The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 Part 2: What’s next?

In my last post, I talked about some of the reasons why I’ve become frustrated with my work in ELT publishing and started to question where I want to go next. In this post, I want to share some of the thoughts that have been floating around my head, in no particular order, about what I can do to change that.

One of the first questions I’ve had to face is whether I still enjoy working in ELT at all. And you’ll be pleased to hear that the answer is essentially yes. When I’m not getting frustrated dealing with fees and schedules and restrictive briefs, and it’s just me and a Word document and a load of language, then yes, I still love it. What’s not to love about playing with words for a living? The task ahead, then, seems to be one of picking the right projects or as Tania Pattison put it in her recent blog post, taking on projects that “fit with your vision of yourself as a writer” … which is perhaps easier said than done!

Having started off as a lexicographer, I’m still at my happiest using a corpus to tease out how language works. I really could happily spend all my time investigating how words fit together; making lists of collocations and phrases and colligations and dependent prepositions and explaining all the subtle and quirky differences between them. That should equate to writing vocab materials, but having done a lot of that in recent years, I know it’s not always as satisfying as I’d like. The briefs for many vocab projects involve a pre-determined syllabus and format, and an infuriating reliance on wordlists which take no account of chunks and phrases and multiple meanings or the difference between receptive and productive lexis*. And you find yourself being told that you can’t use a word because it’s ‘above level’ or been ‘covered’ before or … any number of other completely nonsensical reasons why you can’t do what you know is pedagogically sound.

Which perhaps leads me naturally to think about breaking away from publishers to go it alone. Several people I’ve spoken to have talked about self-publishing as an alternative. It does have a certain appeal, but from what I’ve heard of others’ experiences, self-publishing involves a huge amount of investment of both time and money, for very little return. You simply don’t make money from self-published materials. And whilst I’m not only in it for the money, this is my job and I do need to pay the mortgage. From a practical point of view, that means either writing something quite small in scope, like the How to Write EAP Materials title I did for ELT T2W, or stretching work on a bigger project out over a longer period of time, squeezing in bits and pieces when I can. I do have a few half-ideas floating around, but nothing fully formed and ready-to-go just yet.

Another option is to more actively push for the types of work I enjoy most … again, not always easy. A few of my ‘big breaks’ and changes of direction have come from proactively pushing. My first book (Common Mistakes at Proficiency) came about because I was doing corpus research for the series and I summoned up the courage to ask the editor if they had authors for all the titles. They hadn’t and she asked if I’d like to write one of them. Other work has come, either directly or indirectly, from chatting to the right people at conferences. A huge amount is down to luck and timing, but sometimes going along to the right events and making your interest in a specific area well known can help. To this end, I’ve started to nudge myself in a couple of directions …

Firstly, I’ve realized that one of the things I enjoy most is messing about with a corpus. Sadly though, it’s something that only rarely do I get paid to do. So I’ve started to edge my way a bit more into the corpus linguistics world. Back in October, I went along to a Corpus Linguistics in the South event in Cambridge. Most of the people there were academics talking about their research, but there are a few other folks who bridge the gap between the academic and the commercial. I haven’t yet spotted an obvious opportunity for work beyond what I’ve already been involved in, but I’m enjoying getting back into the academic side of the discipline and you never know what might crop up. I’m planning to put a proposal in for at least one corpus linguistics conference in 2018, so we’ll see where that leads.

Another aim is to get away from my desk a bit more. Most years, I manage to go to a handful of conferences and events, either as a participant or a speaker, and I generally come back feeling energised and having learnt something new, about a different teaching context or a different area of ELT. Unfortunately, unless I can get sponsored by a publisher to do a talk on their behalf, the costs come out of my own pocket, and with lots of conferences expecting speakers to pay a conference fee as well as their travel expenses, that soon becomes unaffordable. One option I’d like to explore more though is doing more teacher training. I love getting to meet and work with teachers from different places and, as well as being fun, it feeds neatly back into my writing. I recently ran a teacher training workshop in Moscow, which I really enjoyed, and I’ll be looking out for more similar opportunities in the year ahead.

So I guess that’s a few leads to be getting on with, nothing radical and no magic bullet solution, but hopefully, a general push into slightly new directions for 2018.

*I'll be talking about wordlists and their (mis)use in ELT publishing at the IATEFL conference in Brighton in April.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger Tyson Seburn said...

I'll join you in thinking about delving a bit into more formalised teacher training, which I really have never done. Workshops and talks here and there, but nothing ever on an actual course. Maybe 2018 is a time to try that. Unfortunately here, my MA doesn't qualify me alone... stupid really.

3:00 pm  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

I'm not quite thinking formal teacher training courses (a la CELTA/DELTA) either, but just a bit more than I've been doing so far. So my Moscow trip was more CPD than teacher training, but a whole day of workshops rather than a single 60-minute type talk/workshop. It was really nice to do something that was more than just a quick overview. I'm thinking a day or a couple of days of CPD workshops in specific areas would be great.

5:56 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home