Language books flourishing in the Greek market

A small but steadily growing segment of the Greek publishing trade produces books for learners of foreign languages. As specialist publishers catering to the needs of Greek learners, some of these firms are starting to compete on equal terms with the foreign market leaders. Kathimerini English Edition spoke to Spiros Koukidis, director of Praxis Publishers, which has published between five and 10 German-language teaching titles a year since 1994. Like almost every teacher of foreign languages, Koukidis used to prepare his own lesson material, which eventually metamorphosed into book form. It succeeded beyond all expectations, says Koukidis. But many years went by before the next book came out, because at first I hadn’t seen it as an economically profitable activity – yet it is profitable. Describing himself as self-taught, he says: I hope my son will study the basic principles of the profession. When I started out, the science of books and publishing didn’t exist. A close connection Though the vast majority (17 out of 20) of Greeks who learn a foreign language choose English, German has a special place, Koukidis explains, because hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lived in Germany. There are lots of German companies here, and more of them are coming to Greece. Praxis has been successful, says Koukidis. We believe in what we’re doing, and the market has rewarded us. We’ve gained a significant market share, which is continually growing. And in recent years we’ve addressed the international market as well. One reason for the success of Praxis and other Greek publishers in the language-learning field, according to Koukidis, is that books addressed to a specific local readership have a clear advantage. As a rule, he explains, a book that is tailor-made for the learner is better than one that aimed at an international readership. Two factors are involved. The first is purely cultural. A book directed at a local readership can usefully stress and clarify cultural differences in a way that a book made for the whole world can never do. The second is that an English person, for example, learns German completely differently from the way a Greek does. The two languages are totally different; they have different structures. I’m sure an English person wouldn’t be happy with one of our books, just as I can imagine a Greek wouldn’t be happy with a book intended for English learners. The flagship of the Praxis list is their German Grammar and Syntax, a best seller in its field, with more than 75,000 copies of successive editions sold – a very respectable figure in Greek terms. The company initially produced supplementary materials for course books published abroad, but has since begun producing its own tailor-made course books. It also produces CDs, CD Roms and videos. Market trends Books, like any other commodity, are subject to trends. In the language-teaching field, the most recent was for multimedia, which Koukidis believes have not exactly had their day, but are distinctly less popular than they were. Multimedia are a valuable language-teaching tool, in his opinion, but the widely held expectation that computer/learner interaction would replace traditional teacher/learner interaction has not been fulfilled. Koukidis predicts that the book, in its classic form, will survive. As for the Greek book market in general: It’s flourishing; that’s obvious to any one reads or writes or publishes books. And these are not just translations of successful titles from abroad, but purebred Greek books. He cites the example of cookery books: In the past, there were only two or three standard titles. If you go to a bookstore now and ask for the same thing, there are literally hundreds of books with local recipes. These are books of exceptional quality, an example of the specialization that has come to Greece. And there are albums of photographs. There is obviously a market for these books because, let’s face it, no publisher wants his books to remain on the shelf. Apart from the financial gain, one hopes for recognition. Peace and fraternity One exception to the Praxis list of teaching titles is a recent bilingual volume, Cooking for Crete- Fur Kreta Kochen, published on a non-profit basis. Writer Judy Adams conceived the notion of collecting recipes from people all over the world, who had some connection with Crete, to raise funds for an international peace memorial in Preveli, Crete. During the Second World War, local Cretans and the monks of Preveli helped Allied troops escape the invading Germans. Koukidis liked the symbolism of a Greek publisher bringing out a book in the languages of two former opponents, in aid of a monument to peace and fraternity. And it was he who named the book: I like naming my books, he says. I look on them as my children, and I like baptizing my children.