Germany 1:0 England – ELT Publishing in Deutschland

This post is the second in our series on working in ELT materials development around the world. Here, Clare Maas describes the situation in Germany.

In Germany, there are just a couple of key local publishers (e.g. Cornelsen, Klett) who dominate the market alongside the international ones. There seems to be a fairly clear division of responsibilities here, with the Germany-based publishers mainly producing materials for secondary schools (by far the biggest chunk of the market) and materials used in higher or adult education often coming from international, usually UK-based, companies.

In my experience, publishers of school materials tend to prefer authors who have experience working in the particular school type and federal state that the book is targeted at. I guess this is closely linked with the fact that curricula are determined by the education ministries of each individual state and that most states still have two or three types of secondary school (akin to the old ‘secondary modern’ or ‘grammar school’ divisions in the UK). My use of hedging language here is due to my status as an ‘outsider’ to this sphere of publishing, never having worked as a teacher at a German secondary school!

However, I can tell you about supplementary materials for self-study and private tuition, which is big business in Germany. My first writing job was for a publisher that specialises in self-study materials for secondary-school students. I was working as a foreign language assistant in a secondary school when a colleague approached me about joining the project. In terms of getting this kind of writing job, then, I’d say it’s more a case of being in the right place at the right time, rather than having very specific experience. I know colleagues who tried sending CVs or responding to job ads, but who never heard anything back. And in general, my feeling is that having contacts and a good relationship with a publisher is more important than having a shining CV.

That said, competence in German is probably quite a helpful skill for a writer to have here: a lot of vocabulary items and sometimes task instructions in these resources are explained in German, and you might need to be able to understand the curriculum for the state, school type and level that you’ll be writing for, if the materials are to supplement children’s coursebooks. Regarding the status of authors, these kinds of textbooks generally come in series to cover several years of school curricula, so the writer is often required to fit their content into a fairly strict concept drawn up by the publisher, somewhat limiting the scope for creativity and authors’ decisions on approach or sequencing, for example. Still, this might be an easier way in than trying to get work writing the compulsory school textbooks!

A general trend in educational resources is the shift towards digital materials and blended learning components. This has not passed Germany by, but the implementation of digital resources in the German state sector seems to be a rather long and slow process. Most of the resources being produced here are still in print form. Based on my own teaching context, a university with around 13,500 students which only fairly recently installed data projectors in teaching rooms and boasts a grand total of four interactive whiteboards, I’d say part of the problem may be the lack of facilities for digital learning. (The government promises this is changing…) Also, (at least some) German publishers would ideally like to find authors who are experienced teachers, who can write ELT materials, and who have the necessary computer skills to produce digital materials or apps. Payment tends to be by royalties, so the more people involved in the project, the less lucrative it becomes for each of them. If this is you, though, it’s a good time to get into materials writing in Germany!

I’ve also heard that competency-based learning, which is what many German curricula have been steeped in for years, might be falling out of favour somewhat and that we might see a return to more content-based syllabi. English-medium education and CLIL do seem to be on the rise, potentially creating a gap in the market for new resources and new writers. Still, since so much of this will be aligned to state curricula and not very transferable to other contexts, my prediction is that the Germany-based publishers will have the edge on this.

I’d say the local publishers also have the upper hand when it comes to Business English resources. The German market is full of BE coursebooks which are tailored to German learners. Plus, the most widely used of these books are pretty progressive – it is fairly commonplace to incorporate ELF, intercultural competence and other transferable skills. I’ve heard of international companies attempting to enter the German market with business English resources but not being able to compete very successfully against the ’home-grown‘ publishers.

Overall, then, the most successful materials in Germany tend to stem from local publishers and are targeted quite specifically at the German-speaking market. Networking and getting to know the editors and other reps is probably the best way to get your foot in the door, and if you have state-school teaching experience, German language competence and computer skills for making digital materials, you’ll probably be even more welcome! If you want to go for it, the main ones are Cornelesen and Klett, plus Langenscheidt and Hueber. Moreover, most of these Germany-based companies have collaborated with UK-based or international publishers for a long time and have been responsible for marketing and distributing their textbooks within Germany, especially for higher and adult education. More recently, though, some of them have decided to ‘go it alone’, and a wave of new writing opportunities has been created. So what are you waiting for?

Clare Maas holds post-graduate qualifications in teaching and in translation from the University of Wales and Trinity College London. She has been teaching English in tertiary education for over 10 years. Her professional interests include EAP materials development, translation in ELT and CPD for teachers.

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