Literacy consultants at
the California State Library (CSL) have found strong evidence showing that
radio can help adults to learn to speak, read, and write English. This was the
conclusion of a two-year program that encouraged Spanish-speaking adults in a
rural area to listen to special radio programming designed to help them
acquire language skills in English.
County Free Library and the San
Rafael Public Library set up the program, Radio Works!, in rural
Marin County in 1999, working with 57 Spanish-speaking adults who wanted to
improve their skills in English. Specifically, Radio Works! was designed to
help them in dealing with situations requiring communication in English:
calling 911, taking a job interview, reading aloud to children, meeting a
child’s teacher, purchasing a car, describing symptoms to a doctor, and
other situations in which clear communication is vital. The program operated
on funds provided by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), federal
legislation that provides funding for testing and establishing library
programs and services.
Almost four years after
the program in Marin County ended, consultants at the CSL decided to evaluate
its long-term results. What they found, according to Carla Lehn, a CSL
consultant, was that Radio Works! had changed people’s lives in
measurable ways. In fact, the results astounded many in the literacy field.
returned to Marin County to survey participants in the bilingual program, they
found that 33 of the original 57 participants were still living in the area.
They were able to conduct interviews with 21 of these with the following
- 100 percent have
enrolled in library literacy programs.
- 95 percent have
checked out books for themselves from the library.
- 70 percent said that
the program had helped them to communicate with their employers.
- 85 percent engage in
pre-literacy activities with their children.
- 70 percent attend
Story Time at the library with their small children.
- Two are studying for
- Two have been
employed in their first jobs.
- Two have found better
- Three are taking
- Two purchased homes
for the first time.
These findings are
powerful evidence that Radio Works! was an effective program for
delivering literacy services to people in rural areas. During the two-year
program, from 1999 through 2001, KWMR FM in
Marin County made regular weekly broadcasts in Spanish and English.
Participants were given workbooks in which they could follow the dialog on the
radio. Each segment offered a dramatized “novella” about a situation that
could prove difficult for a person who could not speak or read English, such
as purchasing a car or talking to a doctor or interviewing for a job.
Radio Works! was
the first LSTA-sponsored program in California that was designated an Outcomes
Measures project, designed to provide data on measurable changes in
behavior resulting from a government-funded program. In the case of Radio
Works!, the measurable changes in behavior were dramatic.