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English Language Teaching author receives honorary degree from Cambridge
Author Ray Murphy has been honoured for his unique contribution to English Language Teaching (ELT) with admission to an honorary Master of Arts (MA) degree by the University of Cambridge, parent institution of his publisher, Cambridge University Press.
The MA is only rarely awarded as an Honorary Degree and such conferrals reflect outstanding service to the University or to the City of Cambridge.
One of the most successful stories in the modern history of ELT publishing started quietly. In 1985, Cambridge University Press published an unassuming new grammar by an equally unassuming teacher. Over the course of the next quarter century, the grammar and its writer went on to completely transform the world of ELT, and millions of lives with it.
Ray Murphy’s seminal works English Grammar in Use and Essential Grammar in Use have, in 27 years, notched up the following statistics:
- More than 100 million students have used his books to improve their English
- Almost all non-native speakers of English will have used, or know of, his books
- Westminster borough in London recently named English Grammar in Use as one of the most borrowed titles from its libraries, beating authors like J K Rowling
Plymouth-born Murphy (65) started his professional life as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in 1971. It was the materials he prepared for his students that were to go on to become the basis for the two best-selling grammars of all time. After teaching English for 17 years in the UK and Germany, Murphy quit the profession in 1989 to concentrate full-time on writing.
Arguably the most influential ELT publications ever produced, his two texts came out of Cambridge after failing to find success with other publishers. Murphy approached Cambridge University Press where the freshness and effectiveness of his approach was immediately picked up by editor Adrian du Plessis. English Grammar in Use was published in 1985 and went on to establish itself in every corner of the world as the ‘bible’ for successfully getting to grips with tricky English grammar.
So what is it that makes Murphy’s approach such a success? David Harrison, Global Sales and Marketing Director for Cambridge University Press’s ELT department says that, at first glance, it appears simple:
“The material was based on a surprisingly simple idea: each unit of English grammar consisted of a two-page spread, with the grammar point of the unit described on the left hand page, often with illustrated examples, and practice exercises on the right hand page.
“As anyone in ELT is aware, there are great difficulties in finding the right balance between presenting grammar rules and the exceptions to the rules. In addition, students need a learning syllabus of increasing difficulty, from the simplest grammar to the most complex. Ray Murphy mastered this in a way that no other ELT author has been able to match.”
Italy and Korea were early Murphy adopters and then the phenomenon began its amazing spread around the world. English Grammar in Use was intended for intermediate level students, and was soon followed in the late 1980s by Essential Grammar in Use, a lower level volume for elementary and pre-intermediate learners. Both titles have gone into third editions, and fourth editions are in development. In addition, American English editions and bilingual versions have been published, including Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Thai.
Cambridge believes that English Grammar in Use has found its way into every country in the world and, in addition to the many millions of copies of recorded sales, unquantifiable numbers have been illegally printed in those countries where copyright control is poor. Almost all non-native speakers of English will know of these books, and countless teachers have developed their own annotated versions on which their classroom teaching is based.
David Harrison added: “If our estimates of the size of the second-hand and photocopying markets are reasonably accurate, there is probably a 1:5 ratio of new books sold to actual learners who have used these books, which means more than 100 million students have used ‘Murphy’ to help improve their English language skills over the years. ELT now accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the Press’s publishing revenue, and Ray’s grammar books are still the top-selling products in an ever-expanding catalogue.”
His phenomenal success took Murphy by surprise as he initially feared that his work would sink without trace:“My main fear in writing the first book was that nobody would buy it anywhere. So when a few thousand copies were sold, I was very relieved. They were the only books I ever wanted to write.”
Cambridge University Press CEO Stephen Bourne considers that Murphy has made an even more important contribution to the lives of countless people than simply helping them learn English:
“Beyond his unique contribution to ELT is the enormous difference he has made in helping people improve their lives. A good standard of English is, in many countries, the only route out of poverty and towards higher education, a good job and an improved life. Ray’s materials have been crucial to helping millions of people achieve these significant improvements in their lives. Therefore, Ray Murphy, with his amazing tenacity and dedication to his craft, is much more than a writer: he can lay claim to being a quite exceptional humanitarian. Cambridge University Press is proud to have been his publisher for more than a quarter of a century and we look forward to continuing to bring Ray’s materials to the world.”
He is currently engaged with Cambridge University Press in adapting his seminal materials (written long before the digital revolution) for new media technologies, such as iPhones, handheld gaming devices, and virtual learning environments.
The fourth edition of English Grammar in Use is due out in February 2012, along with an online version.
Ray Murphy was admitted to his MA degree by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, at a Congregation in the Senate-House on 21 January 2012, and after the customary presentation in Latin by the University's Orator, Dr Rupert Thompson.
Notes to Editors:
A high-resolution image is available.
About Cambridge University Press ELT publishing
Cambridge University Press is one of the world's leading English language teaching publishers, and its products are used by people in nearly every country in the world to learn and teach the English language.
Cambridge works in partnership with Cambridge ESOL, the experts in language assessment, to provide courses that are tailored to students’ exams, which are relied on by thousands of universities, employers and government ministries around the world as proof of English language ability.
English language courses and textbooks include Interchange, Grammar in Use and English Grammar in Use, and Cambridge authors include Professor Michael McCarthy, Dr Herbert Puchta and Raymond Murphy.
Many Cambridge English texts and courses are developed using the Cambridge English Corpus – a multi-billion word collection of written and spoken English, plus a unique bank of exam candidate papers. This helps students avoid mistakes, and means that the language taught from Cambridge English materials is useful, natural and fully up-to-date.
Cambridge English texts and courses are published without boundaries, and they are fully accessible to the modern learner in a range of different formats – from printed books, to apps and online dictionaries.
A team of experienced consultants and advisers, many of them with teaching experience themselves, provide ongoing support, training and guidance to teachers and schools all over the world.