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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Learning English the BBC Janala way

The need for being multi-lingual to gain an edge in the global business stage has been mentioned in this blog before. Its good to see some signs of innovative teaching mechanisms to spread the language learning drive. This time its BBC who has come up with a bi-lingual website to help learners of the English language in Bangladesh to take lessons over internet, mobile phones etc. Read here to know more.

Some initiative is better than no initiative at all, so hats off to BBC Trust for thinking how relevant digital technologies in the Bangladeshi context can be applied to provide language education. Some constructive observations and feedback though.

1. I think its important to segment and identify the learning audience. When you arrive at the website at, there is no clear navigation to identify myself with any learning group. For example, say I am a housewife, kid (minor), graduate, business executive, businessman (or woman) etc. Users online would like to identify themselves with any of the services being offered, as every user's needs are unique. So BBC Janala could look into the issue of segmenting the audience and tailor made their language courses accordingly. It is expected that the English learning needs of a housewife might be different from those of a business executive who encounters English speaking people almost everyday. So 'English for housewives' and 'English for businesspeople' can be packaged to cater to two different groups.

2. It might be a possibility that this service is promoted in the rural areas through various telecenters spread around Bangladesh. Since they are working with Grameen Phone (along with all other telecom operators) any ways in this project, might be possible to promote the service through the Grameen Phone Community Information Centers (GPCIC).

3. The fact that the lessons can be listened to through mobile phone sounds good but the cost associated with it (3 taka for a 3 minute audio lesson) still remains a bit high in my perspective. No doubt that the service shall never be free. But at the same time, we need to keep in mind that the vacuum the service is trying to fill is a failure of the overall education system of Bangladesh which somehow does not take into realistic consideration the need to be able to converse in fluent English (also not other languages). Also, if someone just decides to call up a friend or a person who happens to possess better knowledge of English then the whole point of having these lessons available through airtime becomes less useful. In my opinion, I really don't envisage many people to call up this service spending 3 taka for 3 minutes just to know English from perhaps an automated machine response, so better need to look at the alternatives available and how to make this service exclusive.

4. Finally its very important to demonstrate and make explicit references to real stories of real people on how knowing English aided someone in their personal, professional lives. Unless I know why or how or when exactly learning English will provide me visible benefits, chances are that I would still remain a bit doubtful in becoming a loyal and long term user of the BBC Janala service.

1 comment:

Rezwan said...

The mobile phone industry is becoming saturated. So they are trying to cash in on value added services.

I doubt whether the BBC initiative will be practical.

There are many English language resources available online. Its only a matter of time when some will be available with Bangla explanations. I think if Bangladesh unlocks the e-commerce facilities, new entrepreneurs can come up who would be offering cheap online based solutions which can be purchased via paypal or mobile money.