Language Studies on Radio Lead Hearers To Church, Christ

Sometimes slow is better. When hearing a new language being spoken, for example, individual words begin appearing if the speaker would just slow down! That's the beauty of the "Spotlight" program, an English-language learning program with a speaking rate of 90 words per minute-well below the average rate of 125-150 words a minute. The program is produced by FEBA Radio and Words of Hope. (For details visit www.radio.english.net.) When the program began airing on Radio Station HCJB in Ecuador, it soon became popular. English is the language of international business, and many Ecuadorians wanted to learn the language for career advancement. Many wrote to the station asking for program texts so that they could read along as they listened. Listeners were then given a monthly opportunity to practice speaking English at the Spotlight Listener's Club in Ecuador's capital city of Quito. "Our first club had 27 Ecuadorians there," said Janine Rembas, a volunteer in that early endeavor. The "club" lacks many normal club attributes: a formal membership, fees, a club charter and attendance requirements. What it doesn't lack is enthusiasm. Each Wednesday at an English-language church, more than 170 people gather to hear "Spotlight," then divide into small conversation groups headed by native English speakers who guide the conversation and aid people in expressing themselves in English. The pacing of discussion and depth of conversation hinges on people's abilities in English. Some language learners repeat English words printed on flash cards. More advanced speakers talk about their families, their country-even culture, current events and ethical matters. "And while we're at it we discuss Christian values," Rembas added. "From the club, we invite them to our local English-speaking church." "Ivan" not only attends the listener's club but has begun attending meetings of Bible Study Fellowship on Mondays. Dozens of other Ecuadorians attend the evangelical church pastored by Len Kinzel, a former program producer on Radio Station HCJB, whose habit of scripting his material carries over into his Sunday homilies. Sermon scripts are available to Ecuadorians who attend worship services, with a Sunday school in specialized English offered as well. Thrilled with his congregation's new mix of expatriates and Ecuadorians, Kinzel recalls a conversation revealing the spiritual interest of a Spotlight listener. "She said I don't only want to learn English; I want to learn Bible English.'" And while two upscale English-language institutes have cropped up nearby (one launching classes with big band music by a live band), his church is still the hotspot of English-learning every Wednesday. "I think it's because we're cheap" the self-effacing Rembas explains. There's no charge for the program, and she only recently began soliciting donations for the refreshments afterwards; asking 50 cents of those who stay to eat and socialize-in English of course! The club has no paid staff, but depends on the efforts of Rembas and co-workers Jeff Ingram and Harriett Knox. The other native English speakers are volunteers: missionaries, students, teachers, and several Ecuadorians whose proficiency in English is excellent. Even children have been involved, along with the wife of a U.S. diplomat who helped Rembas dream up creative ideas to foster easier learning. As the club continues to morph into spin-off ministries, interest grows, with more than 2,200 people now receiving scripts via e-mail. Building on that growth, Rembas and her team in the English Language Service now offer online downloads of how-to tips for others intent on establishing similar ESL clubs. People from as far away as Canada and the Dominican Republic have asked about the club's model, and Rembas offered it as a Christian outreach tool to religious broadcasters gathered in Bolivia. "I think the reason it took off is because it had a champion," said missionary Curt Cole, who oversees international ministries at HCJB World Radio. He was referring to Rembas. At a small meeting of Spotlight listeners a few years ago, that "champion" was on the ropes in her missions career. A struggler in learning Spanish, she even questioned her calling as a missionary. The listener's club became for Rembas a reason to stay and minister in Ecuador. "Immediately after that first club meeting, I realized I had found my ministry niche. I could speak in English and meet a real need," Rembas recalled. "Since then, this little ministry turned into my full-time job here." Meanwhile, it was announced that HCJB would air its final English-language broadcasts on international shortwave radio from Ecuador on May 6. Station Director Doug Weber called the move a refocusing or "taking some of the resources that we've been using on the broadcasts and focusing that into English-as-a-second-language (ESL) things-programming that will go out on our other (mostly Spanish) outlets." The station's broadcasts in English had been drastically scaled back in 2003. Since then, Weber said, "We haven't received a lot of response from those transmissions, but we have received a lot of response from some of our ESL programs."
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