Special English and the Voice of America

fenixpollo

moderator
American English
Special English is the name that the Voice of America radio station has given to a simplified and slowed-down version of English that they use in some of their broadcasts. The Voice of America (VOA) only broadcasts outside of the US, and started as a clandestine attempt to send American propaganda into communist countries.

Here is how VOA describes this new system, which you can listen to on their site:
It has a core vocabulary of 1500 words. Most are simple words that describe objects, actions or emotions.
Special English writers use short, simple sentences that contain only one idea. They use active voice. They do not use idioms.
Special English broadcasters read at a slower pace, about two-thirds the speed of standard English.
Does your native language have anything similar? Do you think that Special English is a good or a bad thing? A useful tool or a corruption of the language? What do you think about the ends that it's being used for? What do you think might or should happen to Special English in the future?

All opinions and information welcome. :)
 
  • Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    No, we haven't anything like that, to my knowledge.
    I think it's a good idea! For learners of English, it's often rather difficult to listen to the radio, especially for those whose level is lower than Upper-Intermediate. So, it can be really helpful to start with listening to programs in this Special English. And then the learner must advance to listening to normal programs.
    In fact, this reminds me of the approach used by Oxford, Longman, MacMillan when compiling dictionaries for learners. For example, my Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary uses only 3000 words in its articles, to make the explanations more clear. And no one's considering it a corruption of the language. :)
    (I'm speaking about OALD just because I've heard about how it's compiled from its Chief Editor, Sally Wehmeier. But things seem to be the same with other dictionaries as well.)
     

    modus.irrealis

    Senior Member
    English, Canada
    The first thing it made think of was 1984 and newspeak, but only for a moment. I agree with etcetera that it does seem like a good learning tool but I would say only if it's a temporary measure and people move on to real English fairly quickly. It is often the case that simplifying the language too much ends up simplifying the ideas being communicated and that's not a good thing.

    I don't think it's a corruption, but I'd get worried pretty quickly if English-speaking governments and media started using it for native English audiences
     

    MSanchezC

    Senior Member
    In Mexico we don´t have anything like that, but ít´ll be a good idea.

    My opinion about that it´s simple. It´s great there are some other ways to learn english and understand it, i guess it´s a good way for the beginners. The ends that´s being used for, finally it´s free will, everyone has the right to express oneself´s opinion, only when you do not prejudice others.
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    There's an on-line Swedish newspaper that uses very basic Swedish aimed especially at immigrants in Sweden, if I'm not mistaken. I don't remember the name of this newspaper, but it has the words 8 and sidor.
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    Never heard of it before, but after reading your description my first reaction was to link in my mind this "Special English" with the "Special" euphemism used in the educational institutions here in the USA, as in "physical development-delayed" or "learning disabilities" special.
    It's just awful to realize one is actually unaware of being burdened with some prejudices...

    I'll read up on it to unfetter myself from this misapprehension. Thanks.
     

    mytwolangs

    Senior Member
    English United States
    I wonder if they have anything like that in French?

    For slowing the language, it seems a good idea for learners, since speaking it fast can be hard to understand.
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    mytwolangs said:
    For slowing the language, it seems a good idea for learners, since speaking it fast can be hard to understand.
    It's definitely a very good idea.
    I think I'll try to listen to a program in Special English. Curiosity will kill me! :)
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    fenixpollo said:
    Special English is the name that the Voice of America radio station has given to a simplified and slowed-down version of English that they use in some of their broadcasts. The Voice of America (VOA) only broadcasts outside of the US, and started as a clandestine attempt to send American propaganda into communist countries.

    Here is how VOA describes this new system, which you can listen to on their site: Does your native language have anything similar? Do you think that Special English is a good or a bad thing? A useful tool or a corruption of the language? What do you think about the ends that it's being used for? What do you think might or should happen to Special English in the future?

    All opinions and information welcome. :)
    When I was studying linguistics in 2003, I heard of Basic English, invented between the World Wars, I think, and it was pretty much the same idea. (It could be a good one, for an introduction to English)

    However, the purpose (propaganda) is not a good one...
     

    Moogey

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I think it's a marvelous idea! It's difficult to just start listening to the language you're learning if they're speaking quickly. If they slow down, you can give yourself more time to analyze the words, meanwhile your speech recognition centers in your brain improve and when you start listening to faster speech you'll understand more, because the speech recognition center will have been practiced.

    I'm not a neurologist, but it seems right to me :D

    -M
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    imithe
    Is the Voice of America still an arm of the CIA?

    I cannot imagine that the nuances of international politics can be properly explored by people using a core of 1,500 words. I would be interested to know what leeway their presenters have in using words outside the core. Is there a percentage of words used which must be from the core? Or a limit on the amount of non-core words which one may use?
     

