Guest Blogger Lydia Breiseth is the manager of the bilingual English-Spanish website Colorín Colorado, whose mission is to provide educators and parents with information about teaching English language learners to read and succeed. Ms. Breiseth began her career teaching English to adults in Ecuador with the educational exchange program WorldTeach, and has subsequently taught English and Spanish in a variety of educational and family literacy programs to students of all ages. Prior to working at Colorín Colorado, Ms. Breiseth served as the Community Affairs Liaison at Telemundo Washington DC, managing outreach initiatives to the region’s Hispanic community.
A few weeks ago, I was in a cab in downtown Washington, DC, and my Ethiopian cab driver was listening to The Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio. He said he’d been listening to NPR for more than 10 years, and that it was the best way to learn new things while he was driving around town in his cab.
We started talking about books, and he said, “Books? They are too expensive. I can’t buy books!” I asked whether he ever went to the library, and he said, “What do you mean?” When I explained that he could borrow books for free at his local library, he said, “Do you mean like bestsellers? Are you KIDDING me?” As I got out of the cab, I made him promise he would go to the library the next day, but he was so excited about it that he was already thinking about all the kinds of books he would look for.
It seems improbable that someone could live here for 10 years and not know what the library is, but in fact many immigrants in the U.S. don’t know that there are libraries in their neighborhood for public use. This may be because their home country doesn’t have a library system like ours and so they aren’t familiar with what the U.S. public library system has to offer, and it also may be because their local library doesn’t have any outreach materials in their native language.
What are some of the resources immigrant families can find at the library? Some of those resources might include bilingual books for their children, free ESL and literacy classes, computer/internet access, informational books about important decisions such as buying a home or looking for a job, and movies on DVD for their family to watch together.
Many library systems do have wonderful multilingual resources (such as this library in Flushing, NY), so if you work with English language learners and their families, check your local library to see what’s available and if they have any multilingual information about their services. Take your students and their families on a field trip to the library so that they can see all of the riches their public library has to offer. At Colorín Colorado, we have just updated our library articles for families in English and Spanish as part of our new summer reading resources (also available in Spanish!). These articles provide an overview of different kinds of library services available to different groups, including young children, adolescents, and individual with special needs.
You may also be interested in our parent reading tips in 11 different languages, as well as some of the other multilingual parent guides we feature on our website in order to promote literacy for families of English language learners. In addition, we have a great selection of multicultural and bilingual children’s book titles, as well as bilingual video interviews with notable Latino children’s book authors, in our Books and Authors section.
By taking simple steps, you may be able to open a door for someone who didn’t even know that door existed. Make sure your friends, neighbors, and yes – even your cab drivers know what’s waiting for them at the library!