). I look forward to working with you in the coming year to facilitate the improvement of our organization, interest section, and materials writing. Consider how you, too, can contribute to MWIS—such as serving as the editor of the MWIS Newsletter—by embarking on professional development and service opportunities within the IS.

See you in Denver!

Gena 
Cochair Elect

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An Announcement from the MWIS Newsletter Editor
Christy Newman christynewman@westoneditorial.com

I am happy to announce that Susannah MacKay will succeed me as the MWIS newsletter editor beginning with the February 2010 issue.  For a smooth transition, Susannah has already co-edited this issue and will do so for the next issue as well.

Since leaving her teaching position at Georgia Perimeter College, Susannah has been an independent materials writer and editor. She has worked on secondary, adult, and college ESL level texts, especially on grammar, and continues to volunteer as a teacher in her community. Her most recent publications of note are the student books in McGraw-Hill's Excellent English Series.

Please join me in welcoming Susannah.

Christy
Newsletter Editor


Plan Your MWIS TESOL 2009 Schedule

Meet your MWIS colleagues at the
Annual Open Meeting

Day and Time: Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Check the MWIS booth for more details and the latest updates.

The following sessions by MWIS members and/or with an MWIS focus will offer great opportunities for learning and networking.

Tuesday, March 24

Pre-Convention Institute
5:00 to 9:00 p.m.
The Electronic Village

Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet Projects
Students and Teachers Love

Presenter: Barry Bakin, Teacher and Advisor, Pacoima Skills Center, Division of Adult and Career Education, Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, March 26

Teaching Translation to Taiwanese EFL Students
Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Room 601

Translation skills are indispensable for Taiwanese EFL students, not only to meet their needs in daily life and their future workplace but also to facilitate their learning of the English language. This presentation describes a sequential model of translation and gives a demonstration of teaching Chinese-to-English translation using this model.

Presenter: Yi-chun Pan, Tamkang University, Taiwan

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Practical Activities for Teaching Reading
Thursday, 1:00 to 1:45 p.m., Room 407

How can ESL/EFL teachers make reading instruction more effective for learners? The presenters share a variety of activities to help instructors improve students’ academic reading skills.

In this interactive demonstration, the presenters, who are experienced teachers and materials developers, present practical activities for the teaching of reading. They actively engage the participants in the activities, and offer them the opportunity to adapt one activity to a higher and lower level and to create an activity of their own. Participants will learn how to build and scaffold language for successful interactive lessons and to assess activities for the appropriate level of difficulty.

Participants will receive handouts, including a bibliography, and the address of a Web site where detailed accounts and copies of all the activities demonstrated may be easily downloaded. At the conclusion of the demonstration, participants will leave with a menu of practical reading activities, the knowledge of how to adapt them, and a list of resources from which they can obtain more information about reading activities.

Presenters:
Joe McVeigh, Independent Consultant, Middlebury, VT
Jennifer Bixby, President, Bixby Editorial Services, San Jose, CA

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Getting Started, Getting Published With TESOL Book Publications
Thursday, 2:00 to 3:45 p.m., Room 105

This interactive workshop focuses on the book publishing process, from identifying a topic to submitting a proposal. Experienced authors share their strategies and answer questions. Bring publishing ideas or just a desire to publish. Work in small groups to get feedback from the authors and other participants.

Sandra Kouritzin, University of Manitoba, Canada
Robyn Brinks Lockwood, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA 
John Liontas, State University of New York, Fredonia, NY 
Hedy McGarrell, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
Linda Gerena, City University of New York, Jamaica, NY 

Academic Session

Beyond Writing:
Exploring the Visual Aspects of Materials Writing
Thursday, 3:00 p.m., Room 705

This session will examine how international students approach art, how visuals may enhance the acquisition and retention of language, and the various types and functions of illustrations, in order for materials writers to take advantage of this important aspect of second language learning.

