The Great Neck Library has introduced a program to encourage non-native English speakers in the community to engage with one another in conversation groups that broaden their exposure to others in a safe place where they can practice their speaking skills.
Through the Continuing Education program, the Great Neck Schools offers an excellent ESOL course that helps people who are new to the language learn English. That program is curriculum-based and intensive. To enroll, all students must be interviewed and take a leveling test to make sure that they are in the proper class. The program is very flexible in terms of hours of study, with classes on weekdays and weekends.
The library program is very different. It encourages new learners to engage in conversations about a variety of topics and offers a forum to use the skills that they may have learned academically at an ESOL program to converse with other students about food, culture, arts and American popular culture.
“Learning English is a multi-pronged process,” according to librarian Barbara Buckley of the Great Neck Library. “The grammar of the language, along with the reading of materials is the basis of learning. Putting that new language in a setting that encourages interchange with others is the next step in the development.”
Because Great Neck has become so diverse, the library has translated its flyers about the program into four languages: Farsi, Chinese, Spanish and Korean. The program has drawn students from all of these cultures. Conversations range from holidays in the students’ home cultures to the problems of adjusting to new neighborhoods, schools and stores.
“The use of audio-visual materials allows the students to hone in on a topic, such as making a dinner reservation,” said Buckley. “Watching a short segment, the students hear the cadence and the use of the vernacular.” Asking the students to replicate a situation in their own words in English allows them to employ myriad words. Encouragement from other students bolsters confidence in the spoken word.
The Conversation Class takes place at the Station Branch Library every other Tuesday and will resume on Sept. 13. Beginners meet from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and more advanced students meet from 2 to 3 p.m. The Station Branch is located at The Gardens at Great Neck Plaza, 26 Great Neck Rd., second level, above Best Market.