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English Instruction Reaches a 'Crossroads'

Television: Comedy launched by PBS and several government agencies is aimed at 14 million adults who lack basic language skills.


WASHINGTON — Aiming beyond the dry textbook English lesson, state and federal officials have launched a television situation comedy to reach some of the nearly 14 million adults who lack basic English skills.

"Crossroads Cafe" traces the lives of six characters of various ethnic backgrounds in a 26-part series that the program's sponsors are hoping will attract an immigrant population not being reached by standard instruction.

" 'Crossroads Cafe' can reach up to 14 million people nationwide who need to learn basic English skills but cannot attend formal classes because of transportation problems, or because they must work or take care of children," Education Secretary Richard Riley told reporters.

In addition to learning English from "Cafe" characters such as Jamal Al-Jibali, an unemployed engineer who becomes the restaurant's handyman, viewers will be exposed to other lessons. One episode, for example, shows an applicant seeking U.S. citizenship going through an interview with an Immigration and Naturalization Service employee.

"Crossroads Cafe" is the product of a partnership between the INS, Education Department, Public Broadcasting Service and the education agencies of four states with large immigrant populations, including California.

The program is the first nationally televised English instruction program, airing weekly this fall on PBS affiliates. The U.S. Information Agency plans to televise the series in Central and Latin America.


The states--California, New York, Florida and Illinois--and federal sponsors hope the series goes beyond TV viewers.

Videotapes of the show will be distributed to English as a Second Language education programs, classrooms and organizations that provide services to immigrants. Accompanying the TV series are teachers' guides, a workbook for students, and a photo guide with simple captions.

"It can also help 24 million other Americans who need a boost in their reading skills," Riley said, stressing the benefits of literacy. "Adults who cannot read have a hard time providing for their families, especially in these times when nearly every new job that is created requires a worker to be highly literate and skilled."

The four states' education agencies each contributed Adult Education Act funds to underwrite creation and production of "Crossroads Cafe." The INS kicked in $1 million more, said agency Commissioner Doris Meissner.

Meissner said "Crossroads Cafe" fits with her agency's effort to naturalize as many as possible of the 6 million people who are eligible for citizenship. To become a U.S. citizen, applicants must demonstrate a knowledge of English, civics and government.

"A TV series like this is just a terrific way for people who want to apply for citizenship to meet the requirements," she said in an interview.

PBS is making the series available to its 350 local affiliates nationwide. In Southern California, it is airing Saturdays at 10 a.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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