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We Are New York: Language Learning at the Library


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One of my life’s ambitions which has yet to be actualized is my desire to speak fluently in at least several languages. My father possessed quite a flair for languages, demonstrated by his ability to converse in the respective native tongue of people hailing from a variety of locales around the globe, as well as his ability to accurately translate dialog from World War II movies prior to the corresponding English sub-titles appearing on the screen. I possess a fairly good grasp of the Spanish language, and a smattering of German. My paramount ability to speak Spanish as opposed to German is based on the fact that I lack the opportunity to practice the German language, whereas I not infrequently encounter people who speak solely Spanish. Several years ago, I was afforded the opportunity to watch soap operas presented in the Spanish language (“novellas”). I would not describe myself as an ardent devotee of soap operas, but I can truthfully state that straining to figure out why Juan was virtually incandescent with rage at his business partner, Luis, who Juan had selected to be the godfather of Juan's son just a week ago, or why the stunningly gorgeous twenty-something couple, Julio and Maritza, were electing to dissolve their romantic union definitely served as an added impetus to augment my knowledge of the Spanish language (until the matter was clarified for me, I mistakenly thought Julio testily informed Maritza that he was leaving her for “the old women” of “the world.” In my defense, “viaje” ("to travel") and “viaja” ("old woman") are phonetically close! Hope springs eternal…)

The New York Public Library has a rich history of assisting those who are aspiring to master the English language, whether in verbal or written format, via ESOL classes conducted at various NYPL locations, the Adult Learning Centers (assists those who speak at least an intermediate level of spoken English with reading and writing skills in the English language) which is also presented at various NYPL branches, English conversation classes which convene at several NYPL branches, the Mango database which is free of charge to use for NYPL card holders in addition to a literal plethora of books, DVDs and audio CDs focusing on instructional material to become fluent in the English language. The NYPL has now added another pedagogical facet in its language acquisition educational programs, the “We Are New York” (“WANY”) program. According to WANY’s website, “We Are New York is an Emmy Award- winning half hour t.v. show created to help people practice English…WANY was created by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and the City University of New York, Office of Academic Affairs. It is now part of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.”

Patrons wishing to enhance their ability to converse in the English language via WANY may avail themselves of the opportunity presented at nine of the NYPL’s branches scattered throughout Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. The Great Kills branch is one of the nine branches selected to offer free access to the WANY episodes. Staring on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 from 5-7 p.m., individuals (16 years old and above) may view the selected WANY episode for that particular date on a walk-in basis, with no registration required, every Wednesday, through April 29, 2015. Participants may also wish to discuss the selected WANY episode following the viewing of said episode with other participants at the branch in an effort to augment their respective English fluency skills.

According to the page on the NYPL website about this event, “…This program works best for people who speak some English already and want to practice.” The WANY website currently lists ten episodes in which common situations encountered in reality are scripted and dramatized by actors. The episodes run the gamut from The Storm, which provides information via the dialog that occurs between the characters on the proper procedures to adhere to during a storm or a disaster, to Stop Domestic Violence. The episodes are translated from English into five different languages (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Russian and Spanish). A magazine of each episode is available from the WANY website. The WANY website also contains a “low level reader guide,” “a study guide” and a list of words featured in the pertinent episode.

Intonation and body language vary from culture to culture. The WANY programs also provide a window for non-native English speakers to view the normally acceptable intonation and gestures in the American culture in different situations. These subjects represent an integral component of non-verbal communication that are ancillary to the verbal exchange occurring between individuals. In the book, What Every BODY is Saying, author and former FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro stresses the importance of properly analyzing body language both within a culture (for example, for ascertaining veracity in law enforcement investigations) as well as cross-culturally (explaining the abrazo, a form of an embrace common and socially acceptable between men in South American and Latin American countries). Immigrants to America must not only contend with familiarizing themselves with “American” customs but with the traditions of immigrants from other nations. In terms of different social interpretations being applied to various forms of body language, one example is the fact that a “thumbs-up” gesture that is viewed as a positive form of communication in our culture and many others may be perceived as an act of aggression by those of a different culture.

Comprehending idiomatic expressions as well as the vernacular in a language are vital to acquiring mastery of said language. Becoming better acquainted with these facets of a language is achieved in a more facile fashion with the combined visual and audio aid of a DVD. In addition to accomplishing the foregoing, the WANY episodes are not “wooden” in terms of substance nor delivery but are rather engaging (for example, after viewing a segment of the No Smoking WANY DVD, I rushed to the telephone with the inspired intent to dial 311 in order to obtain a free nicotine patch, only to remember that I have never smoked!) Finally, certain values pervasive in our society, such as the unacceptable nature of domestic violence, is conveyed to viewers of the WANY episodes. So, whether you are an ESOL teacher, an entity seeking to improve his/her English language skills or someone who wishes to become better acquainted with the WANY episodes, please feel free to visit any of the NYPL locations offering access to WANY on the relevant dates and times! Additionally, please find a sample listing below of materials contained in the NYPL's Circulating collection that should assist those striving to obtain mastery of the English (or German, Swahili, Russian, etc.) language!






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Please note that the correct

Please note that the correct Spanish for 'Old woman' is 'vieja', not 'viaja' as stated on this article.

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