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Boston Public Library provides tuition-free literacy services

Karen Morales
Boston Public Library provides tuition-free literacy services
Boston Public Library central branch in Copley Square. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

Boston’s public library system offers a lot more than just books — a number of services for English language learners are also available for free.

Throughout the year, the Boston Public Library hosts English as a Second Language conversation groups at various branch locations as a way for people to practice speaking English in an informal and friendly group setting led by volunteer native English speakers.

The groups meet on weekdays and weekends, and there are morning, afternoon and evening sessions.   

“There is a very clear need, and while there are a lot of local agencies that do great work, learning a language is an ongoing process,” said Melissa Theroux, literacy coordinator at the BPL. “It’s not something you just do with a 10-week course, you have to work on it for multiple years to be proficient. Having free conversation groups to perfect those communication skills is really helpful.”

And they’re fairly popular, said Theroux. At the neighborhood branches, typically five students attend the conversation groups while the central branch in Copley Square can sometimes host between 30 to 40 students at each session.  

The volunteer instructors help guide the conversation by suggesting a topic to discuss and depending on the size of the group, participants will either talk one-on-one with other students or talk with the whole group. Teachers also like to introduce new vocabulary words or grammar concepts to further strengthen the conversation, said Theroux.

In addition to English conversation groups, the BPL also offers free ESL instruction in a traditional classroom environment with classes that range from beginner to high-intermediate. These classes are offered beginning in the fall and up until the spring season.

Other community resources include small-group tutoring, GED classes and immigrant information corners.

In partnership with Mayor Martin Walsh’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, immigration information corners located at all 25 neighborhood branches provide study materials for the U.S. citizenship exam and other informational material regarding U.S. citizenship. Representatives from Boston’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office visit several library branches once a month to respond to any questions people may have.  

To view the current conversation group schedule, visit: https://www.bpl.org

For more information on BPL immigrant information corners, visit: http://guides.bpl.org/citizenship

An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the BPL has 24 branches. The current version has been edited to say there are 25. 

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