Library helps immigrants learn language

Students at the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library work on their English language skills with tutors.
KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTERStudents at the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library work on their English language skills with tutors. KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — In a time of high political polarization, the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public library is doing its part to make newcomers to the United State more comfortable with a free English language program.

The library has seen an upsurge in the amount of immigrant families who use the facility to better their grasp on the language, thanks in part to the GlobalFoundries plant in Malta, where some of them work.

The library, aside from offering many other cultural based activities to become involved with, has offered a few English Language Learners (ELL) classes, including beginner, intermediate, and conversational classes for at least 10 years. The classes are taught by tutors who come from all around the Capital District, not just Clifton Park and Halfmoon. The classes focus on teaching non-English speakers language subjects that will theoretically make it easier for them to adjust to life in the states, such as medicine and grocery store navigation.

“They want to be more comfortable in our community,” Lou Ann Stewart, head of Adult Services at the library said. “People feel comfortable here. That’s why they keep coming back.”

The classes, which consist of mostly adults, are not high pressure. Tutors, who are vetted before they can begin to work within the program, work with the students and begin to assess when they are ready to move on to the next level, or out of the program and into something more structured. According to Victoria Weston, coordinator of the library’s ELL classes, the tutors pick the class topics by asking students about what subjects are most relevant in their lives. They even take field trips, to places such as grocery stores, sos the students become more comfortable with navigating around their respective communities.

Knowledge of the classes usually travels via word of mouth throughout the local immigrant communities and close knit families. The classes also offer the students a chance to socialize, and find friends in a community filled with strangers. Sometimes, the students even carpool to class.

There are around 20 tutors now, according to Weston, who called the classes “a team effort.” She noted that some students might come in with high language skills already, but lacking a practical knowledge of conversational English. She said that sometimes, when they advance enough, students become tutors as well.

“It’s hard to get to know people in America,” Weston, who taught elementary school in England, said. “It’s a nice…the relationship you build with the students. Everyone wants to learn. They want to be here.”