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Public library hosts language classes

June 3, 2014

Instead of enforcing a quiet reading environment, the East Lansing Public Library is encouraging its guests to speak in their language of choice.

The library is holding English, Spanish, French, and Arabic conversation classes, most of which will continue throughout the summer. According to library specialist Lezlee Worthington, all of them are free drop-in courses.

“It’s the library’s commitment to the community and the international community,” said Jill Abood, head of programming and outreach services.

Marie Mackoul, general education building aide paraprofessional at Glencairn Elementary School, started an Arabic Conversation Club in the library at the beginning of May. This club is the newest language course at the library.

“I know there are a lot of Arabic people in town, and people ... would like a place to come and practice their Arabic,” Mackoul said.

According to American Community Survey data, Arabic is the third most spoken language in Michigan, behind English and Spanish respectively.

Mackoul said the club is geared towards people who already have some sort of background in the Arabic language, but members of all skill levels are welcome.

Anas Attal, a coordinator for the MSU Arabic Flagship Program, said Arabic speakers often use their language skills in government jobs and nongovernmental organizations. Arabic also “seems to be in demand ... for communicating with new immigrants,” according to Attal.

“It’s a beautiful language, I think,” Attal said. He said the language is multi-faceted and has more than 20 dialects, with certain words and expressions rooted in culture.

Michigan has the second-highest Arab population in the U.S., according to the Arab American Institute. While California has the highest Arab population of any U.S. state, Michigan’s Arab population is more concentrated.

Mackoul said she enjoys the diversity of East Lansing and has not experienced any discrimination on the basis of her ethnicity.

“People accept you,” she said.

Arabic Club meets in the library every Tuesday at 7 p.m. English and Spanish courses are also held at 7 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday. Any change in class times or dates will be posted on the library website.

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