The phrase “going viral” hadn’t come into vogue 10 years ago when Janine Rembas’ small English-language conversation group met in an Ecuador church, so she described the groundswell in attendance by using the word “exploded.”
Crowd sizes sextupled when the club moved across town in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. Soon about 180 Ecuadorians began showing up weekly as a follow-up to the “Spotlight” English-learning programme on Radio Station HCJB.
The conversation group became known as a “Spotlight Listeners Club.” Today such clubs meet around the world to converse in English, and Rembas promotes the concept from Bangkok, Thailand.
In those early days, Spotlight offered only radio programmes with “special” (slowly spoken) English, incorporating a vocabulary limited to 1,500 words. Now, however, Spotlight audio programmes are available as mp3 downloads online in addition to airing on radio stations. Ministries that help create programme content are U.S.-based ReFrame Media and Words of Hope as well as the HCJB Global-UK World Office in Bradford, England.
The ministry’s next logical step in late 2011 gave opportunities for English-learning conversations via the Internet as the newly named Spotlight English Clubs (SECs).
Asked to predict growth, Rembas offered that “once we launch the Spotlight English Clubs on the Internet it could happen much faster than the traditional clubs.” The first meeting occurred quietly on March 26 with a Quito club cohort, George McCombe, during an Internet club via a Skype call. As yet, no viral explosion has happened.
Christy Prins of Words of Hope said, “We see great potential for virtual clubs, and we are working now to develop them. We pray that God continues to enable our growth!” Prins is senior editor and Spotlight partnership co-coordinator at the ministry in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“We already know the demand for Internet clubs is high,” added Robin Basselin, ReFrame Media’s senior producer and Spotlight partnership co-coordinator in Chicago. “We have numerous listeners that contact us to join a club, but they live in areas where we do not have traditional clubs. Many are very excited about the prospect of joining a virtual club.”
Meanwhile an old reliable means of communication—word of mouth—continues to help the clubs spread. When an instructor at an Ecuadorian language institute, Norma Cevallos, began using Spotlight materials, Carlos Andres Ruiz enthusiastically shared them with several friends.
Now an instructor, Ruiz is sharing the SEC contents with his own language learners, people who he says “do not have a very good economical condition. But they have hope that by learning English they can improve their lives in some way such as getting a promotion at work, getting a better or more interesting job or working with people from different cultures.” The language learners range from teens to university students and even much older people, Ruiz said.
“But more than that, I’ve used Spotlight for reflection to talk about the [materialistic] and artificial world we are living [in],” he added. “In fact, my favorite programme is ‘Rent a Friend’ (which shows that money can get almost anything).”
Spotlight programmes deal with topics of interest, including social relationships, beliefs, traditions and culture, providing listeners an opportunity to broaden their horizons. The conversations that follow many times lead people to examine their beliefs and consider Christ’s claims.
“We have heard of several schools using Spotlight, particularly the audio programme and scripts,” said Prins. “We know that Spotlight is very useful for extra practice for students.”
Prins and Basselin are thrilled at Ruiz’s use of the materials in Ecuador, even as Rembas recruits more volunteers for future Internet conversations. She sees a potential for something big to happen since the past year saw nearly 1 million visits to Spotlight’s website. These include responses from more than 400,000 visitors in 215 countries speaking 160 languages.
“We have no idea how many English learners will want to join a conversation club over the Internet once we announce it on the website,” Rembas said. “We want to have a large number of volunteers ready to meet the need.”
Sources: HCJB Global, ReFrame Media