Non-English speakers in Chandler could soon have an easier time learning the language of their new country.
The Chandler Public Library, which is finding itself dealing with an increasingly diverse population, wants to be more accessible to English learners.
And it just received a $5,000 grant to reach that goal.
The library was one of 34 nationwide to receive a grant from the American Library Association as part of the "American Dream Starts at Your Library" initiative, which helps public libraries increase literacy services to adult English learners.
According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 11 million U.S. adults - about one in 20 - have such limited English skills that they can't read a newspaper or understand the directions for medication, and recent immigrants account for most of this group.
The association says libraries, because of their accessibility, are in a unique position to help these immigrants acclimate to a new culture.
Census data says that nearly 22 percent of the population in Chandler speaks a language other than English at home. According to the American Library Association, much of that is because of local high-tech industries that have drawn people from all over the world to the city.
Gloria Ivwurie, a retired military servicewoman and a library volunteer, said she sees that play out in her conversational English classes, where many students are the spouses of workers who came to Chandler to work in the technology sector.
Kae Sawyer, a community outreach coordinator at the library, said she wants to use the grant money to create an English-learner Web page on the library's Web site, which would include easy-to-understand information about the library's services, as well as information about citizenship and immigration.
And the library will be able to buy more books and resource materials to help teach English to adults, she added.
But the biggest goal she has for the grant money is to expand the training and recruitment of volunteers, like Ivwurie, to lead writing workshops and conversational practices.
One of the popular ones is a class called "Talk Time," offered at all four branches of the Chandler Public Library.
"It's an opportunity to be a little more casual, and to gain a little more confidence in the language, we highly encourage that," Sawyer said.
On Friday morning, a group of 11 students hailing from Iran, Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea gathered in Ivwurie's "Talk Time." She led them in a discussion on the mass media, urging the more shy members of the group to speak up.
Houshang Shirifi, who moved to Chandler from Iran 14 months ago, discussed television shows he likes - including "Everybody Loves Raymond" - with the group.
Shirifi said he heard about the library class from his friend, a fellow Iranian and classmate who he met at the Chandler Senior Center.
He's already taken English courses at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, but said he came to the library "to practice English."
And he eagerly shared his personal story at the end of class, as well as his fondness for freedoms in his new country.
"Here, you can think what you want," he said.