Why Public Libraries Are a Fantastic Language Learning Resource

It may seem these days that the age of the public library has all but run its course. With Internet access more common than not many – if not most – of us have turned away from this traditional font of learning and education.

But when it comes to language learning, it’s important for us not to forget the benefits that libraries still hold and for learners such as ourselves to take advantage of the services they have to offer. Besides simply checking out language books there are a number of other reasons why your local library could be an invaluable resource to you as a pursuant of foreign tongues.

I’ve compiled this short list of reasons why your public library is not irrelevant and could still serve as a powerful aide in your quest for language mastery.

1. Libraries are relaxing learning environments

Part of being successful with your learning goals is to put yourself into a place in which you can learn. For many of us, our dorms, apartments, offices or cars may not be the ideal locations for us to just sit down and study.

Libraries offer a quiet, calm environment in which to learn. They can often offer you private study rooms or areas equipped with comfortable furniture and other basic amenities for making your learning experience easier and more effective.

2. Many libraries offer language learning programs and software

A great deal of public libraries in the US – particularly the larger ones – often offer an array of electronic language learning tools. The most commonly found are Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. While perhaps not your favorites (or mine for that matter) programs such as Rosetta Stone, when offered for free, are best taken advantage of.

Most libraries won’t actually let you check these materials out from the library – and for good reason; they’re extremely expensive – but you should still take advantage of every tool you can get your hands on.

Furthermore, although most people these days now own a computer or mobile device with which they can access a plethora of free or inexpensive language learning supplements, if you do not count yourself among these people the computers available at public libraries for your use will often allow you to access sites such as Memrise or Duolingo.


3. It’s free

While Rosetta Stone and other programs like it may not be among my favorite learning programs or the most effective ways to learn a language; when someone presents you with $400 software, there for the taking, you take it, shut up and give it a shot.

Pimsleur – even in its new, drastically more affordable MP3 format, is still going to run you $100 for each 30 lesson level. Totally free at many libraries. Use it!

Of course, this is the nature of the library, but lets not forget about it for a second. Free language resources should always be taken advantage of, even if you have to take a trip downtown every once in a while to access them. Language learning should absolutely not cost you a prohibitive amount of money and one way to make sure that it doesn’t is to check out a library, see what it has to offer and take advantage of these resources.


4. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Order it!

Any library I’ve ever been in has had the ability to order books and other resources through numerous inter-library loan systems. What this means is that if you’re looking for a particular language, lets say Pashto, for example, and your library either doesn’t carry any Pashto resources, or they’re simply insufficient, you can reach out to other libraries and have those books (or possibly audio resources) shipped to your library for your use.

This opens up a nearly limitless supply of new resources – especially in larger metropolitan regions where numerous libraries work together to provide the highest quantity of available items. With systems such as this you can likely find language resources – usually books – for many of the less common languages you may wish to study.


5. You can meet cool people

Libraries, especially in cities with large student populations, are also great places to meet and hang out with other language learners.

Many libraries will offer things like informal language classes or conversation groups, give you the opportunity to connect with tutors either in a paid scenario or an in-person language exchange and are otherwise a really great place to find people of mutual interests.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the local community offerings at your public library and stay abreast of events or activities that might interest language learners or teachers.


6. Help support the industry

At least in the United States, libraries are losing more and more funding every year due to a general disinterest from the public. The Internet, while invaluable and revolutionary, has made it so that many of the services offered by public libraries are no longer as relevant to the greater population as they once were.

Libraries will evolve with the times and continue to offer the same things they have always offered – albeit in newer forms- as time goes by. However, many smaller libraries, such as those that reside in smaller towns, are losing their funding because they’re losing the interest and support of their communities.

The greatest thing you can do for your public library is to visit it. To go there, to use its services, to check out books, to spend time studying there. These facilities receive their funding from city, state or federal grants – they offer their services to the public for free so they don’t have make money off of you. In order to get this money they need to be able to show these various institutions that they have visitors. Visitors imply worth, and worth implies continuity.

Libraries make a difference in your community, but their existence depends on your interest. Use them not only for language learning, but to help further the benefits they confer to your community outside our niche.


So maybe the library wasn’t your first thought. Maybe you had considered it as a potential language resource but hadn’t actually stood up and bothered to go check it out.

This is the time to do so! If you’re earning a new language your local library is probably a beautiful, high pressure fountain of information and potential resources that you don’t have to pay a dime for!.

To not take advantage of a pool such as this would be beyond ludicrous and as such I highly recommend that you take a trip down town and check out the language learning resources your local library has to offer you.

What do you think? Do libraries in your country or city offer these kinds of things? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he’s not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

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Brian Powers

Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he's not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

  • Many people think: “more expensive = better” and it’s totally wrong!
    I loved your post and I really really enjoy free stuff!

    In fact, if you pay more you won’t learn quickly unless you really do the efforts!

  • As a word nerd who works at a public library and is raising my children bilingually, I love this post! I agree with all your points and can add a few more resources and ideas to your list….

    –Some libraries also subscribe to Mango Languages, which offers instruction in 60+ languages. I’ve heard that it works well. https://www.mangolanguages.com/libraries/

    –Some libraries offer databases specifically for children which are available in several languages; my very favorite is Tumblebooks, which features picture books and chapter books which the program reads aloud, accompanied by simple animation. Most of the books are in English, but they also exist in Spanish, French, and Mandarin, and the database keeps adding more. At our library, you can access Tumblebooks from home as well as from the library (with your library card number via the library website). http://tumblebooks.com (Worth mentioning: even if you’re an adult studying another language, it’s fun and motivating to read children’s literature!)

    –Some libraries sell used, discarded, and donated books, either year-round in a separate nook or during annual book sales. I’m always delighted when I find books in our target language (French) for me or for my kids for a dollar apiece!

    –Some libraries are open to community members offering programs; that’s how I was able to start a French storytime, and later a French playdate for older kids, at my library! You can read my suggestions about how to organize this sort of thing yourself here: http://babybilingual.blogspot.com/2011/04/so-you-want-to-start-second-language.html

    Thank you for advocating for libraries for language learners (and everyone else, too)!

  • Elsa

    I love libraries. When I enter any library i am like a kid in a candy store. So many books to read and where to begin? I worked in libraries all my life and that is the best place for people who enjoy reading and learning new things.

  • Libraries in Shizuoka, where I live, don’t offer many language learning resources. It’s almost ESL only. I miss Berlin libraries so much! They are full of language learning resources and you can borrow quite a lot of items at a time.

    • That’s unfortunate, Jorge. ESL resources do remain the most common everywhere since the world is kind of on a bit of an English kick. Despite this libraries are still great places to study with your own resources! I sometimes have a hard time staying on track in my office. Too many distractions.

  • In a library you don’t have as much distraction as you would have learning at home. There’s always something to do at home, however in the library you can mainly learn ;-).

    • Yes! Libraries are the best places for concentration.