Anna Matteo of Learning English teaches Rohingya teachers
VOA’s Learning English program is bringing its decades’ long expertise of teaching foreign audiences the English language to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Learning English is VOA’s multimedia source of news and information for millions of English learners worldwide.
At the end of March, a VOA Learning English team travelled to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to train 100 English teachers using a range of multimedia materials. The training program includes follow-up virtual classroom sessions, as well as VOA Learning English content accessible at the camp’s learning centers and though mobile devices.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees invited VOA to provide six days of intensive training on teaching techniques and methods for selected teachers. The teachers, in turn, will use the acquired knowledge to train another 3,000 of their colleagues in order to provide English lessons for refugees in the camp. The refugees requested this training during a visit by VOA Director Amanda Bennett at the Cox’s Bazar camps last year.
Rahma Rashid Toki, one of the selected teachers, told the VOA Learning English team he was ready to quit on the first day of training. By the end of the course, Toki commented: “When I came to the first day of training, I felt nervous. I decided I will not continue. Already I had applied to leave. But my P.O. (personnel officer) would not accept my application to leave. He said to me that this training is important and necessary. Now that the training is finished, I realize it’s really important for me and my students!”
Francis Nath a UN Education Associate at Cox’s Bazar who assisted with the training, said “you can see the [teachers’] level of English competency improve dramatically by the second day.”
VOA’s Learning English service uses clear and simple vocabulary to teach American English on radio, television, Internet, and mobile.
Learning English began as Special English, which VOA launched in 1959. Special English newscasts and features were a primary fixture of VOA’s international shortwave broadcasts for more than half a century. In 2014, the line of products was expanded to include more English teaching materials, and the service became known as Learning English.
Earlier today, I contacted Letitia King, Spokesperson for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). I asked her for details regarding the cuts to shortwave services that were recently announced.
Ms. King has just sent me the following list, with notes, which includes all shortwave reductions under the BBG:
Facts and Figures on Shortwave Broadcast Reductions
June 30, 2014
U.S. international media must optimize program delivery by market. We are ending some shortwave transmissions. We continue shortwave to those countries where these transmissions are still reaching significant audiences or where there are no reasonable alternative platforms at a lower cost to the BBG.
The shortwave reductions will save U.S. taxpayers almost $1.6 million annually.
There are no reductions in staff or programming – these are transmission platform reductions only. Programming continues to be available through other media.
Shortwave transmissions continue in many languages including to key shortwave markets like North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. (List enclosed below). Transmissions also continue on other platforms including AM, FM, TV and online.
Cuts: 30 minutes SW
Continuing Distribution: Satellite TV (HotBird)and satellite audio (TurkSat); Multimedia web and mobile sites & social media
SW is used by just 2% of adults weekly in Azerbaijan, and does not yield significant audiences for the service (0.4% weekly reach on radio in BBG’s most recent survey). By contrast, satellite dish ownership is widespread, at 56%, and 18% use the Internet weekly. The service has both satellite and online products, which are far more likely to reach audiences in Azerbaijan.
Cuts: 1 hour SW
Continuing Distribution: 1 hour MW(AM); FM and TV affiliates; Multimedia web and mobile sites; Social media
SW is not widely used in Bangladesh (just 2% weekly), and the majority of the service’s audience comes to its programming via FM and TV affiliate networks in the country.
VOA English (in Asia)
Cuts: 6.5 hours SW (2 hours of programming that was repeated)
Continuing Distribution: Some MW; Multimedia web and mobile sites & social media
Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, English speakers are rarely users of shortwave radio. They are more likely to be educated and affluent, and to have access to a broad range of media. Years of BBG research questions on consumption of VOA English on shortwave have failed to find any significant audiences outside Africa, in large part because usage of shortwave radio in other regions is mostly very low.
Cuts: 30 minutes SW
Continuing Distribution: 30 minutes MW; 7 affiliates in Thailand on Lao border, with reach into Laos; Multimedia web and mobile sites; Social media
SW is very little-used in Laos – less than 1% of adults report listening to SW radio weekly. In BBG’s most recent research in Laos, no surveyed listeners reported using the SW band to access VOA content. A strong majority (66%) hear VOA on FM, through affiliate stations on the Thai border that carry VOA content (Laos is so small that border FM stations have decent penetration into the country).
VOA Special/Learning English
Cuts: 5.5 hours SW
Continuing Distribution: Learning English programs continue on SW on English to Africa. 30 minutes MW; Multimedia web and mobile sites, including special interactive teaching products; Social media, including social English lessons
BBG audience research indicates strong interest in learning English, but very limited shortwave listenership to VOA Learning English, outside a few select markets. The service is working more closely with other VOA language services to create English learning products for distribution on more popular channels. And Learning English offers a variety of digital products that are increasingly popular, including a Skype call-in show, videos on YouTube, and a website featuring both audio and transcripts for online audiences to follow as they listen.
