Hooray for language bookshops! Last term I went to the QATESOL-QCAL ‘mini conference’, where I met Carmelina Lanza-Volpe for the first time (we’d spoken on the phone, but I’d never got to her Brisbane shop). She gave a great presentation on grammar, but also ran a scaled-down version of her bookshop, The Language People, in the foyer of the conference venue.

For some ESOL and EAL/D teachers, going to a conference is one time they actually get to visit a bookshop in real life – if you’re not in a major city, it’s not going to happen. So it’s amazing when language bookshops make visits (shipping dozens of boxes, or filling up their car with books) and come to places where teachers congregate and have some time to browse.

I do love a little browse, and I found a beginner book I’d never seen before – plus of course, everyone was grabbing their hot-off-the-press copy of Sugarbag on Damper’s new book, The Sea, in the sea, on the sea, at the seaside.

The Sea had a launch a few days ago at Carmelina’s shop in Brisbane, and I talked to her a few days later:

Carmelina, how was the launch?

It was great. Hazel spoke about the new resource, and we had a good turnout – including Lyndal Reid, the original owner of The Language People – she was the voice on their CD. It was lovely to see her.

What led to you taking over The Language People?

Well, it was an institution for language learning and teaching in Brisbane. Then one day, when I wandered in to get a book, Lyndal told me she was retiring from the business, so she’d be closing down mid-year. All the way home I was wondering whether this could be my new professional direction. (I thought it would be a shame for Brisbane to lose it.) When I got home I rang her and asked if she’d be interested in selling!

In fact the shop did close for a while, because I couldn’t do anything immediately. It took me a year to get going, to get my website set up, and to organise stock again. Although I always wanted a physical space as well as an online bookshop, it had to be ‘by appointment’ because I was still working… I couldn’t do it as a full-time shop.

And you’re still working! How do you find time to teach AND run a bookshop?

It can get pretty crazy at times – but in a good way.

And you’ve moved the shop, as well…

Yes, the bookshop had always been in West End and I wanted to keep it there, but then I was offered some spare space with an agency in the city, near where I teach, and that’s been a great arrangement, to share the premises.

It means that people can call in at any time from 9 to 5 on weekdays – though of course they’ll only get advice when I’m there, in the afternoons.

 Did you have a business background?

No – it’s been a big learning curve. I came from the ESL industry, but knew nothing about publishing or bookselling. I had the romantic idea of promoting language learning, as I’d love to speak more languages myself. The reality is that running a bookshop involves a lot of attention to detail, entering information into the system, keeping track of stock and of new editions – not quite so romantic!

What have you got in stock?

A big range of modern Languages in the LOTE section, English, of course, and Literacy and Numeracy. There are so many titles available, so you have to decide which ones to carry. My range has grown as people have put in requests, and of course I also like to support local publishers like yourself.

Thanks! And what new resources would you like to see?

I think there are lots of books around, but I do hear from teachers in schools that they’d love more resources that align with their EAL curriculum.

Interesting! What else do you get asked for?

Most customers know what they’re looking for, but I do get some obscure requests, which I try to track down. There are also teachers coming in to get advice about resources for a new group, and I try to point them in the right direction.

What about your personal language background?

I’d love to learn more languages. Last year I studied Italian in the Diploma of Languages at Griffith Uni. (I have an Italian background, as you can guess from my name.) As a teacher myself, I really appreciated a lot of the things the teacher did – but I also experienced what it’s like to be a student and feel overwhelmed at times.

That’s an important experience for a language teacher…

Exactly!  I also had plenty of that when I lived and worked in Korea for three years…trying to read in a new script.

Mmm! Finally, how can people get in touch with you?

They can meet me by appointment at the bookshop – we’re at 2/370 Queen Street, in Brisbane City Centre – or they can just call in if they want to browse. UPDATE: That’s now Level 1/344 Queen Street! (From May 2018)

There’s a contact form and phone number on the website: http://thelanguagepeople.com.au/contact/

I’m Facebook too: @thelanguagepeoplebookshop

Thanks, Carmelina! I’ll visit you in Brisbane one day!

UPDATE 1: November 2017, Carmelina posted on Facebook:

Hello to all! I am seeking a business partner (or even maybe a new owner!) for The Language People bookshop. If anyone out there is even remotely interested, or if you know of anyone that might be, please get in touch. As a potential partner, you wouldn’t need to commit any money, but need to have time, energy, and motivation to contribute to the operation of the business in return for a share in the business. I am open to any potential arrangements. Many thanks, Carmelina

So if you’re looking for a bookshop experience (and you live in Brisbane), this could be your opportunity…

UPDATE 2: May 2018: the shop has moved along the street, to Level 1, 344 Queen Street.

NOTE: I’ve been meaning to interview all the language bookshops, but this interview is only my second (and it’s a while since my interview with Annie Folk at The Language Centre). I will persist!