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Special English

Special English Programming
Special English Programming

Straddling the line between simplified and simplistic

Voice of America reporters have always gone wherever necessary to get the story and with Special English, created a tool to enable listeners to understand it. The Special English program not only allows broadcast of an unbiased news program, but gives listeners a way to improve their communication and English skills while being informed.

Special English debuted in 1959. The daily programs use a simpler English – with a core vocabulary of approximately 1,500 words – and reports are paced 1/3 slower than regular English to allow learners to increase comprehension while building their vocabulary. Special English allows learners to stay connected, eager, and interested in the language by broadcasting stories that relate to their lives in business, health, science, and pop culture as well as news.

Avi Arditti, Managing Editor for Social Media, explains that the main goal of Special English is for the listener to understand the content of what is being broadcast, and to steadily build their proficiency. To accomplish this, stories are written in clear, direct ways, using the core 1,500-word vocabulary whenever possible. “There is a fine line between being simplified and simplistic,” says Avi. “We never want to cross that line.” So when necessary, more “advanced” English words are used and the meanings made clear, so the stories never suffer from incomplete information.

“English is the language of opportunity and personal freedom,” Avi explains. These days, people who want to be successful and have opportunities need to learn English, and that is why there is such a demand for this program among the youth of non-English-speaking countries. Interactive games and sites are available at to let people practice English when they have no other way to practice. There is even a blog, Confessions of an English Learner,, that lets people tell of their own misuses of English.

Special English isn’t just available during a broadcast or online, however. Videos are available on YouTube,, and MP3s can be downloaded through Apple iTunes. The next step, Avi tells, is to have videos, texts and MP3s downloaded through the electronic book, Kindle.

Testimonials from listeners around the world have thanked VOA for Special English. One man from Cuba speaks of learning English in secret through radio programs broadcast by VOA, “…It was amazing how we began to widen our vocabulary and speech. After a couple years we became fluent. Needless to say it was a turning point in my life.”

Recent books mentioning Special English:

The Newlyweds
The Newlyweds
The Newlyweds follows the story of Amina Mazid, who at age twenty-four moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is an arranged marriage for the twenty-first century: Amina is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online.

Oracle Bones
Oracle Bones
A century ago, outsiders saw China as a place where nothing ever changes. Today the country can be seen as one of the most dynamic regions on earth. The contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country is explored by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that investigates the human side of China's transformation.