In the 25 years since it was first published, Headway has become the best selling English Language course ever. We asked authors Liz and John Soars what inspired them to write the course and why they think it has achieved such success and longevity.
The first Headway manuscript was typed in 1984 on a manual typewriter which had no ‘correct’ function, so the pages were heavily caked in Tipp-Ex, and had bits of paper with corrections glued on top of the original until the pages were in places ten strips deep. We were in the early stages of negotiations with Oxford University Press.
An important thing to remember about Headway, is that it was originally commissioned as just a two-book series at Intermediate and Upper-Intermediate levels. It was only when these became successful that we were asked to continue the series. This we did by writing Headway Advanced. We went ‘up’ before we went ‘down’ the levels, so to speak.
We wanted to write what we believed in from both our teaching and teacher training experience. We were familiar with all the latest so-called ‘communicative’ ideas in ELT circles but we had become wary of fashionable bandwagons. We wanted to write a genuinely and practically useful course for teachers and their students.
When Headway was yet to be commissioned (let alone named) our friend John Walsh, Managing Director at BEBC, looked at the forlorn pages of words followed by more words, and after careful examination that lasted all of ten seconds, he pronounced “Of course, it will never sell.” Thanks John. However, after that he did say some nice things, and his words were very much worth listening to and heeding, because he has always had his ear very close to whatever is happening in ELT circles.
Just after the first book was published John made a radio programme for BBC English, and very sweetly gave Headway a plug, saying that he thought it was a book to keep an eye on, representing as it did the best of traditional approaches and more recent communicative ones. Later still he wrote an article for the Bookseller, and said tremendously nice things about the series.
The series grew from two levels to six simply because teachers asked for more. Its development was never part of some grand publishing plan. Nowadays so many courses seem to start out with six levels in mind. We always feel that Headway has benefited from having grown more slowly and in step with teachers’ requests. We hope that each edition is, on the one hand, still true to the initial principles we believe in as teachers, but on the other, espouses new developments which we feel are of real and practical use to language teachers.
John Walsh has been a huge support to us over the past thirty-plus years, both as a friend (we have known John and his wife Ann since before they knew each other – THAT long), and as a colleague in the publishing business. Thanks for everything, John.
Liz and John Soars
Liz and John have so far sold 72 million copies of Headway worldwide and are currently working on the 4th edition of New Headway Pre-Intermediate. To find out more about Headway visit the New Headway page on OUP Global Blog, or to purchase a copy visit BEBC’s website.
So, in your experience why do you think Headway is so successful and what does it mean to you? Please leave your comments below.