    Na'ilah

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I cannot imagine that the nuances of international politics can be properly explored by people using a core of 1,500 words.
    I imagine that the core 1,500 words would be used rather than other synonymous words. So, instead of "depressed" or "despondent" they would just use sad. The articles seem to use unique words as often as they are needed. You should check it out.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I've listened to the RFI broadcast (as a podcast) for quite a while. I have to say that I don't find it very facile, :) but I certainly learn a great deal from it.
    Compared with listening to the news on France Inter possibly even on a long wave radio it is in fact a lot easier.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    No, we haven't anything like that, to my knowledge.
    I think it's a good idea! For learners of English, it's often rather difficult to listen to the radio, especially for those whose level is lower than Upper-Intermediate. So, it can be really helpful to start with listening to programs in this Special English. And then the learner must advance to listening to normal programs.
    In fact, this reminds me of the approach used by Oxford, Longman, MacMillan when compiling dictionaries for learners. For example, my Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary uses only 3000 words in its articles, to make the explanations more clear. And no one's considering it a corruption of the language. :)
    (I'm speaking about OALD just because I've heard about how it's compiled from its Chief Editor, Sally Wehmeier. But things seem to be the same with other dictionaries as well.)

    Of course it is also a corruption of the language. There has been a German equivalent of it around for a few years. To some non-immigrant native speakers it is already used as an excuse for not to making a real effort of gaining optimum command of their native language.
     

    Bondstreet

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    A good way to listen to slowed down language from the radio is to use a digital voice recorder, one designed to be used by typists to transcribe written speech. They have several different playback settings, which makes it ideal for listening to a foreign language at slow speed. The voice pitch doesn't change with the change of speed.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Is it possible to get a list of the mentioned core vocabulary. It could be useful as a guide line, also when learning or teaching other languages.
     

    tsoapm

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    It reminds me of Newsround (the news, for kids) and the Good News translation of the Bible for non-native English speakers and also used for kids. I think these sorts of things have their place.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I found a list of the 5,000 most commonly used words in - in priority order - which turned out very useful when coaching a student in Danish language. After a short while she knew about 80% the first 2,000 words. 1,500 to 2,000 is also the vocabulary used in many easy reader books for language students. Then we began filling out the gaps of the remaining 20% (not preventing her from learning words further dowh the list) and after a total of 90 hours I could practically throw any main stream newspaper or magazine article in front of her (or read it aloud to her) and she would understand at least 80% of it if not all.

    That is why I would want a list of said vocabulary.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Wouldn't many of the most common words be mere particles: a, the, if, it, I, of? I'm interested in your idea because I'm learning Spanish right now and I'm looking for ways to accelerate my learning. I'm just not sure that a list of the most common words (in order of frequency) would really help me.

    There is this list of the 5,000 most common words from The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

    Word frequency: based on 450 million word COCA corpus
     
    Last edited:

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    Since this discussion started 11 years ago, more resources of this sort have come out.

    In the US, an organization known as Linguistica 360 offers "News in Slow ______" online, in French, German, Spanish and Italian versions. Each site offers not only the streaming news report in a slowed-down version, but also displays the text being read with links to key vocabulary.

    News in Slow
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Wouldn't many of the most common words be mere particles: a, the, if, it, I, of? I'm interested in your idea because I'm learning Spanish right now and I'm looking for ways to accelerate my learning. I'm just not sure that a list of the most common words (in order of frequency) would really help me.

    There is this list of the 5,000 most common words from The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

    Word frequency: based on 450 million word COCA corpus

    Wow, that is beautiful. The word "frequency" didn't even occur to me as the word to search for.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Wouldn't many of the most common words be mere particles: a, the, if, it, I, of? I'm interested in your idea because I'm learning Spanish right now and I'm looking for ways to accelerate my learning. I'm just not sure that a list of the most common words (in order of frequency) would really help me.

    There is this list of the 5,000 most common words from The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

    Word frequency: based on 450 million word COCA corpus

    Wow, that is beautiful. The word "frequency" didn't even occur to me as the word to search for.


    I'll tell you how it can help you. You start - or let your student start - on the "playground". Simple textbook reading. As soon as he has some feeling of the grammar - or to put it in my personal lingo - the basic structural models of the language - he will also have learned hopefully all, or at least most of these "particles" as you call them. The articles, the most common adjectives and conjunctions.

    You don't really need many of these basic structures - as I call them - to speak about 80% of what a native keeps chatting all day long. But you need a good deal of words and flexions of the words. So I'd rather have him learn a few basic structures, flexions and a whole lot of words, so that he can liberate himself from the "playground" as soon as possible and begin using the language for whatever he wanted to learn it for. And I am not talking about months her. I am talking about weeks. Or if he has the time or energy for studying full time, we are talking days.
    And this is where the list becomes useful. You can learn a lot of words in a short time, with the right methods. But it has to be the right words. The ones he would need on an everyday basis by reading news, or whatever he needs or likes to read or listen to. Then he will not be using the dictionary 80% of the time while reading or listening to stuff. Would be stupid if you learned a lot of words in a short time and you could still not read a magazine or understand a simple YouTube tutorial or even a clearly spoken dialogue, because you know the wrong words for it, wouldn't it.
    That is where such a list becomes useful - I have one for Danish, but only on print. With the English list as HTML it will be possible to generate other lists somehow.
    See what I mean?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Since this discussion started 11 years ago, more resources of this sort have come out.

    In the US, an organization known as Linguistica 360 offers "News in Slow ______" online, in French, German, Spanish and Italian versions. Each site offers not only the streaming news report in a slowed-down version, but also displays the text being read with links to key vocabulary.

    News in Slow
    Thanks for this! I'm just learning Spanish, so this will be very helpful.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top