7265 Jackson Drive, San Diego
Between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. on Thursdays, the San Carlos Library community room becomes the English Conversation Café, a program that gives nonnative speakers the opportunity to practice English. The program led by branch manager Rita Glick started September 3 with two learners and three native English speakers. The second week, a married couple joined the conversation. I visited on September 17, when all four nonnative speakers returned for tea, cookies, and conversation.
Conversation Café (September 17)
The café is the first program of its type in the City of San Diego library system, senior public information officer Marion Moss Hubbard said in a September 11 interview. The program started in San Carlos because “there are a large number of English-language learners” in the area. “They often go [to the branch] to borrow audio and video materials. The two learners [from the first week] will be looking for employment.”
When I entered the café, Glick was part of a group looking at a map. Ferry and Linda Yo pointed to their homeland in Amasser, Indonesia. "It's so far from Brazil,” said Gabriela Moneira. She's from Fortaleza, which is in northeast Brazil.
Ruth George, Betty Land, Viktoryia Lysenko
As she talked to volunteer Susan Upchurch, volunteer Teresa Cramer joined the map discussion. I sat with Viktoryia Lysenko and retired teachers Ruth George and Betty Land. Lysenko is from Moscow, came to San Diego three years ago, and volunteers at the branch. "I have a very good time in the library because I'm speaking English." She smiled and continued, "I would like more times a week [in the café], seven times a week." She plans to take a citizenship class.
George's classes included English as a Second Language, and she brought pictures to start conversations. The picture of McDonald’s led to a request to recommend a local Russian restaurant. Lysensko recommended the Village House Kalina in La Mesa and Pomegranate Restaurant in Golden Hill.
As Glick's group discussed their religious upbringing, Linda said her husband Terry leads the Indonesian Christian Fellowship that meets at the College Avenue Baptist Church. The couple has been here for 15 years, and the café is “a good place for my husband. He works in fast food at Jack in the Box. It improves his Spanish a lot, but not his English."
Linda and her book
The couple’s recommendation for Indonesian food is the Bali Thai Café, a Mission Valley restaurant formerly owned by a friend. Linda is the author of the book Asian Slim Secrets. "When I moved to the United States in the fall, I gained 25 pounds by Christmas. In my country, I ate a lot and stayed slim," she said. Linda resumed the Asian way of eating and lost weight. She also earned a master's degree in nutrition.
Moneira came here five months ago to marry Hugh Rowles, who works for the County of San Diego. "I'm studying English and going into the process of immigration." She lives near the library, volunteers there and checks out books to improve her English. She majored in accounting in Brazil and enjoys the "English for Careers" class at Mesa Community College. "I choose a pathway and learn the vocabulary for that," she said. "I can't wait to get a permit to work.”
Moneira’s recommendations for Brazilian food are Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steak House (the site of her wedding reception), Brazil by the Bay in San Diego, and Sabor de Vida in Encinitas.
“Every Thursday is a new adventure,” Glick said. Ferry repeated the phrase, saying that helped him speak English. He talked about a language class where only the teacher spoke. “Rita is very nice. [She] encouraged everyone to speak.”
The café welcomes non-English speakers. Hubbard said other branches were informed about the program to determine if it is feasible for their locations.
To volunteer as a language coach, sign up at the library website.