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Learn English at an Australian library

Teacher pointing at the whiteboard in front of a classroom of students
Blacktown Library offers free English classes four times a week.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

How can you learn English at an Australian library? A number of libraries in Australia offer English classes for local residents. Let's meet students learning English in Western Sydney, at Blacktown Library, and learn some helpful tips from their teachers.

Blacktown is 35 kilometres west of Sydney's CBD and has a population of over 340 000. It's also a culturally diverse community: over a third of the population is born overseas and/or speaks a language other than English.

The Max Webber Library is the largest library in the area and offers free English classes four times a week. Students from countries including Malta, Vietnam and Afghanistan attend the post-beginner English classes.

A number of students, have lived in Australia for decades - with little understanding of English. However, a change in life circumstances has meant that they have new motivations to improve their English skills.

Portrait of a Vietnamese Australian woman against a grey wall
Tu Muoi Hau wants to improve her English because her sons have now moved away from her home.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

Tu Muoi Hau first came to Australia from Vietnam 31 years ago.

Having worked as a ward assistant in a hospital, Tu Muoi retired seven years ago and her adult sons moved out of her home. She used to rely on her sons to help her translate. Learning English, later on in her life, has given her a new sense of independence:

Portrait of a Turkish Australian woman against a grey wall
Fatma Akyurek migrated from Turkey to Australia in 1979.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

Fatma Akyurek has lived in Australia since 1979, having migrated from Turkey. The arrival of her grandson was her motivation to learn English.

Portrait of a Chinese Australian woman against a grey wall
When Hui Yan He came to Australia, she worked in a Chinese-speaking factory.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

Hui Yan He was born in China and has lived in Australia since 1984. She worked in a Chinese factory, up until her retirement, and is now keen to improve her English.

Sanath Gopinath, a retired officer from the Indian army, is a volunteer teacher at Blacktown Library and is supportive of the students' reasons for learning English.

Student standing and reading aloud to the class
Reading aloud is a way for students to practise speaking at the Blacktown Library English class.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

Another of the teachers, Noel Willis, has been a volunteer teacher for one and a half years and had previously spent 40 years working in libraries. He has witnessed libraries evolve from spaces with just a collection of books.

Instead, they are a now "a centre of learning that involves - not just books - but interaction with other people, computers, other types of technology."

Through his lessons, Noel hopes to build his student's confidence - so that they can comfortably use English in their everyday lives.

He has also witnessed other benefits from learning English at a library:

Teacher holding a sign with '000' and pointing to examples of emergencies on the whiteboard
Sanath Gopinath teaching students about how to contact emergency services in Australia.

ABC Education: Allison Chan

So what advice do these teachers give to English language learners?

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