Learning a new language can be daunting, but given the right space, it can be a great way to connect with people from different cultures.
Beginning Oct. 7, The Guelph Public Library will resume the English Conversation Circle program, every other Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the main library.
These informal groups offer a friendly and welcoming place for newcomers to practice and gain confidence with speaking English.
Registration is not required for the free drop-in program.
“Starting next month, the hybrid sessions will change to an in-person, drop-in English Conversation Circle, so, we are returning to the model we had before COVID-19,” said Emily Tyschenko, librarian at the Guelph Public Library.
“And we are planning to offer more English Conversation Circles starting in January.”
Since 2011, the library has offered the informal conversation setting for adults who come from many different cultural backgrounds.
“We do have a wide variety of people come out,” Tyschenko said.
“Library staff facilitate the conversations and provide a welcoming atmosphere and environment for people to practice, regardless of their level of English.”
The circle also offers an opportunity to gain a greater sense of the community.
“This is a way to learn and improve English skills but almost always, there is someone in the group who will also want to share something about themselves,” Tyschenko said.
“So, it’s a really great way for attendees to find common ground and share experiences with one another. Often, they are newcomers just starting to learn a new language and what it is like to live in Canada.”
Tyschenko says attendance numbers at the English Conversation Circle vary.
“Right now, we have about 10 regular attendees. But this changes from week to week,” she said.
“Some attend every week for months on end, and then other times, people just come out one or two times. People can just drop in if they would like to take part. They can make as much or as little of a commitment as they like.”
The Guelph Public Library also works in partnership with Immigrant Services to offer an English Conversation Circle facilitated by volunteers at the Westminster Square Branch Library.
“COVID-19 interrupted this previously. But a session was already held there earlier this year,” Tyschenko said.
“Immigrant Services has great assortment of offerings for anyone new to the community. We’ve been very fortunate to work with them.”
The English Conversation Circle also offers the opportunity to also learn more about what the library and greater Guelph community have to offer.
“We host community tours. Sometimes an official library program can be intimidating at first, so we really try to use that as a way to introduce people to the library. A tour is a great way of doing that,” Tyschenko said.
“We definitely do get positive feedback about the conversation circle itself. But also, just that fact that people return to get a library card or want to attend our story time and other library programs is great. The fact that they want to explore the library and community further indicates that they are getting something out of it.”
It’s an open-door policy at the English Conversation Circle.
“I always walk away feeling very honoured. In the moment, you can definitely see the confidence in individuals increase. We have a variety of personalities that facilitate the circles. And different people connect with different library staff,” Tyschenko said.
“Regardless of the language level, this is not a place to feel self-conscious. There’s so much to relate to when you are at a table together. Everyone can speak as much or as little as they want. There’s space for everyone.”