TAFE used to run an English class at Don KR Castlemaine bacon factory. I was the teacher. Some South Sudanese men who had never been to school anywhere were employed in the small-goods section.
I searched in vain for reading material that was suitable for adults who were only beginning to read and write, but all I could find were stories for early primary school. Stories about kittens and teddy bears. Hardly material for these tall, strong men who had dealt with war and who had escaped from danger.
My partner had a small publishing business, so I suggested we produce books that were adult in content but suitable for beginners. He agreed and so Sound English was created.
We based our work on the 44 sounds we use in Aussie English. Over the next few years, we wrote, illustrated and published fifty small readers.
English isn’t an easy language to learn. The first book we produced was called Friends. We focussed on the sound e as in egg. How many ways are there to write that sound? Well, there’s e as in egg but what about ie as in friend, a as in many and ea as in bread? No wonder even those born in Australia find spelling hard!
Whenever possible we included humour, so I had fun writing. Titles included Thelma’s three husbands, Chicken, chips or Chinese? Hurt at work and The new driver.
Over the next decade we sold to most TAFE colleges in Queensland, prisons in WA and adult education centres in all states. Also, overseas. Students born in Australia but who, for whatever reason, hadn’t learned to read and write well also appreciated them.
We often travelled across Australia. I found out in advance what high schools and adult education places were in each town we were to pass through and phoned ahead for an appointment. Many of these places now have our titles in their collection.
But we are not young. Last month my partner and I had a serious talk. He had been finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the administrative side and suggested we close our business down. It was time!
Not easy though. First we had to announce the closure on our website. I also announced the news on Facebook. Tributes were posted…’A hard decision to make. Be proud of how many lives you’ve changed.’
‘What a pity. Your books have made my English tutoring easier and a lot of fun, as they are humorous, as well as containing themes which are relevant, or which students can relate to. I am glad I have a set, but sad you are going out of production. Good luck with the future.’
Our garage has the remaining stock - about 100 sets of books which we don’t want to waste. We talked about possibilities over many coffees. Try to sell the business? Give the books to volunteer groups? Give them free of charge to libraries with a request that the books be catalogued. (By cataloguing them my partner and I will continue to receive an annual payment from the Attorney General’s Department for Public Lending Rights). Or offer former clients free sets of books to replace them. Many options.
It’s a little like dying, except we are still alive to receive feedback. We gave birth. We worked very hard. We grew tired. We decided to put our business to sleep.
If you’re interested, you can look at our website - soundenglish.com.au.
We close on November 30th. After that? Maybe a real retirement?