Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Why couldn’t ELT have come up with Peppa Pig?

The ELT publishing industry spends millions trying to make millions. For some products, English Grammar in Use, English File, Headway for example, they succeed. But would the publishers make more money if they stuffed their products full of pig?

The prevailing wisdom says no. Pigs, along with a whole host of other words and topics, have to be erased from coursebook perspectives on the world. There shalt be no dogs, mixed sex co-habitation, homosexuality, bare arms, sex, religion, drugs, alcohol, gambling or horoscopes even — for a primary resource I was involved in — a child in a swimming pool pushing another child off their lilo. Most of this is in order to be able to push the bland result at the Middle Eastern markets.

Who didn’t worry about the pork factor and yet made £100 million in the first year and £640 million so far?

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Peppa Pig’s creators.

Their 5 minute, porcine episodes show in 180 countries and the spin off products sell at a rate that probably exceeds flatscreens during the World Cup. Peppa and the other porkers snort piggily when they talk and viewers are invited to poke fun at the patriarch of the family, the buffoonish Daddy Pig. Clearly, catering to the whims of one market is not necessary if your aim is profit.

Perhaps then production expense is why ELT couldn’t tackle a project like this.

Each episode of Peppa Pig costs about £25,000 so, for the first pilot year’s worth of shows, the gamble cost £1.3 million. That’s a lot of money for a low-tech looking result. The funding was raised from a combination of a distributor fronting up 50%, Channel 5 another 12% and the three creators and their friends and families putting in their own cash.

In ELT it wouldn’t be way off to estimate the cost per level of a new coursebook at £1 million.

So the costs are not the prohibitive factor, and if they were, what false economy when you think no coursebook has ever achieved the profits of Peppa, nor the global brand recognition.

Even if an ELT publisher spent the money on a cartoon and did away with the bans on, well, almost everything, I still don’t think they could come up with a product that would rival the relatively simple creativity of Peppa Pig.

Why?

Because Peppa Pig was dreamed up by three “animation groupies“, Phil Baker, Mark Davies and Neville Astley. Two of them were teachers and one was a student of animation. They were not industry executives, editors, or market research people. They were creatives, with an idea dreamed up in the pub, and they knew straightaway not to go to the biggest producer of children’s television with their idea, lest it get stifled.

They didn’t trust the BBC to give their new show a regular slot. And second, because of the gloomy atmosphere of almost every meeting they had had at the BBC. “It is very negative in its approach to pitches; the commissioners just put up problems and reasons why the idea should not be commissioned, rather than the other way round. [Phil Davies]” http://www.ft.com

ELT products are commissioned top down. Writers have very little input. And the type of creativity required isn’t really very creative.**

Maybe then we can say entertainment is different from education. Education is serious, it needs a structure, syllabus, pedagogical justification for every word, focus groups, limitations, tests…ad infinitum.

Tell that to my nieces learning loads of their mother tongue and concepts about the world from Peppa Pig. Language is a key point though.

And the language is clean. That takes a lot of effort.” It is a tricky path: keeping the language easy, so pre-schoolers are engaged, but not making it so mindless that when adults watching alongside hear “It’s a lovely sunny day. Peppa and her family are driving to the playground” they will charge off for a cup of coffee, fearing either a yawning abyss of tweeness (My Friends Tigger and Pooh) or something utterly dull (Underground Ernie). http://www.ft.com

Keeping the focus on entertainment over education is another way in which ELT is barred from coming up with the next Peppa Pig. All ELT offers is language learning and people on the whole don’t care about that. They might need it or be forced to study it, and there are a few linguaphiles out there but the majority of ELT’s customers really care about stories, music, building, destroying and collecting things, and interacting with things and people. Language learning is one way of accessing those things but it is not in itself enjoyable for most people.

Yet in ELT we pretend it is. And we don’t make £640 million and we never will.

 

**Graded Readers being the exception here. And they remain the poor orphan compared with coursebooks in terms of marketing and, therefore, sales.

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6 comments on “Why couldn’t ELT have come up with Peppa Pig?

  1. Adi Rajan
    December 1, 2014

    Insightful and incisive. I completely agree with your comment about the type of creativity required not being creative at all.

    • Nicola
      December 1, 2014

      Thanks! Plenty of people disagree though…

  2. Andrew Leon Hudson
    December 1, 2014

    Interesting read.

    Rather unexpectedly, it looks like I’ll be doing some content creation for language-learning text books in the new year. The focus I’ve been given is very much on being entertaining with it, even cheeky in the tone – though bearing in mind the acknowledged conservatism of part of their market (not the one you mention here).

    A little glimmer of industry hope, perhaps?

    • Nicola
      December 2, 2014

      Would love to know who who that project is for….!

  3. Kirsten Campbell-Howes
    December 1, 2014

    Good point. The most successful ELT product I’ve worked on by miles was a videogame for kids commissioned by Pearson and built on the massively popular Poptropica game engine. Our remit was to make it fun and entertaining first of all – the educational content was secondary (or rather, the education was so-called ‘stealth education’). If only I were on a royalties deal for it!
    There’s a lot of sneering at ‘edutainment’ products, but if they work then that’s fantastic for everyone concerned. I think ELT is moving a bit more in this direction, at least for kids – just look at the British Council partnership with Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time. Now how to do the same for adults…?

    • Nicola
      December 2, 2014

      That sounds very interesting and I’d not heard of it and…going to Tweet you re blog post 🙂

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2014 by in ELT, Writing and tagged , , , , , .
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