Branch Out

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Ashley Atkinson
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ELL Then-and-Now

Free support for English language learners evolves with the times.

By Alana Quarles, Assistant Branch Manager, Centreville Regional Library

desktop computer screen with grid of 12 people's photos surrounded by speech bubbles in different languagesAdapting to Changing Circumstances

FCPL’s English Language Learning (ELL) resources and programs help educate and strengthen the community by providing instruction and practice for English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, preparation for English knowledge tests, and help finding classes and conversation for further practice and study.

Social distancing, time restrictions, and unavailable spaces during the pandemic forced the library to rethink not only the programs and opportunities offered, but also how they were offered. In-branch conversation groups, one-on-one English conversation practice, and ESL (English as a Second Language) book clubs had to go either on hiatus or online. It is no surprise that FCPL’s dedicated ELL tutors and library volunteers decided to brave the boundaries of technology and embrace virtual programming with open arms.

Participation From Virtually Anywhere

For many ELL students, long commutes and limited availability of program times were already the biggest hurdles to participation. When classes and conversations moved online during the library’s all-virtual operations, those unable to visit branches and participate were suddenly able to do so from anywhere with an internet connection. Branches, teachers and conversation partners began seeing new faces in their programs as online convenience replaced physical distance. 

With FCPL’s return to normal services, branches are welcoming back long-time and new ELL tutors. Many offer hybrid programming available both in-branch and online, so there’s no need to plan for rush hour or bus schedules if you have a device with internet from which to join virtual events. Online conversation groups are open to all adults looking to practice their English, no matter which branch you usually visit or if you have participated in a library conversation group before.

Sharing Personal Experiences

Sue Tarakemah, an ELL volunteer and tutor for the past 13 years, experienced a surge of students from outside the local area while programs were all virtual. Despite the physical distance, she noted a remarkable sense of family formed by the online conversation groups. A Fairfax County local, Sue finds that being an ELL tutor allows her not only to teach but also to learn from individuals in the community. “I feel very appreciated,” she said. “I hope they know that that feeling is reciprocated.”

Judy Carter, an ELL volunteer and tutor for the past six years, missed seeing her students smile face-to-face when programming went virtual. However, she has since had wonderful experiences both online and in person. “The most rewarding aspect for me is the feeling that I have helped that person with their English language skills,” Judy said. “They are so grateful, and once a connection has been made, they continue with the meetings. One incident that stands out in my memory is when the son of a man I was working with came to the library to thank me for helping his father. That really made me feel appreciated.”

Connect With Us

Safety, comfort, convenience, and community are all considered when planning library ELL programs. Offerings vary, so be sure to check the event calendar for upcoming programs including one-on-one English conversation, English conversation groups, ELL book clubs, online citizenship courses, and more. If you are interested in volunteering as a tutor, click here to learn about opportunities

FCPL also offers many online resources for learning English, including tools to help prepare for English knowledge tests such as TOEFL, TOEIC, and IELTS. Visit the English Language Learning online guide to discover them all, along with other organizations offering ELL programs in the area.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant