Special English

simplified English in Voice of America

Special English is a simple form of the English language. It is used by a public radio station called Voice of America, run by the United States government in Special English programs every day. Its news and feature programs are read more slowly than usual, using fewer English words and simple grammar.

The contents of Special English programs are much easier to understand. Special English is clearer and simpler, and it uses shorter sentences. It can also help someone whose English is weak to improve their English. In some countries, for example China, Special English is popular among people learning English.

Special English was first used on October 19, 1959. Special English started in that year as one of radio programs by the Voice of America. This broadcasts adopt slow pace and simple English in order to increase understanding for millions of listeners.[1] It is now also known as "Learning English".[2]



Special English started in 1959. It was developed as an experimental radio program to spread information on news and culture to people outside the United States.[3] Programs on VOA use a simpler English within about 1,500 words, and reports are paced 1/3 slower than regular English in order to allow listeners to increase a better understanding. This means broadcasters speak at about two-thirds the speed of conversational English. But is still far from sounding like a record played at the wrong speed.[3] It now deals with various topics to keep interest of listeners, such as news, business, science, and culture. Stories are written in clear.[4]

To be a Special English broadcaster, a person needs to do months of training. The training includes a professional voice trainer who teaches how to breathe properly and pronounce clearly.[3] A chief of Special English at VOA said, "People in this country have likely never heard of Special English," and also said, "and, if they have, they often don't understand the significance of it to people in other countries."[3]

One VOA staff explains that the main goal of Special English is for the listener to understand the content of what is being broadcast, and to make steady progress in English. "There is a fine line between being simplified and simplistic", he says. "We never want to cross that line." So when necessary, more "advanced" English words are used and the meanings made clear, so the stories never suffer from incomplete information.[4]

Students and teachers in other countries say Special English is a good learning tool.[3]

About programs


Some of popular programs on VOA follow.[5]

  • Arts & Culture
  • American Stories
  • Health & Lifestyle
  • U.S.History
  • Science & Technology
  • Words & Their Stories
  • Learning English Broadcast

VOA broadcast a program titled 'Willis Conover, the Voice of Jazz, Is Now Online" in the past, as Willis Conover[6] became a famous host at Music USA.

  1. "A NEW BEGINNING". In 1959, VOA inaugurated Special English--slow-paced, simplified English broadcasts--to facilitate comprehension for millions of listeners.
  2. "voa-learning-english". Learning English use a limited vocabulary and are read at a slower pace than VOA's other English broadcasts. Previously known as Special English.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 SERVICE, NEW YORK TIMES NEWS. "VOA's Special English spreads U.S. news". baltimoresun.com. Retrieved 2020-08-16.[permanent dead link]
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Special English". VOA. Retrieved 2020-08-11.
  5. "Programs - Radio". learningenglish.voanews.com. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
  6. "Willis Conover | American radio broadcaster". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-11.

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