'Hello, There! Let's Speak American!' 1952

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 01:00 PM


This is not a radio show featuring our 43rd president; here, ‘speaking American’ is a colloquialism for functional English.

At first listen, the babyish accented English of the actors is vaguely insulting, especially in concert with the deus ex machina Caucasian character offering elementary explanations of postal services, drug stores, and fire trucks.  But I’m a child of someone who learned English from American television -- and take it from me: don’t count on Jerry Springer and infomercials for much functional language. 

Learning English can be especially difficult for immigrants who come here later in life, and who have to rely on their children as translators for language and customs.  Public media has always been an easily accessible outlet for educational programming, and WNYC has a long history of self-betterment and exploration.  So even though the characters in this series are often confused by fundamental life skills (like getting a piece of dust out of your eye), count it firmly in the ‘helpful but insulting’ camp along with the directions on hair conditioner bottles and the bossy, snide voice of your GPS.


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In September 2010, WNYC's Archives and Preservation Department initiated a two-year archival digitization project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its goal is to reformat 660 hours of choice recordings from the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC collection found on lacquer disc and open reel tape.

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