Friday, March 27

Discussion Group: Pathways to Successful Coauthoring
Friday, 7:00 a.m., Room 503

ESL/EFL professionals often embark on cooperative projects ranging from developing curriculum to writing books. What elements make coauthoring a positive and successful experience? The session leaders, a freelance editor and a writer, will use a case study to initiate discussion about strategies, techniques, and tools for coauthors. After this short case analysis, the leaders will focus the discussion on pathways to success. Participants will have an opportunity to share their ideas and ask questions about ways to have a positive coauthoring experience. Participants in this discussion will come away with new ideas for successful collaboration on writing projects.

Discussion Leaders 
Daphne Mackey and Jennifer Bixby

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Discussion Group: Uncharted Territory for Freelance Materials Writers
Friday, 7:00 a.m., Room 706

Changes in the publishing industry have meant and will continue to mean changes for freelance materials writers: in the types of work available; in the expectations of students, teachers, and our employers; and in compensation. Discussion participants will focus on how we can turn challenges into opportunities.

Discussion Leaders
Deborah Gordon, Independent Materials Writer; Teacher, Santa Barbara (CA) City College
Linda Butler, Independent Materials Writer; Teacher, Holyoke (MA) Community College; Consultant, Avant Assessment

Colloquium
Activities for Explicit Language Instruction 
in EAP Writing Courses
Friday, 10:00 a.m., Room 205

In order to write coherent academic arguments, writers must focus on increasing their syntactic and lexical repertoires and their awareness of when and how to use items in these repertoires. Presentations demonstrate corpus-informed exercises that suggest structures and forms to teach and provide guided practice with grammar and vocabulary.

Participants
Jan Frodesen, Diane Schmidt, Margi Wald, and Gena Bennett


Exploring College Slang 
Friday, 11:00 a.m., Room 504

IEP students are often mystified by slang expressions. As if it weren’t difficult enough to master English grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, they are also called upon to figure out the strange-sounding expressions of native-speaking students in the United States.

In this presentation, the speakers describe the construction of an online dictionary of contemporary college slang to help ESL students grasp the meaning and usage of these difficult terms and expressions.

Presenters
Joe McVeigh, Consultant, Middlebury, VT 
Ann Wintergerst, Professor, St. John’s University, Queens, NY

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Get the Picture: A Guide to Art for Materials Writers 
**MWIS-Sponsored Event**
Friday, 11:00 a.m., Room 107

A presentation focusing on artwork in teaching materials will address some best practices (and things to avoid) in getting the best illustrations, “tech” art, realia, and photos.

Presenters 
Paula Van Ells, Director of Development, Pearson Longman ELT
Leigh Stolle, Teacher and Developmental Editor

Academic Session
Forum for Fair Employment 
Big Steps and Small Steps
Making Progress on Employment Issues
Friday, 2:00 p.m., Room 206

A presentation of areas of progress and continuing effort, and lots of time for an audience discussion of their successes and concerns.

Annual Networking Reception 
 for members and invited guests

Day and Time: Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Check the MWIS booth for exact location

Cash Bar

Saturday, March 28

Discussion Group: Are Textbooks Still Relevant in a Web 2.0 World?
Saturday, 7 a.m., Room 708

Many educators and materials writers defend the virtues of teaching with professionally developed, syllabus-based, carefully crafted textbooks. Web 2.0 users extol the language-learning possibilities of podcasts, weblogs, social networking software, and interactive educational Web sites. This discussion will probe the future of print-based ESL/EFL textbooks in an increasingly networked world.

Leader: Jane Petring professor, Collège Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Québec, Canada

Material Writers IS and Applied Linguistics IS 
InterSection

Applied Linguistics Informing Materials Writing
Saturday, 3:00 p.m., Room 708

Linguists, material writers, and editors will explore the interface between research in applied linguistics and materials writing to enhance materials writers’ appreciation of the application, balance, and suitability of research in second language learning materials.