Cuts: 30 minutes SW
Continuing Distribution: Satellite audio and TV (HotBird); FM and TV affiliates in neighboring countries; Multimedia web and mobile sites (with circumvention tools deployed); Social media
SW is not widely used in Uzbekistan (just 2% weekly), and does not yield significant audiences for the service (0.3% weekly). Adults in Uzbekistan are much more likely to own a satellite dish (13%) or use the internet (12% weekly) than to use SW, so the service provides content on those platforms. Uzbekistan is an especially difficult market to penetrate with USIM content, but SW is not an effective platform for the country.
RFE/RL Persian (Farda)
Cuts: 1 simultaneous SW frequency for 6 broadcast hours
Continuing Distribution: SW on multiple frequencies for all 24 broadcast hours remains on, in addition to 24 hours daily MW; “Radio on TV” on VOA Persian stream; 24 hours daily satellite audio with slate plus 24 hour Audio on 4 other satellites including Hotbird, the most popular satellite in Iran; Multimedia website (with circumvention tools deployed); Social media; mobile app with anti-censorship proxy server capability built-in.
This is only a reduction to the number of simultaneous frequencies during some of the broadcast day. SW radio, with 5% weekly use in 2012, is considerably less popular than other platforms on which audiences can access Farda content, such as MW (10% weekly use), satellite television (26% own a dish, and 33% watch satellite television weekly) or the internet (39% weekly use).
Cuts: 2 hours SW
Continuing Distribution: 5 FM radio affiliates in Thailand provide cross-border coverage; Multimedia web & mobile sites; Social media
SW is very little-used in Laos – less than 1% of adults report listening to SW radio weekly. RFA Lao’s listeners come overwhelmingly via FM stations on the Thai border – 94% of past-week listeners report hearing RFA on FM. (Laos is so small that border FM stations have decent penetration into the country).
Cuts: 2 hours SW
Continuing Distribution: MW coverage of all broadcast hours remains on; Multimedia web and mobile sites (with circumvention tools deployed) include webcasts and other videos; Social media
· SW radio is very little-used in Vietnam – less than 1% of adults report any weekly use of the waveband, and RFA reaches just 0.2% of adults weekly on radio. MW is slightly more popular, but the future for USIM in Vietnam is likely online: 26% of Vietnamese use the Internet weekly now (with much higher rates among certain populations, like the young and the well-educated), and three in four personally own a mobile phone. While Vietnam attempts to block access to sensitive sites, Vietnam is actually the most active country in our most popular Internet Anti-Censorship tools with almost 600 million hits per day.
Languages that continue on Shortwave
Afan Oromo/Amharic/Tigrigna to Ethiopia and Eritrea
“Shortwave broadcasting has been an important method of communication that should be utilized in regions as a component of United States international broadcasting where a critical need for the platform exists.”
Unfortunate news from the Voice of America: Congress has approved major cuts to US international broadcasting over shortwave. Thanks to Dan Robinson for sharing this significant news.
This news emerging from VOA late Friday:
VOA to end shortwave broadcasts in English and several language services Monday.
Received this late Friday afternoon:
“FAREWELL TO SHORTWAVE
We were informed late Friday that BBG’s proposed shortwave cuts for FY2014 have been approved by Congress.
As of the end of the day on Monday, June 30th, all shortwave frequencies for English News programs to Asia will be eliminated. We will no longer be heard via shortwave in the morning (12-16 utc), and the evening (22-02utc)…mostly in Asia.
Shortwave frequencies for the following services will also be eliminated: Azerbaijani, Bangla, English (Learning), Khmer, Kurdish, Lao and Uzbek. Shortwave being used by services at RFE/RL and RFA are also being cut.
Because shortwave has been a cheap and effective way to receive communications in countries with poor infrastructure or repressive regimes, it was a good way to deliver information. But broadcasting via shortwave is expensive, and its use by listeners has been on the decline for years. At the BBG, the cost vs. impact equation no longer favors broadcasts via this medium to most of the world.
Important for us is that we will continue to be heard on shortwave frequencies during those hours we broadcast to Africa. Also, we know through our listener surveys that about half of our audience in Asia and the rest of the world listens to us via the web and podcast – so all is not lost.
Let’s break the news about this change to our audiences starting Sunday night. I doubt specific frequencies are critical to announce. The important point to make for our listeners is that we encourage their continued listening through local affiliates, and on the web at voanews.com.”
I believe that VOA Special English may be one of the best educational resources on the shortwaves. At Ears To Our World, we find that it is often the most popular program in countries where English may be the official language, but where locals only speak it as a second language.