Recent immigrants and locals alike can learn new languages together on Cape Ann through the Sawyer Free Library’s new Conversation Cafes.
The cafes run one Saturday a month and aim to help those who attend practice their Portugese, Spanish or English through casual dialogue over coffee and sweets in the library's Muzzey Room.
The next cafe is on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., and follows more than 20 years of English learning-based programming at Sawyer Free.
“Programs like (the cafes) are important because they offer a chance to connect people in Gloucester and celebrate the diversity of the languages spoken here, all under the fun and casual umbrella of a cafe,” said Lara Vilahomat, community librarian at Sawyer Free and founder of the cafes.
The cafes will continue through the fall, with dates to be determined, and more languages will likely be added if interest in the cafes continue to grow.
“For the second Conversation Cafe, we were thrilled to see more people whose first language is not English attend,” Vilahomat said. “We anticipate this trend continuing, as we have other people in the Wellspring program who have expressed interest in the event.”
Wellspring House has helped promote the cafes and also runs the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at Sawyer Free. The ESOL program started at the library in the mid-1990s before Wellspring took over in 2009.
The ESOL program offers free classes and private tutoring sessions for those looking for a more structured approach to learning English. It is especially designed to help low-income immigrants learn English regardless of how little or how much of the language they may already know.
The program runs at Sawyer Free every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Students can also request other times that better fit their schedules.
“Through the (ESOL) program, we try to provide a safe space for people to practice and learn English, and to make a better life for themselves,” said Peggy Buff, assistant coordinator for the program.
New students can start lessons at any point in the year and will learn to speak, read, write and comprehend English at their own pace.
Buff said that while students often come into the program shy and hesitant to practice English, they usually gain a good relationship with their tutor and a notable confidence in their communication skills.
“The obstacles (these immigrants) overcome makes you so awe-inspired by their tenacity and willingness to work to make a better life for their children, even when they know they might always be working hard, long hours,” Buff said.
Tutors in the program do not need to know any languages other than English or have prior teaching experience. Instead, they teach the students English through sign language, body language, charades, pictures and, occasionally, Google Translate.
“We seem to get a few more volunteers every time the current U.S. administration makes a change that negatively affects the immigrant population,” said Buff. “People get so angry and upset they want to do something about it. However, we always need tutors because our student enrollment is up, too.”
Tracy Davis, public relations consultant for Sawyer Free, said students often introduce their families and friends who are looking to learn English to the program, as it helps immigrants on Cape Ann adjust to American life.
“(The ESOL program) is a wonderful program and a vital part of Gloucester, and beyond,” said Davis.
More information about the ESOL program is available by Wellspring House at 978-381-3887 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning another language
Conversation Cafe: Practice Portugese, Spanish or English through casual dialogue over coffee and sweets in the Muzzey Room at Sawyer Free Library, 2 Dale Ave., on Saturday, Aug. 17, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Contact Lara Vilahomat at email@example.com
Wellspring ESOL Program: Free classes and private tutoring sessions for those looking for a structured approach to learning English. at Sawyer Free every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Contact Peggy Duff at 978-325-5536 or firstname.lastname@example.org