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The inside of the Free Library of Philadelphia's Walnut Street West location.

Credit: Gundappa Saha

Penn’s Graduate School of Education is partnering with the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Languages and Learning Center to offer adults in Philadelphia free online English Language Learning programs this fall.

The courses, operating between September and December 2021, are conducted over Zoom and taught by Penn GSE students pursuing degrees in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Lindsay Southworth, the senior program manager for adult education and language learning at the Free Library, said the classes are typically held once or twice per week and are organized to fit each graduate student’s class schedule. 

Southworth said the class material for the English language courses — which range from “Elementary English” to “Intermediate English" — is based on the needs and interests of the graduate students, who design the entire coursework themselves as part of their graduate work. She added that each graduate student is paired with a library staff member who helps oversee the class sessions.

While the Free Library and Penn GSE students have collaborated for years to offer English language-learning classes to non-English speakers in the Philadelphia community, the courses only recently transitioned to an online format due to the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Jeanne Hamann, who is the adult/teen librarian and branch manager at the Charles Santore Branch of the Free Library, said the transition to an online format this year has made the courses more convenient for both teachers and students and has led to more consistent attendance rates. 

Southworth and Hamann agreed that the English Language Learning programs are a beneficial resource for Philadelphia’s large immigrant population, and help the Free Library meet the area’s heavy demand for English classes. 

“The classes normally offered by the Languages and Learning Center are either taught by library staff or volunteers, but these are basically professional teachers who are offering their services for free, so it's very beneficial,” Hamann said.

Adults interested in participating in the English Language Learning programs offered by the Free Library and Penn GSE can sign up online at the Free Library’s website. The Free Library also has a waitlist for classes that have reached maximum registration.

“It's really wonderful to be able to partner with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and be able to offer more classes for the public who are interested in language learning," Southworth said. "It's also really wonderful to be a part of training and supporting this next generation of English teachers, and giving them an opportunity to practice their skills and hone their teaching craft."