Friday, June 13, 2008

betty schrampfer azar & the grammar wars

I'm gathering my thoughts on a major project- on Betty Azar, who I consider to be an extremely important and influential person in ESL/EFL. I've done some preliminary research and so far have this much to say:

First, since she started out at Univ. of Iowa and Iowa State, I have two good reasons to like her already. She lived and taught in St. Louis and so could be considered local by those around here- many of whom I know; many of whom helped her on her first books. I have in fact met her though I doubt she'd remember me, but I believe we had a mutual friend, someone from Iowa or here.

Her books have sold by the billions, and in ESL/EFL that's remarkable since there are ten pirated copies, eight in China alone, for every single book sold, I would guess. I have no figures on her book sales- I would like them; I also have no idea where books are pirated the most, forgive my slur. Who knows? I can tell you, they give away bibles in every motel, and there are still more Azars, I bet.

They are especially famous among teachers, many of whom have learned their grammar directly from her. Her role in the field of grammar instruction is the most remarkable. She made textbook writing a science; she wrote what was most useful to her as she taught.

About half of the teachers hate her books, and this is what I find interesting. Students love them. But the book divided the field in half.

Here are some other things I've learned:

-teachers are not beyond copying and pirating books either. China has the worst reputation but who knows? People want to learn English everywhere.
-Betty is well aware of the high degree of influence she holds over teaching/learning ("the textbook author is the middleman in the process") and she's still at it, writing, revising, etc.
-her approach stems directly from finding out and providing what students want: a clear explanation of the grammar. You'd think this would be more valuable, English being one of the most influential languages in the world: but keep in mind, about half of the profession thought this was counterproductive to learning, or at best, unnecessary. A teacher who just watched students carefully, and did what they wanted, always ended up with Azar in hand, though. You can probably see, I'm in her camp on this.
-Pickins are slim on Google, on Azar, except for all the booksellers clamoring to get a piece of the pie. It thins out. There are a couple of interviews with her. There is nobody to my knowledge that directly addresses the question of her role in the field.
-She still can be seen at TESOLs- is still a celebrity- is still doing the celebrity book-signing tours, etc.

There's a story in here- though I don't know if I'm the one to tell it. Maybe I'll just stick with "minor project" and let it go.

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