Colloquium

Current Trends in ESL/EFL Publishing
**MWIS-Sponsored Event**

Saturday, 3:00 pm, Room 304

These are changing times in the world of ESL/EFL publishing. In this colloquium, prominent editors from four major ESL/EFL publishing companies share their perspectives on how the field of ESL/EFL publishing has changed and outline their thoughts on directions for the future. Topics will include the respective roles of authors and editors, the influence of technology on the publishing process, and changes in international and domestic markets. Additional topics may include trends in royalty rates, publisher- vs. author-initiated projects, and the role of electronic publishing and projects.

Participants
Joe McVeigh, Independent Consultant, Middlebury, VT 
Louisa Hellegers, Publishing Director, Cambridge University Press 
Pietro Alongi, Editorial Director, Pearson Longman 
Sherrise Roehr, Publisher, Heinle/Cengage 
Laura Pearson, Editorial Director, Oxford University Press

Discussion Group: Forging New Pathways in the Freelancer/Publisher Relationship
Saturday, 5:00 p.m., Room 407

As the publishing industry evolves, the relationship between freelancers and publishers grows ever more important. How can publishers develop and maintain positive and productive relationships with freelancers? How can freelancers do the same with publishers? Discussion focuses on both sides of the process. Invited are publishers and freelancers alike!

Leader: Susannah MacKay

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Discussion Group: The World of Freelance ESL Editing
Saturday, 5:00 p.m., Room 506

The discussion will begin with an introduction to the role of a freelance writer or editor in the world of ESOL publishing. We will discuss who hires freelancers, how to get to know those people, and how to maintain good working relationships with them. We will also discuss the kinds of projects that participants have done and/or want to do. We will share information about the going rates for different types of work, the various types of contracts—from informal verbal agreements to legal documents—that freelancers may encounter, and tips for negotiating with employers. We will also discuss issues of importance to all self-employed people. These will include health insurance, planning for retirement, tax advice and other professional services, and time management. Participants will be invited to exchange contact information to facilitate further networking and will be encouraged to participate in the MWIS electronic discussion list.

Leaders: Dorothy Zemach and Jennifer Bixby

Room and time changes may be made after we go to press, so

check the schedule when you arrive in Denver!



Articles Learn English With President Obama: Simon Buckland

Simon Buckland, sbuckland@wallstreetinstitute.com

To start with, I’m not talking about structural drills based on variants of “Yes we can” and “Yes we did” (“Yes, they had,” “Yes, she would have”), but something much more uplifting.

Actually, the concept originated a few years ago, when a Chinese friend of mine who ran a small educational publishing firm decided to put together a collection of annotated speeches under the arresting title “Learn English With the President of the United States.” As the year was 2002 and the president was you-know-who, I suggested making the term plural, in order to encompass some more exalted models. My friend never got around to following my suggestion, as he sold the business shortly afterward and returned to the much more lucrative practice of commercial law. The close-up of G.W. Bush’s “thought processes” may well have proved the tipping point: No successful enterprise was ever going to be constructed upon such foundations.

This isn’t to pile onto Bush yet again (though no amount of contumely could ever be more than he deserves). It’s true that intermediate and advanced students might derive some useful amusement from contemplating his strangled syntax, or his inability to correctly formulate common axioms like “Fool me once . . .”, but one wouldn’t want to take them there: It’s too depressing. How could someone achieve the highest office who not only was so impaired morally (perhaps not so obvious) but can’t even use his own language properly? Thoughts crowd in about the dumbing down of public discourse, the decline in standards of literacy, and so on—gloomy, disempowering thoughts that we don’t even want to be thinking ourselves, much less sharing with our students.

This is where we were a year or more ago, and where we aren’t any more. Those of us whose livelihoods center around the dissemination of English have an additional reason to celebrate the election of Barack Obama: It offers the possibility of returning language to its rightful place in our political life—to clarify, to inform, and, above all, to inspire. The significant role that Obama’s mastery of English has played in his success is a cause for celebration by everyone who cares about language, especially students of English. In studying his speeches, our students can see living examples of how language is used to communicate vision and higher purpose, and in the process understand how this has shaped his campaign and his victory—so reaching back to the very roots of America’s national and political identity.

