So Pas Public Library’s Class for English Language Changes Lives

The English as a Second Language program at the So Pas Public Library makes a difference. Photo courtesy of Library

Every Wednesday Mary Bart helps her students take steps toward making their dreams come true. She teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) class at the South Pasadena Public Library where every week students, who have come from countries as far away as Siberia and Inner Mongolia, come to build knowledge and confidence in speaking English. “They (the students) are dipping from the same well,” Mary reported after a recent class picnic. “They are not noticing their differences, they are finding out how much they are the same. That’s what warms my heart.” The ESL class is held weekly from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. in the Library’s Conference Room on the second floor.

Samuel Linares knows why he decided to come to class for the first time.

“I have dreams and to make those dreams come true, I have to speak English,” he said. “I dream of business, maybe in the soccer field.” Samuel, like many of his fellow classmates, admits that he is most comfortable among his countrymen. “My wife speaks well in English, and I want to speak English to speak better to my wife,” he said. “My children speak better in English. Simple English is not hard. I want to learn more. I want to speak like an American does. I also want to think like an American.”

Angela Ruan has been in America for 20 years and edits a Chinese magazine, where her native Chinese is most often used. She had a chance to teach Chinese at a college but turned down the opportunity because she wasn’t comfortable with the thought of her students asking her things in English that she didn’t understand. “I just don’t have the confidence,” she said. “I was afraid that I would embarrass myself.” Angela feels that the class is helping her find that confidence.

Bart took over the program about two years ago from Ann Jilg.  She brings 13 years of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School System. She tries to help the students both by reading a newspaper or simply have the students talk about a topic that might interest them. “They come from different countries, but no matter their differences the class just seems to coalesce,” she said. “I might start the conversation by asking a question. Sometimes I am stunned by how well it works out.”

Ali Dadfarnia has been in the United States for two years, and he is a former teacher himself, having taught high school and college mathematics in Iran. “I learned to speak English-style English,” he said. “I speak very slowly and it is difficult to speak and understand the language here. Because of my age, it is difficult to change my habits. “But after taking this class, I notice that I am speaking English much better.”

Kaori Kurimoto is from Japan. She goes to markets where she is more comfortable speaking in her native language, Japanese. When she goes to a local grocery, she often feels uncomfortable. Plus, her children speak English better than she does. “I want to do volunteer work for my daughters at school,” she said, “but I don’t think my English is good enough.”

Lara Zhang admits she too is learning English to keep up with her children. She even reads books with her six-year-old child. Lara, who comes from China, even learns while taking her child to a local park. “I speak with the little children, and they will speak English with me,” she said. “Then I will have more confidence in speaking with their parents.”

The library is located at 1100 Oxley Street and the Library Community Room is at 1115 El Centro Street. Library hours are Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Monday and Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Find us on Facebook at

Upon request made no later than four (4) business days before the event, the City will provide a reasonable accommodation for a qualified person with a disability to have equal access to the event.  Please contact ADA Coordinator and Human Resources Manager, Mariam Lee Ko, at (626) 403-7312 or fill out the City’s request form available at and email the form to Human Resources at