Radio Works!
Radio proves helpful in improving literacy

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.

The Marin 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.

When researchers 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 results:

  • 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 their GEDs.
  • Two have been employed in their first jobs.
  • Two have found better jobs.
  • Three are taking computer classes.
  • 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.




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