Voice of America: A Significant English Teacher

To round out your Global Report, "The World Rushes To Speak and Write 'American' English," Sept. 4, I'd like to add a large voice to the mix: The Voice of America (VOA).

VOA, part of the United States Information Agency, is the US government's international radio broadcasting service, serving a similar function to the BBC's World Service. VOA has been on the air for almost 55 years.

Part of its programming since then has been designed to help non-native English speakers learn the language. Both beginning and intermediate-level American-English lessons have been offered in more than 30 other languages in which we broadcast, in addition to those of English itself.

One of the most popular programs is "Special English." This program, started in 1959, uses a 1,500 word vocabulary presented in slow-speed, American English. It presents news and information, as well as programs on American history, government, and literature. A brand-new VOA program, "All About English," helps listeners practice their pronunciation and understand grammar and usage.

Thousands of listeners around the world report that they have learned English from the VOA, from China to Africa, from remote villages in the Czech Republic to rural Russia. Peace Corps volunteers frequently use the VOA broadcasts as teaching tools. One volunteer in the Czech Republic wrote that there was a waiting list in the hundreds among his students who wanted to borrow his copy of a VOA Special English publication.

In Russia, one listener wrote, "Those who live in big cities, I think, have no problem taking up the independent study of a foreign language. In the big cities courses are so organized, special schools are set up, and literature and cassettes are on sale. But in small towns like mine, independent study of a language presents difficulties. When you launched your courses my happiness had no bounds."

Geoffrey Cowan


Director, Voice of America

One nation, under English

Comments regarding "Why English Should Be Official Language of US," Aug. 14: Having lived in several countries of the world, adopted a foreign-born child, and learned more than one language, our family appreciates cultural and lingual diversity.

But it was our experience while living in Brussels that two official languages in a country make for animosity between groups of residents, confusion among visitors, and additional official expense. When I had to appear at a government office, I took my French instructor with me, thinking to ensure accurate transmittal of information.

However, within minutes of our arrival, the residents involved were angrily shouting at each other in different official languages. Additionally, seeing different names on the highways often made me think I was on the wrong road. Double signage and documents is doubly confusing and doubly expensive. Hopefully, the US will avoid these unnecessary problems and keep to one official language.

Nancy Reynolds Hensel

Vincennes, Ind.

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