Take for instance this excerpt from Obama’s speech in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008 about race in America:

This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

Rhetoric used to be studied by every educated person from Ancient Greece through to the 19th century. It was one of the three elements of the trivium in the Middle Ages, and was regarded as a central accomplishment of civilization. Nowadays it’s often regarded as devious, dishonest, or at least obscurantist—calling to mind perhaps the “elitist” charges and countercharges that pervaded the election campaign.

Yet there’s nothing high-flown about Obama’s use of rhetoric. It is characteristically direct and to the point. Even intermediate students will pick up on the repetition of “This time” and “we want to talk about,” and all students will appreciate the power and importance of the message his words convey. Language has the power to move us, and it also has the power to change the world. What better reason could there be to study it?

So, thanks to my friend for an idea whose time has at last come: a collection of Obama’s speeches and writings, with background notes and exercises. Of course, I realize that MWISers are highly enterprising and also quick off the mark, so it may well be that 20 such proposals are already sitting in publishers’ inboxes. But just in case they’re not, let me offer the idea as a gift to anyone who’s casting around for his or her next project.

Unless, of course, it falls to me to do it myself. . . .

Yes, I can.

Simon Buckland is in charge of curriculum development for the Wall Street Institute group of schools. He has worked as a scriptwriter and courseware designer since the days of the last Democratic president but one. Though unable (as a British citizen) to vote for him, he was as pleased as any son or daughter of Uncle Sam to see Barack Obama elected.


Are Textbooks Still Relevant in a Web 2.0 World?

Jane Petring, jane.petring@gmail.com

For the past five years, I have been writing ESL textbooks while communicating daily with educators around the world who are interested in exploring online tools, and every day I feel myself tugged and pulled in two directions. There is enormous satisfaction in seeing a manuscript go through reviews, revisions, and rewrites to become a published work that lands in the hands of students and teachers. At the same time, the lure of collaborating with colleagues from all over the globe to create communicative activities that are instantly available is electrifying. There is no denying that the format of educational materials is in great flux right now, and for this reason I would like to bring together materials writers and computer-assisted language-learning specialists to delve into the future of ESL/ELT materials in the digital age. 

As technology becomes cheaper and more accessible around the world, the range of possibilities for language learning seems almost limitless. Free social software sites offer opportunities for real communication between real people in real time. Interactive educational Web sites allow students to practice skills, conduct research, and assimilate knowledge at an individualized pace. However, orchestrating activities, investigating appropriate sites, learning new software, maintaining equipment, and assessing student progress may be beyond the scope of a busy classroom teacher, and privacy issues could become major concerns for educators. Well-designed textbooks are reassuring for many educators when the books provide logical sequencing and pedagogically sound exercises that respond to the needs of the students and school system. Nevertheless, materials writers need to take an honest look at how Web 2.0 is changing the way people interact and learn if we want to remain relevant in the 21st century.

Most of my face-to-face real-life colleagues are very happy teaching with carefully created textbooks that were designed with the required curriculum in mind: There are interesting videos and listening exercises to stimulate discussion and improve listening comprehension; the grammar lessons follow a logical sequence and cover the points in the course outline; and the readings and writing assignments ensure that the teacher is presenting appropriate and stimulating material for the particular level. In my college, we offer 17 different English courses, and sometimes have as many as 16 sections of a particular course. Having teachers use the same materials for the same course offers a certain degree of consistency and quality control. Of course, teachers will embellish the course with their personal style and knowledge, but the textbook provides an anchor of accountability.

