At Transparent Language, we are firm believers that every language learner should have a library card. But what should every library have for language learners?
Libraries are far from obsolete—if your mental image of a library conjures up dusty books, think again. Libraries are modern community and cultural centers, playing a critical role in the 21st century: connecting patrons with books and research journals, free wifi and 3D printers, ESL lessons and citizenship courses, creative “maker spaces”, and everything in between. As our country becomes increasingly diverse and employers seek candidates with wider skill sets, there’s one thing all libraries should offer: online language learning databases.
Library mission statements often cite goals like encouraging literacy, fostering a love of learning, making connections, supporting diversity, and promoting community participation. Offering language learning opportunities aligns with each of these goals.
- Languages inspire lifelong learning and expand horizons. There’s no age limit for learning a language, and there is no point at which a new language becomes useless or obsolete. Learning a language can open the door to more careers, relationships, and opportunities.
- Languages connect patrons to the world around them. It’s not just about learning a few phrases for your overseas vacation, or even mastering a foreign tongue for a global career—both of which we encourage! With 65 million Americans speaking a language other than English at home, the everyday American can benefit from some everyday language.
- Languages support diversity and understanding. Now more than ever, public libraries need to encourage conversation and provide resources for communication among diverse groups. Offering foreign language instruction can start the dialogue literally, of course, but also through increasing empathy and providing new perspectives.
- ESL instruction can strengthen community participation. Libraries are a lifeline for immigrants and refugees looking to connect with their community, particularly as a means to learn English. Online databases with ESL offerings provide a bridge to these individuals looking to make your community their home.
- Languages can help patrons develop hard and soft skills. Learning a language improves more than just your vocabulary. There are myriad cognitive benefits of language learning, not to mention the many soft skills associated with language learning that are highly desired by employers.
We love to see libraries offering ESL conversation circle, weekly Mandarin classes, large Spanish literature collections, and so on. Truly, we love it. But some libraries don’t have the bandwidth, and some communities have far greater need or interest than a weekly class can satisfy.
That’s why online databases can be valuable to both patrons and library staff.
- Learning online removes time and space restrictions. Patrons can sign up online and log in from home, work, or even out and about via their mobile phone, giving them the flexibility to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.
- Learning online can provide a more interactive experience than written materials or human instruction alone. Libraries and books are an obvious combination, and there’s nothing wrong with a good language book. But when it comes to learning a language, a book can only engage you so much. It requires no listening or speaking—both critical skills to language learners. Conversation circles and organized classes also only cover part of the skill spectrum, and are limited in terms of time. Supplementing books, classes, and other languages with a good database gives patrons the opportunity to engage all four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) as little or as much as they want.
- Track usage to guide library spending. Good online programs will provide user data and statistics, so you can see how many patrons are interested and which languages are most requested. This could guide future purchases for other language materials or future program planning for conversation groups, classes, and beyond.
What should a good online language database have?
Unlike an individual language learner, who might pick a program simply on the basis of a friend’s recommendation or an attractive ad, institutions must conduct research and cost-benefit analysis to prove that the resource they are looking to buy is, in fact, the best fit for everyone they support. What constitutes as “good” will depend on your library and your community.
Below are a few of the questions we recommend libraries consider when searching:
- What languages does the program offer?
- Does it teach all four core language skills?
- Does it include all major language components?
- What is the target proficiency level, length, and depth of learning material included?
- Does it promote lifelong retention?
These are the same questions we asked when developing Transparent Language Online for Libraries, an online database that includes more than 100 languages. If your library is exploring options, learn more and contact us to see if our database meets your community’s needs.
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