Harriston library’s ESL conversation circle helps newcomers adjust

Harriston library’s ESL program is the pilot project program for county libraries

HARRISTON – The Harriston library branch launched its ESL conversation circle for Minto residents needing help to learn how to speak English. 

At the Thursday virtual county council meeting, Coun. Mary Lloyd informed council of a second language portion for the Minto libraries that is being offered to newcomers. 

“The second language portion Coun. Lloyd was talking about at the county council meeting is the ESL conversation circle we’re offering at the Harriston library branch,” explained Rebecca Hine, county’s chief librarian, in a phone interview. 

“We formed the conversation circle program in 2019, prior to the pandemic, but we couldn’t begin it as we had to take a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID.” 

Rosie Krul, Harriston branch’s supervisor, explained in a phone interview that the county and the Town of Minto sees the greatest need for the ESL program in Harriston. She noted that the conversation circle’s participants are mainly Syrian refugees as Minto has recently seen a boom in Syrian newcomers. 

“There was an expressed interest from the community, particularly from Syrian newcomers that had moved into Minto and needed support and help learning English. We thought it was a great partnership with the library,” said Krul. 

“A big problem that they were having was finding childcare to be able to attend ESL classes. They also didn’t have transportation means as the closest ESL classes were in Listowel. So, their problem was getting to Listowel and then finding someone to watch the kids, so that both parents could take ESL classes at the same time.”

Krul noted that the Harriston branch did a two-pronged program wherein they ran a storytime program for the children while simultaneously running the ESL conversation circle for the parents.

The conversation circle differs from the traditional ESL classes as the circle mainly focuses on making conversations about the chosen topic for the month in English. 

“The ESL classes that are being offered in Guelph and other places have certain levels: you pass this class and advance to the next level of ESL classes,” said Krul. 

“Our conversation circle is more of a chance for people to come in and have an opportunity to speak English. We have different topics that we discuss in our program each month: one was family, food and groceries, health and holidays. We create conversations with our participants about these topics so they can learn more fluidly and so they can get more experience talking to an English-speaker.”

Although the conversation circle’s participants are only Syrian refugees right now, anyone who is interested in learning how to speak English is welcome to join. 

In a report submitted by Hines and presented by Coun. Lloyd at the virtual county council meeting, the county’s library department and economic development department have partnered up to make county libraries a key resource for newcomers. 

The following plans are to be implemented in welcoming newcomers to the county:

  • Feature prominent links on the landing pages of both the library and the County of Wellington’s welcome page so that the information is easily found and can be cross referenced
  • WCL will host community events aimed at providing information to newcomers
  • WCL will assist with the distribution of information and welcome packages provided by the county’s economic development
  • The county’s economic development will actively promote the 14 library branches as key information centres for both newcomers and residents
  • Economic Development, by providing library staff with specific information geared toward a specific community group, will provide them with the ability to more effectively and efficiently assist newcomers find the resources available to them
  • County library management will continue to work with the county’s economic development to further develop this partnership moving forward

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