On the other hand, through my involvement with TESOL’s Electronic Village Online sessions, I have become involved with a vibrant network of ESL teachers all over the world who enthusiastically embrace digital media and the learning potential through connectivity and online interaction. Students of these teachers might be encouraged to maintain a blog for writing practice and post it on Web sites like Wikipedia, so that they are communicating with real readers—not just the teacher. Podcasts and videos, including professional lectures such as TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks or student-made videos posted on YouTube or other video hosting sites, are used for listening comprehension, as a springboard for discussion, or for speaking exercises. VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) such as Skype or Yahoo Messenger can be used for synchronous discussions with partners anywhere in the world and presentations with slides and photos, videos, and voice can be used for interactive seminars. There are hundreds of sites with interactive grammar exercises (e.g., ESL Blues or the brand new Online English Grammar gadget you can add to your personalized iGoogle homepage) and vocabulary-enrichment practice, including some that provide opportunities for social service such as Free Rice or Aid to Children. Links to all of these options can be conveniently stored on a wiki (a web page that can be accessed or modified by the user) or a teacher-management site such as Tapped In. Assignments can be deposited in designated folders and reading or listening assignments can be picked up. It is also possible to have sections of public domain novels delivered to an e-mail address every day. The problem is certainly not a lack of material, but rather how to organize it to maximize its potential.

I’m delighted to see so many educators embracing these new technologies and sharing discoveries and successes. The potential is truly exciting. The cross-cultural exchanges and the involvement of educators from the bottom up allow for rich and creative applications. Our net-generation students are more and more adept at communicating and networking through digital media. As digital natives, they are already developing online social skills and building online communities in their mother tongue with sites like Facebook and MySpace. Using the tools of technology in a second language is a logical next step for building new communities and finding new venues for communication. At the same time, the teacher’s role and responsibility is harder to define as trouble-shooting technological skills become essential and valid methods of assessing acquisition become more elusive. Peer-to-peer learning is much harder to supervise and evaluate. If educational curricula continue to have standardized objectives and criteria for assessment, then digital-media-based courses will require a major time investment to scout out the best sites and tools (something that changes daily) and learn how to maximize their potential while ensuring that the course requirements are being met and that there is no abuse. The educational potential of online teaching and learning is enormous, but busy teachers also face the possibility of drowning in too many options. Will erstwhile book-based materials writers become course designers of online tools or perhaps orchestrators of available tools? Will privacy issues make online networks too risky for educators and school boards? Will books withstand the test of time? Are there skills that books develop that digital media can’t accomplish? Will environmental concerns regarding electronic waste affect digital design? Or will new technologies make paper-based publishing obsolete?

It will be interesting to share experiences, insights, and concerns related to using and writing paper-based, multimedia-based, and online-based materials, and I look forward to a lively discussion in Denver!

Jane Petring teaches at Collège Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Québec. She is the author of Insight: English Skills for Academic and Professional Purposesand Insight Grammar, and coauthor of Prospect and Prospect Grammar, published by Les Éditions CEC, 2007. Jane will be leading a discussion on the question“Are Textbooks Still Relevant in a Web 2.0 World?” at TESOL 2009 on Saturday, March 28, at 7 a.m. in Room 708.


Reflections of an ESL Newspaper Writer: Elizabeth Claire

Elizabeth Claire, eceardley@aol.com

Back in 1987, I thought I was going to be able to make a living writing ESL textbooks. I left my day job teaching in a suburban elementary school to finish the ESL Teacher's Activities Kit. That took 18 months. It was followed up with the Holiday Activities Kit (another 10 months) and the thought that royalties from these and three prior books would support me while I continued to write.

Wrong. Publication took 18 months, and then 6 months to earn back the advance. I took in a boarder and ate rice and beans.

By 1995, four more books (with the concomitant anxiety and energy needed to find a willing publisher) and still wrong. I smile as I look back. "The problem is the photocopy machines," one of my publishers told me. This was verified many times over as I visited schools and saw photocopies of pages of my books displayed with students’ work on them. When I met teachers at TESOL conventions, they greeted me with, "Elizabeth Claire, I'm so happy to meet you. Your book saved my life. I liked it so much I made copies of all 280 pages for my friends."

