World Agenda

Last updated: 15 october, 2010 - 15:29 GMT

Using TV to teach English in Bangladesh

Cast of Bishaash, English in Action drama

The four cast leads who make up the family of supernatural detectives in the drama series Bishaash

BBC World Service Trust’s English in Action project aims to use a supernatural detective drama and a comedy game show to help millions of people to learn English.

English in Action is a major nine-year initiative in Bangladesh with an ambition to raise the English language skills of 25 million people by 2017.

In a landmark for the BBC World Service Trust project, children and adults will be brought together to learn English for the first time.

The ambition is to use the most widely adopted and affordable media available – television – to reach out to the many millions of ordinary people who have poor or nonexistent English language skills and lack the confidence to learn.

From 16 October, children and adults of all ages will be able to watch the brand-new drama series Bishaash, accompanied by a linked English-language learning show BBC Janala: Mojay Mojay Shekha (Learning is Fun), created by the trust.

Accessible learning

What is the BBC World Service Trust?

As the BBC’s international development charity, BBC World Service Trust uses media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights, thereby enabling people to build better lives.

It is funded by external grants and voluntary contributions, mainly from the UK’s Department for International Development, the European Union, UN agencies and charitable foundations. It receives a small amount of core support from the BBC (both in kind and cash).

It believes that independent, vibrant media are critical to the development of free and just societies, and it shares the BBC’s ambition to provide accurate, impartial and reliable information to enable people to make informed decisions.

Bishaash is a drama based in both Bangladesh and the UK which, as the first supernatural detective series in Asia, will hopefully captivate audiences whilst providing an introduction to beginner’s English.

With most of the speech in Bangla to attract a mainstream audience, it includes functional English lines woven into the stories.

It is followed by BBC Janala: Mojay Mojay Shekha, an entertaining educational game show and comedy which builds on the English used in the drama, providing viewers with a fun, accessible and free way for families to learn English together.

Humbling journey

Producer Mary Hare describes first-hand what it is like to film a major drama in a country like Bangladesh:

As the sun sets over the city, the muezzin begins the azaan.

I may not understand what is being said, but his voice is beautiful and evocative. It is late September and my time in Bangladesh is coming to an end.

It has been a long, challenging, astonishing and often humbling journey.

The nine months filming in and around Dhaka included ten days in Gazipur forest in cobra season, rickshaw racing in a field that rapidly became a swamp and two weeks on the deserted Padma Island, complete with zombies.

Instant success

They have embraced ‘military time’ rather than ‘Dhaka time’ and are now deeply intolerant of lateness.

English in Action Producer Mary Hare

The teams have braved small earthquakes, cyclones and the annual monsoon.

They’ve survived outbreaks of measles, typhoid, acute dysentery, hospitalising chest infections and Dengue Fever.

They’ve achieved this in two languages, with a multinational team, state of the art equipment and a spirit, enthusiasm, humour and resilience that are akin to going into battle.

The team has built a village set in the forest at Gazipur which proved to be an instant success with the local community.

So much so that after a couple of days we discovered a tea stall had moved in and someone was marking out where they could build their new home.

We’ve filmed in the most crowded and smallest streets of Old Dhaka, accompanied by demons and the occasional alien.

We’ve recreated wrestling matches in the outdoor stadium at Rabindra Sharobor at Dhanmondi lake with the Bangladeshi equivalent to Robert De Niro (and the crowd to prove it).

Embracing irony

Creating a zombie on the set of the Bishaash drama

Applying zombie make-up on set of the Bishaash drama

For most of our team, this has been their first experience working with international programme-makers.

Three completely new departments have been recruited and trained, and we are their introduction to the industry.

We have collaborated to create a working environment where it is comfortable to learn and make mistakes, particularly as we are all using equipment, paperwork or vocabulary for the first time.

The local crew runs the studio floor in Bangla, English or both and their confidence is palpable.

This is most evident with the integration of language and humour, where the local crew has embraced irony. Much to the amusement of the crew, I’ve been taught how to say ‘marvellous’ in Bangla in three very different ways – along with ‘It’s not possible’.

Countdown begins

There is a frisson of excitement this week in the production office.

The filming has come to an end and the set has been dismantled, but the trails are on air and the transmissions are about to begin.

Catch us on BTV or BTV World or watch the trails for the drama and live broadcasts of the episodesclick here from 16 October.

Bishaash is funded by the UKaid through the Department for International Development. To find out more about the project, click click here


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