English learning game show Mojay Mojay Shekha (Learning With Fun) in Bangladesh.

Millions of Bangladeshis learn English with BBC Janala

BBC Janala ("window" in Bangla) is a unique service unlocking access to English language learning for millions of people in Bangladesh.

On TV, online, in print and accessible through even the most basic mobile phone handset, the multiplatform service also works through roughly 6000 English clubs across the country.

It is part of English in Action (EiA), a major initiative designed to raise the language skills of 25 million people in Bangladesh by 2017 and funded by the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID).

The goal is to contribute to the economic growth of Bangladesh by encouraging English language as a tool to improve people’s livelihoods.

One user of the service who has recognised how learning English can transform her income is Mishti, who lives in Charghat in western Bangladesh.

As well as looking after her husband and sons in her village, she works for an insurance company and travels to the company’s head office each month. "I need English," she says, "because if I want to do well in my career, knowing how to speak English is critical."

Mobile media

Since its launch in 2009, BBC Janala has transformed the mobile phone into a low-cost educational device, offering hundreds of short audio lessons and SMS quizzes accessible through even the most basic mobile phone handset.

It is the largest, multiplatform innovation to improve basic English language skills anywhere in the developing world.

With over 95 million mobile phones in Bangladesh, more than two thirds of the adult population has access to a handset, including poorer communities.

By dialling 3000 from a mobile handset, almost anyone can learn English with lessons ranging from 'Essential English' to 'Pronunciation' to 'English for Work'.

BBC Media Action has secured the agreement and in-kind investment of all six mobile operators in Bangladesh to offer these calls at a greatly reduced tariff of 50 Paisa (0.004 GBP) per minute.

The project prioritises 15 to 45 year olds – among whom the demand for learning English is greatest –particularly those who live on less than £2 a day.

Multiple platforms

Lessons and quizzes can also be accessed through the website www.bbcjanala.com which features interactive, online learning as well as educational downloads.

Television programmes complement the web and mobile courses. In 2009-10, a weekly youth show called BBC Buzz was presented in Bangla and English. The weekly drama Bishaash (Believe) also ran for 24 episodes and was followed by interactive game show BBC Janala Mojay Mojay Shekha (Learning With Fun), which returned for a second series in 2012.

The TV programmes have proved very popular. Bishaash alone reached an audience of 20 million, including Mishti: "I have watched almost all the episodes of Bishaash and Janala Mojay Mojay Shekha," she says. "I watch it with my son and in our spare time we practice English together."

BBC Janala lessons are also available in print four times per week in Prothom Alo, the leading Bangla daily newspaper, and are available throughout the country in two books and four audio CDs. Almost 230,000 CDs have been distributed so far.

Personalised syllabus

The latest phase of the project is the Amar Engreji Courses (My English Courses), which consist of TV, web, mobile, print and outreach content, enabling adult learners to access the same learning content using the platform most convenient to them.

Learners can track their progress as they go through the course using innovatively designed learning tools. Two courses are currently available – providing beginner and pre-intermediate level learning – and a third course, including more advanced English, will launch in early 2014.

With books, CDs and a newly redesigned website, the latest phase has also seen three week-long training workshops with media practitioners and English language learning professionals which aim to strengthen the English-learning media sector in Bangladesh. A network of 1000 peer-led English learning clubs across Bangladesh is also being set up in partnership with local NGOs.

A new, reality TV series aimed at beginner-level learners launches in summer 2013. The series follows learners – mostly from poorer backgrounds – as they face an English-learning challenge and provides inspiration and motivation for viewers to begin their own learning journey, as well as introducing them to some simple English phrases.

"BBC Janala certainly made a difference in my life," Mishti says. "Now I won’t be scared when I speak to foreigners and my bosses."

Related Links

Follow BBC Bangladesh Janala on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube 

BBC Media Action's work in Bangladesh 

BBC Media Action's work on governance and rights

If I want to do well in my career, knowing how to speak English is critical

BBC Janala user Mishti, western Bangladesh

DonateCharity number 1076235

Awards

  • Since its launch in 2009, almost 24 million people have accessed English in Action media products
  • Learners can access a common syllabus of beginner-level English lessons across TV, print, mobile, web and more
  • BBC Janala has received a series of international awards including the Microsoft Education Award for technology innovation at the 2010 Tech Awards

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