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Interview with Christina Gitsaki & Richard Taylor

gitsaki_taylor.gifDr. Christina Gitsaki is an Associate Professor at the Nagoya University of Commerce and has taught English to students from Asia, Europe, and South America. Her research interests include vocabulary acquisition and Web-assisted language learning.

Richard Taylor has been teaching for the last ten years at secondary and tertiary level and currently teaches at Nagoya City University. His main research interests are in the areas of CALL and teaching methodology. Taylor and Gitsaki are the authors of Internet English, published by Oxford University Press.

On ELT

ELTNEWS
How long have you been in Japan and what were you doing before that?
Christina
Before I came to Japan, 4 years ago, I was in Australia doing my Ph.D. and working as an ESL teacher at a private language school. I now work at Nagoya University of Commerce and teach English Conversation and Computer Skills courses.
Richard
I was a high school teacher in Brisbane and now I am a lecturer at Nagoya City University teaching English Conversation courses. I came to Japan with Christina, after she finished her Ph.D.

On Writing

ELTNEWS
When did the concept of writing an English course for the Internet come up?
Christina
It all started in spring 1997, when I was asked to teach English courses via computers. I was expected to teach e-mail and computer skills using English in the computer lab. Since there was little material I could use, I had to design a course from scratch so there was a lot of preparation that needed to be done.
Richard
At my university we had a CD-ROM course for learning English that teachers kept using in the computer lab year after year. I had a look at it but it seemed boring and not stimulating enough. So I started working with Christina developing Web-based projects. These materials formed the basis of 'Internet English'.
ELTNEWS
How did the course get published?
Christina
We prepared two sample units on the computer using Adobe PageMaker, and a rationale to accompany the materials. We were very eager to show our work to the publishers and so, at the Hamamatsu JALT Conference in 1997, we decided to approach them directly. I approached one publisher and said, "If someone had an idea for a new textbook, whom should they talk to?" The rep at the stand said she'd pass the materials on but obviously didn't since we never heard from them!

Then I went to the OUP (Oxford University Press) stand and that's when I met Chris Foley, the Editorial Manager for OUP East Asia Publishing. When he saw the materials, he got a picture of what we had in our minds and 3 weeks later he send us an e-mail.

ELTNEWS
What happened next? Did OUP give you a set of deadlines and objectives?
Richard
We had to go through different stages. The most important stage was deciding the format of the units. It took 6 months to 'nail down' the unit format! Once we decided the style and format of each unit we could then work on the content. We had telephone conferences frequently to set deadlines and to discuss the objectives for the next stage.
ELTNEWS
What considerations were made when considering the book's style and format? How much time did you spend on each stage of the book design?
Christina
Well, Chris Foley and his team of editors had a very good idea of what would be suitable for the Asian market, and so we followed their recommendations. Working with an expert team of editors was very helpful, especially since this was our first textbook.
Richard
It took a year to finish the first draft of the manuscript and then it took another seven months of editing.
ELTNEWS
Any disagreements with the publisher?
Christina
There were disagreements on what ideas were important, and what weren't important. For example, they know the market better so they would suggest changes on what they perceive the market needs. In these cases we would conform to that. But if there were any suggested changes that would seriously affect the focus of the book then we would voice our concerns.
ELTNEWS
So from first conceptualisation of the course book to its final release, how long did it take?
Richard
Two and a half years with a little less than two years of straight contact with the publisher. We worked everyday, weekdays, night-time, weekends, and holidays.
ELTNEWS
What were the major changes made during and after testing the course content with your students?
Christina
We always paid attention as to whether the materials were clear enough for the students, whether they had enough direction and guidance to complete the tasks, and what problems they would face in carrying out each of the culminating projects in each unit. We would then revise the materials and test them again.
Richard
I was working at a vocational Junior college while Christina was working in a University, so we had the chance to pilot the materials with both kinds of students. That was a very helpful approach.
ELTNEWS
What feedback have you received from teachers?
Richard
A popular response was "That's the book I needed last year!".
Christina
Teachers want to use Web resources for teaching English, but usually they are held back by the amount of time it takes to design Web-based activities and the uncertainty of what it would be like to let students surf the Web and access authentic material. After attending our presentations teachers usually tell us that they feel a lot more confident about using the Web for teaching English and that they are happy to have a book to guide them and their students.
ELTNEWS
What advice would you give to the prospective course writer?
Christina
Start out by making yourself available to review books that are coming out on the market. Publishers are always looking for reviewers. It gives an idea of how books are written.

Do some market research yourself and see what other books are similar to yours. Will you have any competition? What will make your idea stand out?

What really would help would be to give the publisher a clear picture of what you want them to produce. If the publisher can see what you see, and they are interested, then they will co-operate with you to produce something. But if it's hard for the editor or publisher to figure out what you are trying to create, then they are not going to spend a lot of time trying to understand what you are trying to say.

If they don't understand immediately, then things won't happen. The sample unit really has to grab them. It has to be clear and it has to be accompanied by a rationale. To really attract the big publishers you have to convince them 'why' it is a good idea to publish your manuscript.

On the Internet

ELTNEWS
Finally, do you think the market for Internet-based ELT materials will be big in the coming few years?
Christina
We believe that the Internet is here to stay. It is not a fad and soon it will become even easier to access the Web. For example, these days you do not even need a computer in order to surf the Web and send e-mail. Since our students will be spending a lot of their time surfing the Web, why not teach them how to take advantage of this resource for practicing their English. "Internet English" does exactly that; it teaches students how to use the Web as a tool for exposing themselves to English.

Web resources are the real thing and they are bound to be motivating and appealing to students. So we think that soon there will be a lot more Web-based ELT materials, covering special areas, such as business English, writing, ESP, and offering teachers and students a lot more choice of materials.



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