For many years I worked as a teacher in Japan. Arriving in 2003, I knew almost nothing about Japanese culture. In truth, when I was hired by a small school in Shizuoka prefecture, I couldn’t even find the city on the map. On the website for the prefecture, it described Numazu as “a small fishing village”, so I attributed my inability to locate it to its’ small size. I arrived to find this so-called small village to have a population about the size of Ottawa. Obviously the word “village” had different applications in the land of the rising sun. Years later I moved to Osaka. With a population well over ten million, I was not disappointed by descriptions of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.
Whether I was living in Numazu or Osaka, one thing remained true; Japan was heavily invested in English language learning. The local bookstores had whole sections devoted not only to ESL textbooks and materials, but a variety of English fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children. While the selection was not what you would find here at home, it was amazing to see how popular English titles were, especially considering that the only official language in Japan is Japanese. I’ve often been hard pressed to find French titles at a local Chapters in Ottawa, one of Canada’s few truly bilingual cities that also shares a border with Quebec.
As English spreads its’ tentacles across the globe and becomes more and more the preferred language of business, I think we can expect to see an increased demand in the market for English books in general. As a teacher, I know for a fact that reading plays a huge role in language acquisition and comprehension. As a parent, I also know that the key to fluency is to start early. With populations in the billions and fast-growing economies, Asia is quickly becoming an opportunity for publishing partnerships. The market for book sales overseas will continue to grow and some Canadian publishers are already testing the waters.
In a recent Quill and Quire blog post it was announced that Patricia Aldana, formerly of Groundwood, recently agreed to a publishing venture with CCPPG in China. CCPPG is the largest state-owned publisher in China and the agreement will allow them to create a unique publishing program for children’s books. I think it’s wonderful to see partnerships like these. There is so much potential gain for everyone involved. I think it’s a great opportunity for Canadians to share their expertise in a new environment. It’s also a great opportunity for foreign countries to share culture.
Now, having lived and worked overseas, I don’t pretend that there won’t be some growing pains in the process. In the Quill and Quire article, Patricia points out that she has a very well laid out arrangement and is going into this with her eyes open. I think that is a good approach. With any new business arrangement, there will always be hiccups along the way. I can attest that cultural differences, language, and business practices can often be both subtle and baffling. But I think it is always worth the effort.