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Public Libraries Adding Language Learning Software

Software for learning to speak a foreign language helps patrons and staff at the Wayne County, N.C., Public Library.

It’s no secret that public libraries have become much more than rows of dusty bookshelves. Nowadays, libraries provide access to computers and the Internet for an increasingly large segment of society.

As libraries have dealt with draconian budget cuts the past few years, they have managed to add more and more services — such as e-books, movies and videos. Language learning software is another addition.

The Wayne County, N.C., Public Library is one example of this emerging trend. For the past 18 months the library has made interactive foreign language software available at its facility as well as remotely to users with a library account. The software, called Mango Languages, was made available to patrons for learning foreign languages, and also to English as a second language (ESL) speakers.

“We have a large Hispanic population and we actually have a fair number of Asian [patrons], specifically Chinese that are using it to aid with their coursework that they’re getting,” said Maegen Wilson, a reference librarian at the county’s public library. “Some people are taking classes through other venues and they’re using this to help them.”

Patrons can use the software at the library without needing to schedule an appointment ahead of time, Wilson said. Through a library computer, they can sign into Mango Languages using their library account number. If patrons wish to access the software outside of the facility, they can also access the software from the library’s home page and log in with their personal account information.

Wayne County’s library staff also uses the software themselves to communicate more effectively with non-native English speaking patrons. Wilson said becoming versed in phrases such as “hello” and “goodbye” in other languages gives non-English speaking and ESL patrons a better library experience.

“It’s good for us because we have an always-on, always available tool to recommend,” said Brandon Robbins, the county library’s young adult services coordinator. “It’s good for our patrons because it’s free to them and it's self-paced with no restrictions on usage.”

Unlike other foreign language learning tools, Mango Languages can help patrons with multiple dialects of a specific language, Wilson said. A large influx of Haitans moved to the county, so the language software is useful for them since the Haitian Creole dialect of French is one of the languages a patron can speak while using the software to learn English.

Outside of libraries, the software has been used by schools, government agencies and the military for language learning assistance, according to Mango Languages. The Government Edition of the software can cater to military personnel because it assists with learning practical conversation skills and “cultural insight for common situations.”

Wayne County is one of many library systems that have added language software to their services. Others include the New Orleans and Chicago public libraries.