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VOA Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Special English

VOA Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Special English

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Washington, D.C., October 19, 2009 – The Voice of America's (VOA) Special English celebrated its 50th anniversary today, with speakers saying the program is more popular than ever because it continues to provide credible, quality journalism for English learners on a wide variety of media and social networking platforms.

"Even with the changes in technology … in journalism, information still matters," said keynote speaker Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. "Credibility still matters. Quality still matters."

Sesno, a former CNN anchor who started his journalism career as an intern with Special English, said the Service has a long tradition of helping people learn American English by broadcasting news and information at a slow pace.

Using a core vocabulary of 1,500 words and short, simple sentence structure, Special English, launched on October 19, 1959, keeps listeners informed about current events while helping them improve their language skills.

VOA Director Danforth Austin said Special English has expanded on new platforms so it is available on radio, television and on the Internet. The Special English website, one of VOA's most popular, will also soon have a Twitter page, a YouTube video channel and a "verb phrase of the day" SMS service.

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The ceremony also honored Walter Roberts, part of VOA's original staff in 1942. "It's good to be home," Roberts said. Calling Special English an "ingenious invention," he said, "People with a minimum knowledge of English listened, and understood the message of the Voice of America."

Special English also produced a slideshow of viewers, listeners and Internet users in their everyday surroundings. Nearly 1,000 users submitted photos of themselves. They can be seen at Links to view or listen to today's ceremony are available at

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 125 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages. VOA is the leading U.S. international broadcaster.

For more information, call VOA Public Relations at (202) 203-4959, or e-mail