New York City, United States

We are New York Project

Mayor’s Office of Adult Education

August 22, 2012

Providing access to public services for all New Yorkers through innovative television programming and neighbourhood conversation circles

A little girl reads haltingly from an English storybook before bedtime. Her mother sits beside her, helping her work out some of the more difficult words. Later, the mother retreats to the living room where her husband is watching a soccer game on television. She interrupts him to express her anxiety about an upcoming meeting with the teacher, flashing back to last year’s parent-teacher conference which she sat through helplessly, unable to understand a word the teacher said.

For New York City’s 1.8 million adults who need help with English, the storyline is all too familiar. And that’s the point. This opening scene is the first in a nine-episode series broadcast twice-weekly on public television and available on the internet, called We Are New York (WANY). Created by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education in partnership with the City University of New York in 2009, the goal of WANY is to take advantage of the reach and popularity of television to help adults practice English, while at the same time navigating essential public services, such as schools, banks and hospitals.

From Television to Real Life

Each episode of WANY guides the language learner through challenging, but realistic situations, such as going to the doctor or opening a bank account, using everyday conversation spoken at a slower pace. Viewers can also download program scripts in six of the city’s most commonly spoken languages.

WANY program developers have also established conversation groups across the city’s five boroughs to help English language learners overcome the strangeness of a new language by meeting face-to-face with New Yorkers. The groups are led by city-trained volunteers and allow participants to discuss the television programs, including the problems characters face and how they overcome them. Newcomers can practice English words and phrases around issues that most concern them as immigrants or share the ordinary events of daily life with their new neighbours and fellow residents.

Policy Matters

The WANY project stems from a 2003 policy decision initiated by the Office of the Mayor to ensure all New Yorkers, including immigrants, can access the City services they need and are entitled to receive. About half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home, and 25 % of residents do not speak English as their primary language.

Recognizing that “for the 1.8 million New Yorkers with limited English proficiency, interacting with government all too often can be a challenge,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg issued three separate Language Access Executive Orders to establish better access to city services for non-English speakers.

Now all city agencies are mandated to provide services in Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Italian and French Creole; additionally, callers can access the 311 Customer Service Center in 170 languages. City agencies are also required to provide interpretation services, including telephone interpretation, oral or written translation services, and translation of essential public documents in the most commonly spoken languages.


The popular We are New York television series amplifies the city’s efforts to improve immigrant access to services. Since its launch, an estimated 4,000 New Yorkers have improved their English language skills while learning how to access essential city services. Nearly 13,000 students have watched the series in the classroom.

In 2010, WANY was recognized with two local NY Emmy Awards. The city continues to bring newcomers and New Yorkers together, recently celebrating the start of its 500th conversation circle.

Making it Work for You:

  • Understand the power of multi-media to reach audiences on a large scale through public access television and the internet.
  • Include real-life community conversation groups on subjects that matter to people in their everyday lives, such as banking, health services and education.
  • Harness the momentum of public policy decisions to create action-oriented programs and services that respond to community needs and raise the profile of city leadership.

For this Good Idea contact:

Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs
100 Gold Street, New York
New York , New York, United States,