A Brief Hiatus and a new intro to Vietnamese

Last week I wrote about some spring cleaning we were doing here at Tuttle’s Vermont office as we closed our warehouse and merged that part of our operation with Simon & Schuster. Another big change is that today is my last day here. I’m leaving to take a new job as the Director of Sales and Marketing at the University of Alabama Press.

I’m a native Alabaman. Citizens of the Yellowhammer State mostly prefer the demonym “Alabamian”, but there’s no reason of logic, tradition, or aesthetics to wedge an extra ‘i’ in before the last ‘a’. A native Muskogean word well-fit to the Anglo-Saxon rhythm of English, an Alabaman is what I’ll be next week.

I’m also a graduate of the University of Alabama. I did my BA there, and it was from there that I made my first trip over to Japan, studying at the Kansai University of Foreign Studies in Osaka. Later on, I did my first stint at Tuttle in our Tokyo office. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and plan to continue, but I’m packing up my house this weekend and need to take the next couple of weeks off from writing. Wish me well, and I’ll look forward to re-starting the conversation soon.


The 3rd edition of Elementary Vietnamese by Harvard’s Binh Nhu Ngo includes a free audio disc.

Before I go, I’d like to raffle of our newly released 3rd edition of Elementary Vietnamese by Harvard’s Dr. Binh Nhu Ngo.

The largest of the Austroasiatic languages, Vietnamese is spoken by about 90 million people worldwide. It is related to Khmer (which rhymes not with “bear” but with “buy”) in neighboring Cambodia. It is not related to Chinese, but, like many languages on China’s cultural periphery, Vietnamese borrowed so many loanwords from China that early European linguists assumed it was.

Vietnamese is one of the few continental Asian languages written in a romanized script. Called Quốc Ngữ, which means “national language”, Vietnamese script uses roman letters to indicate the 12 vowels and 6 tones of the modern language.

Dr. Ngo’s book has been the definitive Vietnamese textbook on the market for some years. What the book lacked was the free audio disc that the volumes in Tuttle’s “Elementary” series usually include. And audio material is tough to do without, especially with tonal languages. Saying a book is “new and improved” is a dull cliche in publishing, but in this case the extremly high quality audio material recorded by the author at Harvard really makes this THE gold standard in Vietnamese language. Click here to email me and write “Vietnamese” in the subject line. I’ll announce a winner soon.


Top-selling Foreign Languages in the US

48053100204630The winner of Friday’s Tuttle’s Learning Chinese Characters was Janet in Eastleigh in the UK. Janet is a true linguist, a great blogger, and skilled origamist. You can catch up with her at Janet’s Notebook.

Here in the book industry, I enjoy being able to see some aggregate sales data about language books. This morning, I got to review some data about the 200 best-selling language books in the US wholesale and retail market and thought I’d share the “executive summary” here:

No surprise, Spanish is the great colossus in the US foreign-language market, and, in this survey of the top 200, Spanish materials make up 50% of the total units sold. Spanish is so far ahead that the top-selling Spanish book on the list (a paperback Merriam-Webster Spanish-English Dictionary under $7) outsells the bottom 25 books combined.

Our proximity to Latin America and sizable population of hispanohablantes in the US gives learning Spanish a real sense of utility. Studies of why US students most often choose Spanish, unfortunately, never fail to uncover a majority who admit that they perceive Spanish as the easiest foreign language to learn. The fact that US high school students pick a language based on ease says more about them (something woeful) than about Spanish—a noble language with quite a bit of grammatic nuance. But my point of view is “good riddance”. If you’re just looking for an easy grade, hasta luego.

Books in French and Italian came in at 17% and 10% of units sold. The French books tend to be grammar, while the Italian ones are travelers’ phrase books. ESL (English as a Second Language) grabs nearly 7%. German squeaks in at 4%. After that, a surprise. Lingua latina tamen mortua non est. Not dead yet! Latin is still alive at 3%.

It’s after we nearly exhaust European languages that we then see Japanese (#7) and Chinese (#8) as the highest ranking non-European languages. After them, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, and Korean round out the list. It’s great to see three Asian languages on the list in that order, and I’m glad to say that Asian-language high-school teachers tend to tell me they get the bright kids in school. Based on numbers in the new census, one might expect to see Tagalog or Hindi/Urdu appear on the list in the next few years.

New World of Book Marketing

Sorry to fall a week behind in book winners! The winner of Friday the 16th’s copy of Beginning Japanese was Carolyn in Tacoma! (Thanks for writing, Carolyn!) We’ll pull a winner for the pair of Korean prizes on Wednesday and then get back on track on Friday.

This morning, for the first time, I noticed an advertisement on my homepage here. It was a link to a Youtube video that I couldn’t access, but it seems that we’ve grown to the size where WordPress may like to sell ad space on Language Omnivore.

Fascinating time to be in the book industry. In the past, a publishing company needed a small army of salespeople or reps. Sales were decentralized because people mostly bought books from indie bookstores. Meanwhile, marketing (just getting the word out about books) was a centralized function. The community of book reviewers was finite.

Then the big chains began to compete with the indies, and then Amazon began to compete with the chains. Even Borders went belly-up. There are still some fantastically vibrant independent booksellers (support them if you’ve got one), but their numbers are a fraction of what they once were. That means you don’t need as many people in sales. On the other hand, the ways to publicize a book has exploded: Amazon, Facebook, even things like Pinterest, etc. may play a roll in book marketing.

Now it seems somebody even wants to pay WordPress to advertising on Language Omnivore. In the new world of book marketing, I suppose that the sincerest form of flattery is somebody wanting to buy a banner ad on your blog, so that’s pretty cool. All the same, I’m going to upgrade my account before we start getting the “Language Teachers Hate This Guy” ads.