« Back to Civic & Community Engagement

ESL in partnership with the University of Central Florida

Orange County Library System
Go to Website  |  Watch Video

Innovation Summary

Based on an expressed need from our community, the result of survey of our Hispanic users, OCLS partnered with the University of Central Florida to provide innovative ESL classes unlike anything currently offered in our community. These six week classes are free but demanding.

Problem Statement

In June of 2010 OCLS received a Congressionally Directed Grant made possible by Institute of Museum and Library services to serve our growing Hispanic community. OCLS conducted a survey to see what services the community needed and ESL needs were top priority. We partnered with the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Education to develop English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Seeking to avoid duplication of existing adult ESL classes offered at local schools, the program designers determined that there were needs not being met in these sectors or within current class offerings at the Library. In particular, many adults who had participated in library English conversation sessions or computer-based ESL programs had developed spoken English skills that are adequate for daily job and neighborhood, interactions but lack the level of English proficiency required for promotion at work, admission to post-secondary study, or handling more intricate employment and family situations. For example, they can perform routine job tasks, but they could take advantage of job openings that require supervisory communication skills. Other examples included ordering at a restaurant but not being able to write a letter complimenting or expressing concern about poor service. It was clear that the ESL classes should focus on building participants’ knowledge of and competence in using more formal and academic English than the survival-level English they had developed through incidental or self-directed learning or conversation-based classes.


Soy Culto Y Soy Bilingue is a six week ESL program taught by a PhD candidate from UCF’s College of Education with the assistance of Master’s degree seeking students from the College of Modern Language and Literature. Many academic resources were available to shape the content of the curriculum. Our team recognized course work designed and taught currently at UCF, focusing on academics and study, would not be suitable for patrons who had picked up basic communication skills in English from immersion in an English-speaking environment and had not formally studied English. However, many features of this type of program could be incorporated into to the library ESL program.
We opted to offer the formal academic emphasis of a university-based ESL program, but one that built upon the existing conversational abilities of immigrant students and would further participants’ English development goals. The program was designed to develop students’ communicative competence and linguistic accuracy for a variety of language functions, including professional and academic language use, through focusing on the four skill areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Differences between formal and informal expressions were highlighted and practiced. Because university-based curriculum developers designed and taught the course, it focused on developing accuracy and excellence in English comprehension and expression.

Instruction is pitched at a level of challenge slightly beyond each student’s competence in English, the goal being the ability to use English in formal ways. Because adults often drop out of community-based classes, attrition is always a concern. Three main benefits of the course were publicized to recruit and retain students: 1) a university quality ESL program offered at no cost; 2) a well-defined set of skills that upon completion students program completers master through faithful attendance over a six-week period; 3) a flexible curriculum based on students’ needs.


Word of mouth and OCLS promotion have kept the classes at full enrollment with constant waiting lists. The class has developed a strong sense of community. They are often composed of several generations of one family, neighbors, and coworkers attending as a group. Students continue to provide testimonials about the gains they see in their personal and professional lives. Since classes began in January 2011, this program has had over 1400 attendees at the two locations, with a total of 86 classes taught to the date of this writing. The biggest success of this class can be illustrated through one student’s experience. This student lived and worked in the U.S. for years, but had never studied English in a classroom setting before. The student was uncomfortable about speaking English. At the end of the Soy Culto Y Soy Bilingue English program, the student felt confident enough with English to sign up as a full-time English language student at the local community college. Because of the student’s experiences in the program the goal of being bilingual felt within reach for the first time.
In addition it should be noted that several of our program graduates have recorded library tales, videos sharing their story and how this library service has impacted their lives. Stories range from acquiring a new job, to acquiring the skill to speak with friends and neighbors with confidence. (Videos can be seen on our Library Tales campaign page.)