Writing ELT materials in Morocco

This blog post is the latest in our series of posts on ELT materials writing around the world. Here, ESP writer Moundir Al Amrani looks at the state of ELT materials writing in Morocco.

After reading some of the other blog posts about writing ELT materials in different parts of the world, I started thinking about my home country, Morocco. Here we have a wide variety of local languages, and for most speakers, the second language is French. English is a foreign language, but it has a growing community of users. One would think that with the growing popularity of English and the increasing demand for English coursebooks, being an ELT materials writer in Morocco is an easy endeavour. That is far from the truth.

Writing ELT materials for one’s own classes does not necessarily pave the way for a career writing for the local market. Not everyone in Morocco is familiar with the way publishing works, and writing ELT materials is, to my knowledge, not a common activity among ELT practitioners. The exception is the textbooks used in Moroccan high schools, which are written by Moroccan teachers and professors of English. Apart from these textbooks, there are very few materials destined for English language learners at state schools written by Moroccan writers, apart from some worksheets and study practice handouts written by teachers for their students to use as exam preparation materials.

Outside the state school system, books published by renowned foreign publishers remain the favourites. Language schools often prefer to adopt bestselling texts. This is especially true if these texts are known to be used by a particularly reputable school; schools are keen to prove that they, too, offer high-quality English courses by using the same texts. I have worked with schools that insist on their teachers using certain books for that reason even though the teachers themselves may not prefer the chosen texts.

As a writer of materials for English for Specific Purposes, I have struggled in the local context. I was initially inspired by my experience in teaching ESP and my knowledge of technology to write ESP materials. Winning the MaWSIG Scholarship for Writing Talent in 2016 gave me the confidence to go a step further and venture into writing an ELT book for students of English for computer science. The task was never easy. I had to write my own scope and sequence; then, I did my research and wrote texts for the reading sections. After this, I had to think about listening comprehension, so I wrote the listening passages myself. Even the piloting of the book I had to do on my own, and I relied completely on my students’ feedback. All of this was done with the hope of getting the book published somehow. As the book started to take shape, my dreams of having it published grew bigger, which made me put more effort into the book.

I had big plans for my book; however, it did not make it off the ground. There were no publishers willing to take the risk of publishing a book by a local writer; the market is replete with alternatives with a greater chance of success and acceptance by local customers. As I mentioned earlier, a better alternative is always a book by a reputable foreign publisher. The publishers I talked to were willing to publish the book If I paid for it, but never to publish it in the same way that they publish other books. Of course, they refused politely, but it was clear that they saw no point in taking such a risk.

The other problem faced all the time by an ELT materials writer in a situation like mine is getting published outside the country. I tried my luck with a few publishing houses in the UK; most ELT publishers are based there, which I assumed meant a better chance for success. Once it became clear that I was not getting anywhere with local publishers, I submitted proposals for the same book to a couple of publishers abroad. Some of my proposals got a thank-you email that ended with a polite rejection line; others never got a reply.

The only solution I was left with was to self-publish my book and do the rest of the work on my own, including design, marketing, and so on, but I knew that even if I did this, there would be hardly any chance of convincing fellow teachers and language schools to use the book. There are hardly any self-published ELT books in Morocco, except, as I said earlier, some study practice materials and handouts. It would not be a surprise to find a lot of materials written by teachers for their students, but the question is whether those materials will get published.

I would like to end with a final word to fellow aspiring ELT writers in a similar situation. Writing ELT materials should be a passion, and hard work always pays off. What I mean by this is that I would love to see writers in similar situations get the chance to publish their materials. Publishers have everything to learn from writers in different contexts. English is a universal language used by people around the world, so we need to see what these writers can add to materials written for the teaching of this language.

Moundir Al Amrani is an ELT materials writer and teacher at the National Institute of Posts and Telecommunications, an engineering school in Rabat, Morocco, where he teaches ESP, Business English and content courses in the humanities. He also teaches EAP at the graduate school. Moundir was the winner of the Oxford University Press and IATEFL MaWSIG New Writing Talent Scholarship in 2016.

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3 responses to Writing ELT materials in Morocco

  1. Dorothy 14 February 2018 at 7:12 am #

    Publishers usually make plans about what to publish in advance–up to five years in advance, typically–and then look for writers to work on those projects. So step one is just getting yourself known. One way to do this by talking to sales reps and other staff members at conferences–let them know you’re interested in piloting and/or reviewing materials. Once you’ve done that, let them know you’d like to be considered for ancillary writing (such as workbooks, teacher’s guides, web material, etc). After that, they’ll be more likely to read a proposal from you, or to select you to help write a student’s book.

    Even that is no guarantee, though. Because I’ve been writing textbooks since 2001, publishers will read proposals from me. But they rarely (never?) accept my original ideas these days–they’re looking for people to write the books they’ve already decided they want. Compensation for writing has also decreased in recent years. Some major publishers don’t offer royalties at all anymore.

    I wouldn’t give up on self-publishing. It’s going to be more work to get your book in the hands of teachers, yes, but you’ll have more control over your content, and can also price lower, which makes your books attractive to students and teachers. Just beware of pirates, who will make a .pdf of your work and then share it freely–and you get nothing for your hard work. These are challenging times to be a textbook writer, for sure! Best of luck.

  2. Evan Frendo 14 February 2018 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences – very interesting. It is certainly a tough business, especially if you are not an established writer. Another option may be not to think about traditional ELT publishing, but approaching the end user directly. Many corporations and organisations find the idea of bespoke language training materials very attractive, and this has always been an important niche in the ESP materials market. Your clients are HR departments, training managers, language training providers, and so on, rather than publishers. You do, however, need to be able to persuade these clients that they can expect a good ROI, so negotiating skills are essential.

  3. Jen Dobson 14 February 2018 at 9:52 am #

    A very interesting post, Moundir. And an insightful response from Dorothy. I recently went to a Society of Author meeting where nearly everyone was now self-publishing, not ELT authors as such, but many had had successful books published, but felt they could earn more self-publishing. However, those doing best already had good marketing, financial and tech skills. Am not sure if you’ve actually published your book yet? If so, do send us the link. And as Dorothy says, best of luck!

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