Accessibility links

Breaking News

'For Dummies’ Books Are Popular Learning Aids

The book series offers easy to understand information. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about the beginning of Special English broadcasting …

Play some music from Josh Radin …

And report about a series of books for "Dummies."

Dummies Books


Do you know about a series of books that say they are “for dummies”? These American self-help books have been translated into more than thirty-nine languages. They include Chinese, Arabic, Russian, French, German, Greek and Spanish. Barbara Klein has more.


“Dummy” is a slang word for a stupid person. The Dummies books are not really for stupid people. They are designed to show people how to do something they may never have tried before. Things like painting a house or learning a language. The books all say in a funny way that they are for dummies. They include “World History for Dummies”, “Rabbits For Dummies”, “Chinese Cooking For Dummies”, and “Wedding Planning For Dummies”.

The first such book was published in nineteen ninety-one. It was called “DOS For Dummies.” It helped people learn how to use the DOS operating system for computers. Since then, more than one hundred fifty million Dummies books have been sold.

The Dummies dot com Web site explains the idea behind the books. It says they demonstrate that people can be taught to do anything. It also describes how the books present their information. First they make fun of ideas that are difficult to understand. Then they show how the information can be interesting and easy. The publishers say the books do not provide more information than necessary. They give readers just enough information to do what they want. They say the Dummies books give the best and easiest way to do something. And the books use simple language that is easy to understand.

There are more than one thousand different Dummies books. A report in the New York Times newspaper says the top-selling Dummies books are those that explain technology and personal finance. Other top-selling books deal with health, like “Diabetes for Dummies.” It was written by a doctor in San Francisco, California.

The publishers say the best-selling Dummies books are those that provide information many people need — like information about diseases, education and cooking. People interested in opera, car repair and wine can also find Dummies books to help them. And there are even more Dummies books to come. The publishers say they release about two hundred new Dummies books every year.

Special English Anniversary


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Bangladesh. Munna asks when the Voice of America started broadcasting programs in Special English.

The first broadcast of VOA Special English was on October nineteenth, nineteen fifty-nine. VOA officials wanted a program to communicate with people learning English around the world. They wanted a way for people to get to know the language and, at the same time, learn about the United States and world events.

In nineteen fifty-nine, the director of the Voice of America was Henry Loomis. In his job, he traveled around the world. He found that people of all ages wanted to learn English. He wondered if VOA could help. He asked his program manager, Barry Zorthian, to create a broadcast tool that would provide information to listeners who had a limited knowledge of English. Mister Zorthian gathered a small team of young people to develop a list of words to be used in the broadcasts.

Forty-seven years ago, on October nineteenth, listeners heard the first Special English broadcast. Paul Parks read a ten-minute news program slowly and carefully. He read at a speed that is about one-third slower than other VOA English broadcasts. He read so that each word could be clearly understood by listeners on their shortwave radios. The sentences were short. And the words used were limited to the most common English words. Special English was an experiment. There was no model for such a broadcast in slow-speed English using simple words. Would anyone listen to such a program? Would they like it?

Some American experts said the broadcasts would not be successful. But foreign listeners disagreed. They thought it was excellent. In later years, Special English added both short and long feature programs to its broadcasts. Special English soon became one of the most popular programs on VOA. It still is.

Joshua Radin


Joshua Radin is a musician with beginner’s luck. The first song he wrote was played on a major American television program. Less than two years after writing more songs, Columbia Records offered him a record deal. Mister Radin’s gentle voice and powerful love songs are becoming very popular. Faith Lapidus has more.



That was “Winter.” Joshua Radin wrote the song for a live performance in New York City about two years ago. He was working as an artist and movie writer at the time. But when his friends heard the song, they knew it was special. One of Radin’s friends gave the song to a television producer. Soon, “Winter” was played on a television program and fans started asking for more of his music. So, Joshua Radin started making music full-time.

Many of the songs on his album, “We Were Here,” are sad love songs. Radin sings about a relationship with a woman that ended. But there are also a few happy songs about falling in love. Here is “Someone Else’s Life”. Radin wrote this song after meeting his current girlfriend.


Joshua Radin’s songs all have a soft and quiet style. This gentle quality adds to their emotional effect. But Radin says there is another reason. When he first learned to play the guitar, he lived in a small apartment room. He had to play very quietly so that the music would not trouble the people living nearby.

Now, Joshua Radin can play his music as loudly as he wants. His music is in a new movie and in several television shows. And he is performing around the United States this month. We leave you with “Sundrenched World”. This song tells about a painful and troubling love.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Dana Demange, Erin Schiavone and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.