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UK Publishing Trade Mission to Mexico

27 November to 1 December 2023
Supported by the Department for Business and Trade and the Publishers Association

Caroline Boot, Director of Newgen English Language Learning, talks about her first visit to Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara (FiL), a different experience from the London and European Book Fairs, and her first impressions and takeaways from this experience. Read all about the events that were organized, Newgen’s part in the book fair, the stand that won the Best in Show prize, and so much more.


The Trade Mission, organised by the Department of Business and Trade and the Publisher’s Association, included publishers, wholesalers and Newgen, all of whom were interested in discussing translation rights, sales and other cooperative arrangements with Mexican and Latin American partners on the back of a record-breaking year for UK Education publishing in 2022.

I have never been to a book fair in Latin America, and it was also the first visit of most of the other delegates. My first impression was that art and culture were at the centre of this fair. Murals and illustrations covered the halls, and at times it felt more like an art gallery than a book fair. Latin America was celebrated in all its colours, including languages, artwork, music, food and crafts. Spanish was the lingua franca, and very little English was spoken in the halls. Our interpreter played a crucial role in making connections, and it was important and refreshing to be in that environment. We were told by a local colleague when we arrived that the key to business in Mexico is reciprocity. First, get to know our hosts and be interested in them and their culture. Then, the discussion might turn to collaboration. It was an uplifting way to work.

My fellow delegates, who attend Frankfurt, LBF and Bologna every year, were surprised and delighted at the welcome they received on stands that would be out of bounds at the European fairs. The big publishers were in Guadalajara showcasing their Spanish and Portuguese lists, represented by their local teams. They were welcoming, generous and interested in meeting new people from smaller English language publishers, wholesalers and rights agencies, which was a refreshing change.

Brasil

We were in Guadalajara at FiL for two days. We had a full agenda on day 1, meeting with representatives from publishers in Latin America and experts in the education industry. Meeting with Rayanna Pereira (International Relations Co-ordinator) from the Camara Brasileira do Livro/Brazilian Book Chamber and Adriana Angel (Director of Bogotá International Book Fair) from Camara Colombiana del Libro/Colombian Book Chamber gave us an insight into the trade market in English language fiction and non-fiction books in those geographies. We were introduced to publishers, printers, and assessment providers. The Colombian stand won Best in Show – it was beautiful, and the books they showcased were exquisite.

Colombia

On day 2, we were privileged to have a private presentation on Mexico’s education system by Elisa Bonilla Rius, Directora de Calidad Educativa, BOTH (www.both.mx). She presented the current climate for ELT in Mexico and her thoughts on the direction it’s taking. It was hugely insightful to hear about English Language Learning in a country where Spanish is the lingua franca, and English doesn’t take centre stage.

In the evening, we were delighted to have a private meeting with Antonio Alonso, Director General of CANIEM, and Lilia Ponce Leon, the Book Fair Co-ordinator. They spent the evening with us discussing the perceived importance of English Language Learning alongside the struggles to deliver quality teaching and learning in Mexico due to a lack of government investment. It echoed what Elisa had told us earlier in the day.

Where once English was viewed as a valuable subject, it is no longer a priority subject in Mexican schools. Since 2016, English has been taught in 217,288 public schools following the National English Programme (PRONI). Approved publishers have been donating books to this program as there is no government funding for PRONI, making it challenging for public schools to buy books. The lack of investment also impacts teacher training and the availability of good English language teachers in Mexico which makes good teacher support materials a priority.

However, there is a perceived value to learning English from parents who are driving the need for teacher training to be improved, especially in the 42,458 private schools. Private institutions in Mexico see English as one of the most important tools for enabling students to reach their academic potential. They are calling for more teachers in primary schools to be trained to teach English so that children have quality ELT from an early age. The schools have funds to buy books directly from the publishers and have the ed-tech to support ELT programmes.

Ed-tech now plays an important role in the delivery of ELT content globally. There are three main challenges in Mexico:

  • Internet connectivity
  • Access to technology devices
  • Low familiarization with distance learning tools

This means the priority is print, and local publishers deliver print-first content. Schools need books.

The delegation made its way to the British Embassy at Mexico City on day 3 ready to meet with British Embassy and British Council representatives. We were given a detailed picture from Cassandra Vargas (Head of Education, British Embassy) of the value of the ELT business in Mexico and the realities of delivering quality ELT in these countries.

The size of the ELT market is approximately 23.9 million people (about 21% of the population), including every level and type of study, from schools to self-access channels. There is also increasing demand to prepare students for Transnational education (TNE): the UK is the #1 destination for Mexican postgraduate students and they need a B2 CEFR to take postgraduate studies. The opportunities lie in teacher training material, free print material for the public schools and affordable print for the private sector.

The British Council introduced me to the annual Best and Brightest of English Language Teaching (BBELT) which is an online conference designed to offer continuing professional development (CPD) to English Language teachers in Latin America, where it’s hard to find training. The focus is on Mexico and Brazil, and sessions are offered by ELT experts in the UK, Mexico, Brazil, and Latin America. The outcome is CPD opportunities for English teachers to impact the quality of English teaching and learning and build a community of practice in Latin America.

They feel that the fastest-growing ELT markets are (1) Panama, (2) Colombia and (3) Chile. This is where their focus is currently. Brazil has always been a strong ELT market, and this will continue. Mexico is struggling to deliver ELT due to underinvestment and a change in government priority, so despite the potential, the opinion of the education experts on the ground is that it’s not going to grow significantly in the foreseeable future, but the situation frequently changes, and the education market changes with it.

The challenges publishers face is creating quality, localized content for these markets where margins are tiny. The Newgen ELL team is ready to help them create new content, adapt and version existing content using our carefully curated global resources in a cost effective way. Applying our expertise to finding solutions is what we do best.

On our last day, we visited a selection of bookshops in Mexico City. Bookshops are a rare sight on the high street and are treasured by those in Mexico looking for literature. In fact, there are only 1,600 bookshops in Mexico as a whole, which equates to 78,759 people per bookshop. We were taken to a single street that’s considered to be the bookshop hub in Mexico City and enjoyed exploring the three or four bookshops there. Because they are rare and revered, they’re special places and cover a wide range of genres with art and culture at the forefront.

Spending five days in Mexico provided me with a perfect opportunity to meet our current Mexico-based clients, as well as make some new connections. Meeting Richmond ELT and Cengage on their stands at FiL and getting to know them better was fantastic. Lunch with Pearson Latin America in Mexico City was delightful. Travelling across the city to the University of Dayton Publishing offices gave me an opportunity to see more of the city and film a hummingbird feeding from the flowers outside – my first hummingbird, and I felt it was a sign of good things to come with Dayton. My round of visits concluded by spending the morning with the superb team at Macmillan Education in offices boasting a view that takes your breath away.

Key topics of discussion in all of these spaces were the opportunities and challenges of publishing and delivering ELT in Mexico and Latin America and how Newgen ELL can support them in that work. With current clients, I chatted about ways to improve our working conditions. Nothing beats sitting down with the team, face-to-face and thrashing out issues and blockers.

I feel privileged to have been included in the delegation. I met some wonderful people in wonderful new places. And I saw a hummingbird!

To know more about the Newgen’s ELL services, email caroline@newgen.co


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