With titles such as "Grocery Shopping" and "Health Care," the films hardly seem likely to be box-office hits. But in Arlington County, where one of every seven residents for whom English is not the native language, a local nonprofit group is using videotapes to teach immigrants and refugees about basic survival skills and public services.
The $155,000 project, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, is being produced by Arlington Community Television on subjects ranging from banking to using the 911 emergency telephone lines.
"There is a desperate need for precisely this kind of teaching tool," said Emma Violand de Hainer, supervisor of the English for Speakers of Other Languages program in the Arlington schools, who helped develop the project. "My staff has looked across the country for tapes like these and has not found any."
Each 12-minute tape is to be produced in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer. The first tapes will be geared for Arlington residents, but program sponsors say they hope to raise enough money to produce generic versions that could be distributed nationally.
"If you've never seen a chicken without its head and feathers, how can you recognize that pale yellow, cut-up thing wrapped in cellophane in the grocery?" said Rebecca Leet, president of Arlington Community Television. "If you've never gotten a job except through a relative or government assignment, how do you know what a 'Help Wanted' sign means, or what you should do in response to it? These are the kind of things we're dealing with."
Most immigrants will likely hear the tapes in schools, at community meetings or in self-help groups. The tapes also will be aired regularly on community television (cable Channel 33), although the schedule has not yet been established, Leet said.
The tapes are produced in VHS and Beta formats and can be purchased for about $35 each or borrowed free from Arlington libraries and the Arlington chapter of the American Red Cross.
The first of the nine-tape series, which is about the 911 emergency system, is available locally. By mid-August, the group hopes to have completed three more tapes. The remaining tapes are expected to be completed by the summer of 1987, officials said.
The $100,000 needed to produce the Arlington tapes was raised from the Arlington County government, which contributed $25,000, and from corporations, churches and individuals.
Leet said her group has embarked on an additional drive to raise $55,000, which would cover costs of producing tapes that could be used in other cities as well as Washington area jurisdictions, where the Indochinese refugee and immigrant population alone is estimated to be 25,000.