Library Journal recently conducted a survey to find out more about the interests of library patrons across the country regarding language learning. They found that almost half the libraries surveyed reported an increased demand for educational language materials. While people are interested in learning new languages for travel and leisure, many libraries also reported a high demand for English as a Second Language materials.
Some of the typical methods of linguistic learning have included books, audiobooks, videos, and online subscription services. These online options can create a more interactive learning environment, as well as be readily available to a larger audience on demand. Some of the top programs include Mango, Pronunciator, and Rosetta Stone. With developers constantly working to make their services more responsive to people’s desired methods of learning, these programs will continue to become increasingly user friendly. Some of them already offer accent and pronunciation correction.
Even if your library can’t afford one of the subscription services, you can direct people to some of the free language websites available. BBC Languages has online videos, grammar, vocabulary, and slang for forty different languages. For the traveler, they also have some essential vacation (or holiday, as the BBC puts it) phrases. LiveMocha is another free online language learning option. Users have to sign up for a free account, but then can access lessons and converse with native speakers from around the world! The social interaction extends to the ability to post your language exercises online for feedback from other members.
Because people greatly benefit from forming relationships and having immediate feedback, face-to-face classes or language groups are a wonderful option. Sometimes it can be a task finding someone qualified to lead a sustainable language program. Paying a teacher can be expensive, and finding the right volunteer can be difficult. At Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, Colo., one rewarding partnership we made was with a local college. One of the language professors wanted his students to have the experience of teaching others, so we were able to have regular student volunteers with their professor running the group. Unfortunately, when the professor left the school, we were unable to sustain that language group. For ESL learners, we have a strong force of volunteer tutors who work one-on-one or in small groups with patrons, as well as classes taught by adult literacy staff.
If the demand for language materials continues to grow, we will need to continue to do more to provide these services to patrons. Even with scant funding, we can still be creative to help our population become prepared for and better able to succeed in our increasingly global world.
 Chant, Ian. “Library Linguistics.” Library Journal. August 4, 2014. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/08/digital-resources/library-linguistics/ (accessed August 20, 2014).