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Writing for ESL Markets
by Amy Chavez

Return to International Freelancing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

The ESL market is largely overlooked market by freelance writers. For those new to the field, ESL means English as a Second Language (sometimes called EFL, English as a Foreign Language). A large part of the world speaks English in addition to their native language. Since English is in many ways a universal language, people all over the world are constantly studying English for business and communication purposes. English-speaking countries have a continual stream of immigrants who also need English language skills to survive. In Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and Thailand, where English is not an official language, people depend on ESL reading materials, tapes and radio programs to hone their language skills.

ESL markets are often good reprint markets because readers like to know that they are reading something that has already appeared somewhere else. It's a guarantee that the material is authentic and provides a model against which readers can measure their own reading skills.

What does it take to write for the ESL market?

There are no prerequisites, although it may help if you have some language teaching experience or experience in learning foreign languages yourself. You must be able to understand what ESL readers want and need. Since most ESL publications are meant for self-study, you'll find a motivated, inquisitive readership. These readers are interested in foreign cultures, customs and communication tips. They want useful information that will help them be informed and avoid faux pas when interacting with people from (or in) other countries. For example, an article on table manners or how to eat a 7-course meal would be of interest to Asian readers. A look into business practices of five top American businesses might be of interest to European readers. Articles about celebrities, tourist spots, and major cities are universal themes found in almost any ESL publication.

What types of ESL publications exist?

The most widely available types of ESL publications are newspapers, magazines and books.

NEWSPAPERS: Many English newspapers put out a weekly, condensed version especially for ESL learners. These weeklies include shortened summaries of news that appeared in the daily paper as well as an array of new articles from freelance writers. The difference between articles used in the ESL publication and those used in the regular newspaper is that the ESL articles have been shortened (100-300 words, feature articles no longer than 500 words) and translations of selected vocabulary words and phrases are offered in the margin or in a sidebar. Don't worry about the translations (unless this is your area of expertise); the editor will usually assign a staff person to those.

Newspapers may also offer a cassette tape, sold separately, with narrations of selected articles so that readers can practice their listening skills. Types of articles open to freelancers in these weekly newspapers include celebrity profiles or interviews, travel destinations (general topics such as in the Silk Road, or the best of the USA in one week), profiles of interesting people, the origins of holidays and traditions, movie excerpts with translations, astrology, and comics. Anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the newspaper may focus on specific language-learning exercises such as vocabulary-building, using proverbs, mastering business English expressions and learning English for specific purposes such as shopping, taking a taxi, etc. You'll also find a section for crossword puzzles and language games.

MAGAZINES: ESL Magazines offer more in-depth content than newspapers and have more feature articles. They usually offer a cassette tape of selected articles for listening practice. Areas open to freelancers include human interest stories, personality profiles, articles on entertainment and culture (music, books, astrology, cooking), explanations of traditions, humor, and regional travel destinations (Kentucky's horse country, France's wine country, etc). There is usually a section on English language learning; however, the size varies greatly depending on the magazine. For examples of ESL magazines, see the BBC's Learning English.

Since the entertainment factor is usually higher in magazines than newspapers, when considering what to submit to an ESL magazine, consider universal topics such as celebrities (How did Antonio Banderas break into Hollywood?), McDonald's (Who created the Ronald McDonald characters?), the Beatles (Where are good places to eat in the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool?), and pizza (What is the origin of pizza?). These are topics that will appeal to ESL learners all over the world.

BOOKS: Do you have a good idea for an ESL book? ESL books cover a wide spectrum, from English songs to essays and crossword puzzles. Sergio Aragones of "Mad Magazine" published a collection of cartoons in an ESL book intended to help learners generate English conversations. Mike Royko has a collection of newspaper columns for the ESL market. So does Bob Greene. Can you explain English- speaking cultures through essays, articles or comics? Sometimes an ESL publisher will require you to include comprehension exercises at the end of each chapter. If you don't have any experience in this area, you might consider working with a co-author who does. See the "Resources" section for information on ESL publishers.

Helpful Resources:

The Japan Times Shukan Weekly

Mini World

BBC's "Learning English"

Dave's ESL Cafe

ESL books:

JAG Publications

Copyright © 2000 Amy Chavez
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Amy Chavez is a columnist for The Japan Times. She is the author of Guidebook to Japan, what the other guidebooks won't tell you and hosts two podcasts: Planet Japan and Animal Tales: Live interviews with animals. Visit her online at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amy-Chavez/177802342261206


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