A rush to learn English by cell

From November 14, 2009, in The Washington Post by Maija Palmer and Amy-Kazmin: “A rush to learn English by cell: More than 300,000 Bangladeshis sign up for new phone service”

More than 300,000 people in Bangladesh, one of Asia’s poorest but fastest-growing economies, have rushed to sign up to learn English over their cellphones, threatening to swamp the service even before its official launch Thursday.

"We were not expecting that kind of response — 25,000 people would have been a good response on the first day," said Sara Chamberlain, the manager of the discount service. "Instead, we got hundreds of thousands of people."

The project, which costs users less than the price of a cup of tea for each three-minute lesson, is being run by the BBC World Service Trust, the international charity arm of the broadcaster. Part of a British government initiative to help develop English skills in Bangladesh, it marks the first time that cellphones have been used as an educational tool on this scale. …

However, English is also important for securing jobs at home, where about 70 percent of employers look for workers with "communicative English."

Through its Janala service, the BBC offers 250 audio and text-message lessons at different levels — from basic English conversation to grammar and comprehension of simple news stories. Each lesson is a three-minute phone call, costing about 4 cents. …

The language lessons target mainly 18- to 24-year-olds, who typically have five or more years of formal education but whose training in English has been weak. Also targeted are people living on less than $145 a month, who would struggle to pay for formal English lessons.