With fans like that, who needs enemies? People thought I must be rich, with a dozen published books that seemed to be doing well in the ESL market. I tried "work for hire" which meant getting paid up front with no royalties. It seemed a good idea at the time, but soon after a book was done, the money was done, too.

Then I thought of publishing an ESL newspaper, supporting it through advertising, and giving it away free just in Bergen County, New Jersey. If it's free, who cares if they photocopy it?

I found a business partner to handle such things as getting ads and paying the bills while I did the writing. This proved to be a huge undertaking, but much of it was great fun. The contrast with writing books was immediately obvious: I had to write short articles (about 12-15 per month). The sense of finishing something on a daily or weekly basis was great, and writing on a variety of topics meant learning a lot along the way. Getting feedback from the readers within a very short time was good for the ego. Compared with spending a year writing a book, a newspaper was published in a month, delivered in a week, and feedback returned immediately. The teachers and readers loved our little newspaper, Easy English NEWS. (Nobody doesn't love something free, we found.) The feedback was very good for energizing the writing machine. (But it didn't pay the bills, which, in my need for validation, I overlooked.) And best of all, I was in control.

The work went far beyond writing, and included things like laying out the paper in a computer, then pasting it onto boards, delivering boards to the printing house, picking up thousands of newspapers in my car, then, with partner and volunteers, counting and packing newspapers, followed by driving through the snow and sleet to deliver papers to 59 schools, ethnic grocery stores, and libraries in Bergen County.  Mariko Sasaki, my business partner, put up funds each month to print the paper, and tried to get ads. I took no salary. But any month now, we thought, we'd be solvent.

A year of this and I discovered, wrong again. We couldn't get enough ads to support the paper. We were shy. We had little spare time. And our circulation was not quite 10,000. We had to face it: We couldn't offer much of a bang for the advertisers' buck.

Mariko and I decided to go nationwide, stop taking ads, and just sell subscriptions. I thought that I could then quit in good conscience if people didn’t want to actually pay for the newspaper they had been getting free. We were soon surprised at the flood of orders. We were busy, busy, busy, opening envelopes, depositing checks, and keeping records. We were surely going to make a living!

Wrong yet again. Lots of orders meant lots of new paperwork and new record keeping, but in the first month, we had received enough money to support one month of the newspaper; however, we then were obligated to print another 10 months of it. So more money had to go into advertising, sending out free samples, and getting labels from TESOL and from marketing sources. Being in control certainly had its downside.

A friend had warned me: "A newspaper is a very, very expensive toy."

And so it was. But it was truly intoxicating. Deadlines drove everything. It took 40 days to research and write, layout, and copyedit a 12-page tabloid-size newspaper. So I put in double days and weekends and worked all summer long, too. At least it wasn't easy to photocopy an 11 x 17 paper, with stories that jump from page 1 to page 11.

I had been trained in liberal arts, languages, and education. I had zero business savvy. So there were lots of things to learn about publishing, advertising, marketing, record keeping, and other things I had never before taken an interest in. And lots of mistakes to make. I made most of them. Just in writing the paper, I counted 58,000 mistakes I could make each month. By this time, I fully appreciated the know-how of the publishers who had previously published my books. What risks they take!

My partner, who was running a language school, had to bow out. Her husband would not let her take part in two businesses that were losing money.

One day a neighbor came to give me advice. "You have to charge more for your newspaper."

"I won't," I said, foolishly true to my socialist upbringing. "I want everyone to have it."

"No one will have it if you go broke. And it sounds like you are worse than broke."

Which was true. I had taken on a home equity loan to stay afloat, and lined up 12 students to tutor to support the newspaper and its staff of three part-time employees. Each month I was deeper in debt. I couldn't afford to quit, because I owed my customers too much. I didn't even have a computer program to tell me how much I owed them should I stop producing the paper. It took hours to calculate that by hand.

