Library ESL Conversation Clubs Grow

Where can immigrants go to practice their English speaking skills in a relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere? How can American libraries introduce their wonderful resources to new users and provide a vital need? Where can volunteers, librarians, and both novice and experienced English teachers enjoy leading small groups of English language learners in engaging, reflective conversations?

American public libraries are increasingly hosting ESL conversation clubs. Filling a clear unmet need for thousands of American immigrants, libraries can often provide a smaller, less stressful environment than crowded adult ESL classes. Some ESL conversation clubs regularly meet twice a week for two hours, and other clubs less frequently for shorter periods. Members get a chance to share experiences, expand their vocabulary, and actually practice speaking.

I  became aware of this growing trend in the Spring of 2010 when an influential blog for librarians mentioned Compelling Conversations as a recommended resource.

Under the title “Great Tips”, a small, but influential American librarian’s blog called shared some ideas from Compelling Conversations. Naturally, I am quite pleased to both be recommended – and to discover an entire community of like-minded educators.

Here’s the link to that blog post to ESL educators, librarians, and conversation club coordinators:

After reading this short post that made me smile, I spent a satisfying hour exploring the deep resources on the blog that dates back several years. Among the excellent resources is a short two-page document called ESL Conversation Clubs Best Practices by Jean Kaleda of that deserves a wider audience. Check it out here:

I’m glad to discover that so many American public libraries already offer ESL conversation clubs. Their apparent growth is even better news, especially as immigration debate heats up. These friendly, informal gatherings fill a vital, often overlooked, need for many American immigrants, adult ESL students, and other English language learners. “Speech is civilization itself,” as Thomas Mann wrote. “It is silence which isolates.” ESL conversation clubs at libraries allow many quiet, hardworking, and often silent immigrants to find their voices and share their experiences in English. These conversations can be simple, moving, and significant.

Naturally, I’m also glad that my little niche, self-published book is considered a valuable, accessible resource.

Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.


  1. Great piece Eric. It is interesting isn’t it. It seems that there is this informal ESL uncurrent that could be bubbling its way upwards in peoples’ consciousness. I guess it is the online phenomenon of social learning and language exchange that is moving offline too. Can’t be for any other reason than people find it works. There is also the thing that I really feel strongly about is that there is so much free publc space that is under used and could be put to great use.

  2. Cecile – That’s great to hear! Canada, in so many ways, embraces new immigrants and celebrates diversity. These library ESL conversation club programs seem like a perfect fit.

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experiences.

  3. Jason – Thanks for your kind words and wonderful website. Like you, I’m often struck by the intense desire of English language learners for informal and informative situations where they can deepen both their language skills and social skills. The gap between what is being done and what could be done remains a huge chasm… at least in the United States.

    The economic recession, which is still deepening in California, is also hitting formal language instruction programs quite hard. So far, at least 52,000 public school teachers have received pink slips meaning they probably will not have jobs in the fall. Community colleges are registering more students than ever – but receiving less funding. In Los Angeles County, many libraries will be cut back to five days a week. In response, many English language learners are taking learning into their own hands – both in the real and virtual worlds.

    Thanks again for dropping by. Stay in touch.

  4. Wow! Those figures are hefty. Something similar is happening here in the UK. There will be less funding for state ESOL programmes in the future and most courses have long waiting lists. As with most things ‘the crowd’ will find a way to get what it wants (learners taking things into their own hands) and the tools to do it are becoming increasingly available. Like you I believe that a conversation can be a powerful social learning scenario but to get the most from it it needs to have some structure. Maybe we should collectively try to inform a few more people about what is happening 🙂 Thanks for the kind words re: the site. J

  5. Hey Cecile…sounds great…someone replied to me from Toronto that something similar happens there. I met a teacher from a private school In Toronto that we trained to teach EOT (before we had course materials) and he implored me to make it available to these community Englsh programmes in Canada. I couldn’t really do it efficiently then because I had no materials, but I do now. It might be fun to give it a go, I know a Canadian library took out a subscription to our stuff but I have no idea if people used it 🙂

  6. Jason – Good leads. It seems that speaking skills have received far less attention than many English language learners would like in many traditional programs. I assume that this is a function of large classes and – at least in America – a reliance on standardized testing that focus far more on passive skills.
    As so often, I’m impressed with the drive of immigrants to find and/or create new opportunities to develop their speaking skills. Of course, I saw this same intense desire among Vietnamese in Vietnam, but the opportunities were far, far less to speak with native-speakers.

  7. Shafiq ahmad

    I need conversation book to learn english

  8. Shafiq – You are not alone. Creating and maintaining a meaningful conversation in a new, strange language often requires some a quality conversation book.

    There are a few outstanding books, and I would naturally include Compelling Conversations on that list. You can order it from Amazon or directly from the website

  9. Re-reading this post a few years later, I’m keenly aware that more library programs are sponsoring English classes and English conversation clubs. I’m also pleased to note that many universities, such as North Carolina State University, Florida State University, and the University of Southern California create safe places for international students to practice and develop their conversation skills in a safe, supportive environment.

    Bottomline: libraries and universities continue to find news ways to help English language learners develop their conversation skills in a relaxed, comfortable environment.


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