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
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
- 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
- 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.
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.