Six months later, I reflected on my neighbor's advice and raised the price.

Still, when my accountant looked at the numbers each year, he advised I give up the paper. "Elizabeth! What are you doing? You have to think about your retirement some day. You're working your heart out and you earned nothing."

I was too dumb to quit. So I changed accountants.

"This is a great little newspaper," said my new accountant. " Most new businesses take a few years to get started. You're going to make it." And she was right.

Thirteen years after quitting my day job, and four years after starting Easy English NEWS, the digging into debt stopped. Three years after that, I was dug out, had paid back my loans, said good-bye to my students, and began to take a modest salary for my work. An addressing service packs the newspapers and gets them to UPS and the post office. Competent people run the office. My books sell in modest quantities to my captive audience of newspaper customers. Still, despite 22 books under my belt, the books have never supported me.

Most customers buy 20 to 50 copies of the newspaper for a 10-month subscription. The discount is large for multiple orders, as we pass on the savings for shipping and handling. I smile when I get an occasional phone call from a teacher who buys a single subscription and asks, "Why don't you publish in an 8.5 x 11 format? It would be easier for us to photocopy."

With going on 15 years of experience, I've managed to get the time to produce the paper down to three weeks a month, which gives me time to work on books again. But now, I don't have to try to interest a publisher; I can take my own risks with books I believe in. I know full well some schools are going to photocopy, so I don’t have big expectations of sudden wealth. I’m just satisfied with producing something needed in the field. Easy English NEWS now provides the funds to support itself, me, a dozen part-time staff, and my bad habit of writing books. In the past four years, it has funded four books in theESL Phonics for All Ages series, plus CD recordings and a novel.

That was a long, long haul.

A year ago I wondered if I should retire. I bought a couple of books from Amazon.com. One was called Retire Wild, Happy and Free!

"Just think of the things you can do when you retire," the author wrote. "You can write a book. . . . You can start your own business."

So I no longer think of retiring. I am retired. I write books and have my own business. And it’s all fun. 

Elizabeth Claire is the author of ESL Teacher's Activities Kit; ESL Teacher's Holiday Activities Kit; Classroom Teacher's Survival Kits #1 and 2 (with Judie Haynes); Dangerous English; What's So Funny? Three Little Words; Just-A-Minute!; Hi! This Is Me; All Around Me; ESL Phonics for All Ages (books 1-4 now available); Kristina 1904, the Greenhorn Girl; American Manners and Customs; and The New Boy Is Lost! Help Your Buddy Learn English.


Announcements and Accolades

The third edition of Linda Grant¡¦s Well Said: Pronunciation for Clear Communication (Heinle/Cengage, 2009) is now available. Ancillaries for the highly regarded text include six CDs and an instructor manual with transcripts, answers, and teacher support.

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Keith Folse¡¦s newest publication, Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners: A Practical Handbook (U of Michigan Press, 2008), will launch at TESOL. A workbook is also available for those who want extra practice. 
During Keith¡¦s many years training new ESL/EFL teachers, K-12 content teachers, and freshman composition teachers, he was often asked about aspects of English that many native speakers never think about: non-count nouns, phrasal verbs, and the zero article.  Written with the classroom teacher in mind, Keith¡¦s new Keys to Teaching Grammar describes grammatical terminology and common ESL grammar problems, while it provides answers to typical ESL student questions and innovative ways of teaching grammar.
More info can be found at http://press.umich.edu/ 

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Congratulations to MWIS member Ros Wright, winner of the first David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ESP! Ros and coauthor Marie McCullagh won for the text and accompanying DVD, Good Practice Communication Skills for the Medical Practitioner (Cambridge University Press, 2008). 
The Riley Award is presented by the Business English Special Interest Group of IATEFL and Macmillan.
Good Practice was also shortlisted for the British Council Innovation Awards in 2008.