28 November 2022

As we continue to welcome new residents and English as a Second Language Learners from all over the world, it is no surprise that 25% of Arlington Heights residents speak English as a second language and that the Arlington Heights Memorial Library has for over 30 years offered free ESL & Literacy services to our community members. 

What it may surprise you to know, is that what started with 4 weekly Culture & Conversation sessions for cardholders only, and a once-a-month open to everyone, Tea & Talk program, today has grown into daily (Monday through Saturday), accessible ESL services for all. 

In the early stage of when these services were offered, participants would be invited to small group classes tailored to their level or specific needs. Little by little and with a little push from a global pandemic, things have shifted to have all ESL programs available on the library’s website and open to everyone in the community. Everyone is encouraged to register for programs directly, via the Program Calendar. 

According to ESL & Literacy Coordinator, Tracy Karim, during this past month, the ESL & Literacy Services office, hosted 45 total ESL programs. In total, they had 522 participants in attendance. Library staff and volunteers facilitated 33 of these programs (325 in attendance), and the rest were taught in the library as part of a continuous partnership with Community Education District 214.  

In addition to making ESL programs available on the website, in 2020 the ESL & Literacy office moved locations within the library too. Moving to the first floor and closer to the World Languages and ESL & Literacy collection, allowed these services and resources to be more visible and accessible to everyone. Even for those who are not English learners, this move allows them to know these services exist as part of the library, get to know a multicultural and vibrant group of ESL Advisors, and apply for volunteer opportunities to become tutors or be part of the ESL office team. 

The Arlington Heights Memorial Library is proudly known as one of the only public libraries in the area to offer one-on-one tutoring sessions to residents interested in practicing English for 1-hour a week. While this service is initially offered to cardholders only, anyone in the community who volunteers for 20 hours may also benefit from the same; as well as those who purchase a library card. To this date, there are 290 students enrolled in ESL programs and 150 are receiving tutoring services. What started with a small group of 10 volunteers has grown to 95 tutors. These tutors become an essential part of these individuals’ English language learning process. Their time, skills, and support have made this tutoring program possible and sustainable throughout the years.  

When potential students first come to the ESL & Literacy office, they meet with an Advisor who will gather their information, availability, goals, and needs, while also providing an assessment and designing a study plan. This group of Advisors and their one ESL & Literacy Coordinator, have lived abroad, spoken one or more languages, and use a multicultural approach to ensure people feel comfortable, safe, and understood from the moment they enter the office.  

Many students have shared that their time in their ESL office has allowed them to stay connected with other library services, improve their English, and be confident enough to become volunteers or even get a job at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. During the beginning of this holiday season, one activity students worked on was to write down two things they are grateful for (1–2-word answers). Although there were some dramatically different levels of English among the students, the answers were touching and insightful. Those who wrote, "library", "English teacher", and "ESL" expressed how incredibly grateful they are for library services, ESL programming, and support from all office staff as they adjust to life here in the United States. 

Most students cannot believe these services are free; for too many of them, this is a way to socialize, get to know other ESL students and make meaningful connections in their new community. 

ESL staff is in the office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The ESL & Literacy office is closed on Sundays. 

Today's guest blog post is by Catalina Shin, She/Her/Hers, Community Engagement Liaison for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library and member of My Library Is... Advisory Team