What does Headway mean to you?

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.

John and Liz Soars

John and Liz Soars

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.

New Headway Intermediate 4th Edition

New Headway Intermediate 4th Edition

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.


6 thoughts on “What does Headway mean to you?

  1. I’ve been using Headway for over ten years and no other book can beat its intermediate level approach. What do students really need to able to speak English properly? The 2A/2B series focus on question making, one of the toughest issues to be resolved in English language learning. Speakers of languages which descend from Latin have no trouble, until intermediate/upper-intermediate levels, building sentences, as the system used in the English language rarely differs from the usual subject+verb+object (or complement). But things change dramatically when it comes to question building. Headway tests students on the matter ALL the time, from beginning to end. What other book does that so well? I tell my students that if they can’t understand the question asking concept, they will never be able to be proficient. Another thing, students that can’t ask questions properly can’t understand when they’re asked either. I’ve already tested them on that. Another thing is that the book is tough without overloading students with new words that won’t be used later on. Almost all words that show up in Headway, appear in other books too, thus giving a sense of continuity, which is so important for vocabulary acquisition. The grammar reference is extremely rich in realistic example sentences (case of the Passive Voice and Present Perfect tense), and the listening exercises are abundant with different voices, which always keep native speaking speed. The new editions are superb. Headway is surely part of my succes as a teacher. John and Liz, thank you for this wonderful job and I just wanted to share these words with you guys. The book is a best seller in São Paulo, Brazil, and is always sold out.

  2. Thanks for your comments Marco. I’m glad Headway has been so useful to you and I will be sure to pass on your comments to Liz and John.

  3. Maria Teresa Moraes

    Headway is the best course book ever. I´ve used both Headway and American Headway and I wouldn´t say there is a big difference, so I dare use them both. I completely agree with Marcio and I also dare to say that the reading material is perfect and the way it´s applied as a reading comprehension exercise, speaking and listening so perfectly balanced in the unit. Whenever I have a chance, I use Headway listening in class and also the texts for reading comprehension activity. It´s a pity I am not using it but I do hope to use it in a near future.

  4. I remember going into a second-hand English language bookstore looking to get a complete set on English text books. I found a complete set of Headway and thought I’d go for it. The guy in the shop actually warned me against them, but I decided to ignore his advice. And I’m glad I did. My students much preferred them to the books I was using previously and they saw me through a good two years. Thanks a lot!

  5. I have been and still learning and teaching English, i was always worried about the books i read and study for my language improvement, but when i came across Head Way i felt i found my lost icon.
    For me the important thing in the series is the fidelity of the writers and their loyalty to their job as teachers and teacher trainers, they are gifted; no one can do this job and meet all this success if he is not.
    It is the best book to study and teach.

  6. Read on to know all that you need to get the perfect accent.
    This will not be part of the test; the sentences played are simply introductory sentences.
    Open the latest tabloid rags, and you’ll see your favorite stars clubbing non-stop in jolly ole England.

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