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An interview with Simon Kent

Simon Kent, co-author of the Market Leader and Language Leader series, has over 20 years’ teaching experience including three years as an in-company trainer in Berlin at the time of German reunification. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Business English and General English at London Metropolitan University.

Market Leader was first published in 2000 as an intermediate-level course and is now in its third edition, illustrating its continuing relevance and popularity. Language Leader was first published in 2008 as a four-level general English course for adults and with the publication of the advanced book in 2010 is now a five-level series.

To visit the Language Leader website for teachers, click on: http://www.pearsonlongman.com/languageleader/index.html

Ed: The continuing success of Market Leader must be a high point in your career. Could you tell us about some of the other highlights?

Yes, obviously it is, but it’s really a hobby which got out of hand. It’s now become a sort of machine which can’t be switched off! I think the other highlight is Language Leader, which was really hard work publishing four levels simultaneously, but very pleasing when it finally came out. I think it’s more unusual for Business English writers to move from the specifics of Business English to the area of General English, rather than the other way round. Teaching in Berlin when the wall came down was a once in a lifetime chance experience. Teaching former East Germans, who because they had learnt Russian at school as a foreign language, spoke English with a Russian accent was a bit bizarre!

Ed: What is your connection with International House?

I worked at IH London for 20 months in the early nineties, after I came back from Berlin. This was in the Executive Centre which had been set up, and was run at that time by Joe Wiersma. He was quite a character – a real salesman but often a little eccentric. Apropos of nothing he’d say things like “There are too many chairs in this classroom”!

Ed: When you were working on the first edition of Market Leader, did you have a feeling it was going to be a success?

I thought it was a good book but I didn’t think it would turn into the great success it has become. Initially it was a single level course and it was going to be black and white and pink to reflect the Financial Times involvement. I guess that unless you are very cynical, as a coursebook writer you are always going to write the sort of book which you would like to use, which I suppose is to an extent rather selfish. However, if you can connect with other teachers and produce something which speaks to them and which they feel they can sell to, and use with, their learners, then the triangle between writer, teacher and learner is complete!  

Ed: Why do you think the series continues to be such a success?

Well obviously the Financial Times link has played a part in terms of credibility, but I think it’s probably ultimately because the course seems to manage to hit both the pre-work and in-work markets, which I don’t think all Business English courses are able or choose to do. The other point, and it is one which was, and is, very important to me, is the look of the book – the design and use of visuals, which, I think, has been much imitated. Before Market Leader, business courses used visuals very literally and were therefore full of people in suits using telephones. I remember a very early publishing meeting, taking along a load of record sleeves and asking the head of design if we could do something similar. The point is that for me it has to be something attractive to hold, an object of desire, which a business person (or someone aspiring to be one) would feel happy to carry about.

Ed: How has the series developed over the various editions?

Each edition has changed and updated the reading and listening texts, ironed out any creases, and also added a new feature. For the second edition, we added revision units and did a bit of streamlining, and for the third we have some cross cultural spreads called ‘Working across Cultures’, video interviews as well as a new series of specialist satellite titles.

Ed: What advice do you have for aspiring coursebook writers?

Well in theses days of the instant fame culture of reality TV such as the X factor and fame academy, maybe expectations have to be lowered. Even publishing success is unlikely to change your life overnight. As an EFL writer you’re likely only to be famous for fifteen people – usually your current class! It’s definitely hard work, but it can be rewarding if you can get

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