Author’s note: The following tips are useful for all language learning, not just English!
This blog will be posted in Spanish at a future date.
English in the Summer
Harris County Public Library offers ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at most of their locations along with community centers in the area. However, summer can often be a difficult time for many adults to participate regularly due to childcare and/or vacation. Plus, many branches take a break from offering ESL courses to focus on our Summer Reading Program. This blog will offer alternatives to continue learning English at your own pace even during vacation.
How We Learn
I spoke to Gaspar Guevara, the Adult Literacy Specialist for HCPL who told me that, “People generally learn four basic language skills in the following order when learning a new language: Listening-they hear it spoken first, Speaking-they try to repeat what they hear, Reading- they see the spoken language in print, and lastly, Writing-they copy what they see on paper.” I kept his words in mind while thinking of the best tips to include in this blog.
Time for a Rewatch
My favorite tip for language learning is taking something you’re already familiar with and switching the language. Find your favorite movie or tv show and switch the audio to English. You’ll be able to follow along easier to a story you already know. Make sure to use English subtitles to help with listening and reading comprehension. This allows you to match what you hear with the words you read on the screen. You can find all your favorite movies and shows available in DVD or Blu-ray format in our catalog.
Did you know HCPL offers various online resources for adults to continue learning? From computer skills to financial literacy and even college test prep. Transparent Language is a digital service available with your library card for easy language learning. With over 100 languages to choose from, users can practice phrases for everyday conversation, learn grammar, and improve their spelling and pronunciation. English is available “for everyone” or with lessons specifically for Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish speakers, and more. Transparent Language can be accessed via desktop and mobile devices.
Don’t Forget About Summer Reading
Libraries are all about our Summer Reading Program, so how about picking up a book to help with your language learning? My advice would be, like with movies, find what you know. Reread your favorite book in a new language. Make sure to keep a copy in your native language handy or a dictionary to help with any words or phrases you’re not familiar with.
Another useful tip is to look for books that are recommended for English language learners. Books to read are those whose plots are easy to follow, teach readers new but uncomplicated vocabulary, and most importantly, are engaging. Here’s a few that I’ve used in the past to teach my ESL students:
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
- Dinosaurs Before Dark and other books in The Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Matilda by Roald Dahl
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Consider joining a book club with other English learners. This gives you the opportunity to improve your reading, listening, and speaking skills. Katy Branch Library offers an ESL Book Club and Conversation Circle on Wednesdays, once a month.
Based on the experience I’ve had with several of my students, I’ve noticed many have a good grip of English, but they don’t believe they know as much as they do because they struggle to communicate in it. While they can understand the language, they become self-conscious about speaking it. My advice to them, as cliché as it is, is to practice. Try speaking with friends or family, reading to little ones if you have them, or reading your books out loud. If you want to work on your pronunciation, try listening along to an audiobook on Libby.
Lastly, conversational ESL classes /groups are a safe and fun environment to practice English with other learners. Many of our branches offer conversational classes and welcome students at all levels. Unlike traditional ESL classes you don’t have to commit to every session. There are no textbooks to study, just fun conversations to be had. Just make sure to register with the branch first. Here are a few available this summer:
- “Conversational ESL” at High Meadows, Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-2pm
- "ESL Cafe" at North Channel, Tuesdays from 2-3pm, starting June 13th (open to all ages)
- “Coffee & Conversation English Language Practice” at Aldine, some Saturdays from 2-3pm
- “Conversation Club” at Parker Williams, Thursdays from 10-11:30am
- “Vamos a Platicar” at Atascocita, Wednesdays, once a month, from 3-4pm
- “Conversational ESL” at Hardy Community Center, Tuesdays from 9:30-11am
- “Conversational ESL” at East Harris County Activity Center, Wednesdays, except the 4th Wednesday of every month, from 11am-12:30pm
The following are for advanced students
- “Conversation ESL Class” at Northwest, Wednesdays from 10am-12pm.
- “Conversation ESL Class” at Barbara Bush, Mondays from 12-1:15pm
Make sure to contact the branch or community center for any additional information and registration requirements.
At Galena Park Branch Library we will be offering two programs to help students learn new vocabulary, work on their pronunciation, and earn points towards our Summer Reading Program.
The first one, Learning English Through Story Time is for parents and their little ones to read and learn together. Parents will take turns reading out loud, focusing on pronunciation and vocabulary, and learning tips on how to keep their child entertained through storytelling. There will be crafts and other activities for the little ones. This program requires registration, please visit or call the branch for more information.
The second, ESL Read Aloud, is a 9-week course for adult learners. All interested students can drop in and fill out the registration form that same day. Students can attend one session or all 9. Each week the group will read a new novel together, taking turns reading out loud, with a focus on vocabulary, translation, and pronunciation, all while earning points towards completing the Summer Reading Program!
Coming in the Fall
As mentioned previously, most HCPL branches offer ESL courses. These are structured classes that require regular attendance, as well as a registration and a placement test. The placement test helps us determine your level of English. Based on your result you will be placed in an available ESL class. Please note that not all branches offer classes at your level, they are dependent on the availability of our volunteer instructors. For more information reach out to your local branch, they can place you in an available class, or redirect you to another one of our locations. All classes are free, and we provide the materials. Some branches will be offering these classes over the summer, while the majority will start come fall.