The library's role in English language education
As the Japanese government searches for English programs that contribute to the “zest for life” in Japanese public education, this section will examine how English education programs for adult immigrants at cultural institutions in the United States foster the skills required to learn a language — and culture through language. The learning process is implemented on the premise that the language will be used in everyday life, and classes do not only focus on the memorization of grammar and vocabulary. The ESOL program held at libraries supports the learning that is necessary to survive in new communities and covers topics that are closely linked to the learner’s daily life. This section will first look at the general information of the program, discuss how this program contributes to the kind of learning that will be useful in the future, and highlight some themes to discuss the learning that is facilitated in the program.
The ESOL program of the New York Public Library provides opportunities for people from different cultural backgrounds — such as immigrants — to learn together and learn about each other’s cultures. The program acts as a gateway
Learning culture through language 117 where diverse cultural and ethnic communities can interact; through the opportunities provided by the program, the participants not only learn about the United States but also about other communities, while maintaining a connection with their own culture. The library' not only provides opportunities to learn the language but also plays a key role in promoting multicultural understanding.
Libraries have provided educational opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds to learn the language necessary' for use in daily' life. Throughout the years, libraries have provided educational programs to immigrants and contributed to promoting the development of the essential skills needed for them to engage in society'.
The mission of the New York Public Library' is to (1) inspire life-long learning; (2) advance knowledge by' providing free and open spaces and materials; and (3) strengthen communities by promoting full citizenship and participation in society'.9 Looking closely at this, we find that one of the way's through which library' strengthens community' is as follows:
We strengthen our communities by' promoting full citizenship and participation in society. We:
- • promote the development of key skills and capabilities;
- • provide dynamic resources to help patrons understand and engage in society’;
- • create safe and reliable places where we and our patrons can enjoy, honor, celebrate, and engage with our communities;
- • offer unique and authoritative materials of historical importance; and
- • bring our diverse communities together.10
What the ESOL program offers to its participants can be characterized as above. In recent years, the library’ has actively become involved in English education. Thus, we will examine the practices held at these institutions.
Overview of the ESOL program of the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library has provided various educational programs and the tools required for success to those who live in New York. The ESOL program is one of the programs growing rapidly' due to high demand from participants. According to the New York Public Library's Annual Reports, the ESOL programs of the New York Public Library' were held in 16 libraries in 2012; after major expansions were made, classes were held in 30 locations and offered up to 8,000 classroom spots by' 2015. This number continued to grow; by 2016, enrollment in the program had reportedly' increased to 12,360 people.11 The students of these ESOL programs come from 90 countries and speak more than 50 languages, which shows how the institution is open to people from various backgrounds.
In recent years — even though many' debates held about immigration have focused on the negative aspects — the library' continues to support immigrantsand those who need the service to gain the knowledge and skills needed in the rapidly changing global society. In the annual report of 2017, the library’s role in education was stated as follows:
The Library has long been a welcoming place for newcomers. Especially in these critical times, it is our renewed mission to welcome and provide opportunities to those who need them most - including new immigrants, non-native English speakers, and others who seek the tools they need to contribute to our society.12
As evident in this section, libraries have become one of the institutions that support the needs of English language learners, and the active involvement of libraries has enabled the provision of services to immigrants who hope to develop language skills. Next, we will take a closer look at the topics discussed in this program and the themes discussed in the classes.