Accessibility links

Breaking News

December 11, 2003 - - 2003-12-11

Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: December 11, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- a simple way to practice English online.

RS: offers copyright-free classics with audio clips. You choose from an assortment of texts, and then repeat along with a recording.

AA: is the brainchild of Ellie Wen. She's sixteen years old, an eleventh grader at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. Ellie Wen says the idea came from her work each Friday with the children of Spanish-speakers at a community center on Skid Row, a rough area of the city.

WEN: "I like to play games with them, I tutor them, I help them with their homework. Last year I created a poetry book with them, and they wrote their own poems."

AA: "And then you got the idea for English teaching. How did you come up with the idea for English teaching?"

WEN: "It was kind of sad to see how hard they were struggling to learn how to speak English. And I realized that not everybody has a parent to be there to help them speak, or learn how to speak English, and that with the Internet anybody can click on and learn for themselves. The audio part was because I love performing. So I thought it was a cool idea to be part of the acting kind of community. So I could involve a lot of people at school that were in performing arts."

AA: "So how did you start collecting all these -- you've got poems and you've got stories. What are some of the other kinds of texts you've got on your site?"

WEN: "Well, my school community service director, Miss Jan Stewart, she gave me several great ideas, like including fairy tales. So now I have fairy tales and nursery rhymes and Aesops Fables and, like, Shakespeare's soliloquies."

AA: "And how did you collect all of these and not run afoul of copyright lawyers?"

WEN: "Well, I e-mailed the Library of Congress and they taught me that I can use anything that's published before 1923."

AA: "Are there any texts out there that you would have liked to have included in your site but couldn't because of copyright restrictions?"

WEN: "Well, there's Martin Luther King Junior's 'I Have a Dream' speech and that's still protected by copyright. But if we continue the site, someday... I still get to use, like, John F. Kennedy's 'ask not what your country can do for you' because any speech given as part of the president's job falls into the public domain."

AA: "Who recorded the audio portions?"

WEN: "I started out with my friends at my house. Now, the same group of friends plus more people are working on 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.' And then I moved on to my school and I've gotten teachers and faculty to record. It's a community service project at school, so people who volunteer get community service credit."

AA: "And how are you spreading the word about"

WEN: "I've e-mailed several American embassies and they're actually helping me collect material for a new section called Stories from Around the World.' And so I've just searched like under Google for literacy programs or ... yeah."

AA: "So how many people have visited your site so far?"

WEN: " ... ooh, I think five-thousand .... and ... five-thousand-six-hundred or something like that."

AA: "And this has been since when?"

WEN: "Since August, because the site crashed, so we had to start all over again."

AA: "Oh no."

WEN: "Yeah!"

AA: "You didn't lose everything, though, did you?"

WEN: "We lost like eighty percent of what we had."

AA: "So did you have to re -- "

WEN: "I had to retype everything."

AA: "Oh no."

WEN: "But the recordings stayed, so that was good."

AA: "Have you gotten any e-mail from fans of your site?"

WEN: "Yeah, and I've posted a lot of e-mails back on our feedback section."

AA: "And what do people like about it?"

WEN: "They like the fact that everybody involved with the project seems very interested in it. And, they can tell that we all have a passion for the same thing."

AA: "Do you want to talk, say anything else about your site or about what people can find there?"

WEN: "Umm ... well, for anybody who's going to visit the site now, I'm really sorry if something doesn't function properly, because we work on the site every day. So chances are we're already trying to fix it. So, basically, please don't give up on us!"

RS: Sixteen-year-old Ellie Wen in Los Angeles is the founder and manager of -- we'll put a link on our site. As for a career, she wants to be either a teacher or an actress.

AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is, and our Web site is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.