Source: The Princeton Packet
By Philip Sean Curran (Staff Writer – The Princeton Packet)
Children’s story time at the Princeton Public Library on a recent Monday morning looked a lot like it does at libraries anywhere else, but it sounded a little different.
”Was ist das?” Heike Reinhart of Princeton asked the little ones gathered around her in the third-floor reading room, as she held open a book with a cartoon drawing of an animal.
For the past few years, community volunteers like Ms. Reinhart have come forward to read to children in German, Russian, Japanese, and other languages. It is but one way the library seeks to serve the community, one that is drawn from all over the world.
On one hand, the program helps foreign-born parents keep their native tongue alive for their children living in America. Yet it also exposes American children to a different language.
One mother raved about the program afterward. ”Personally I think that for the child’s development, their brain works like amazing,” said Tamar Shalamberidze, a Princeton resident originally from the Republic of Georgia. “As much language as they are going to hear, it’s better. They develop amazingly.”
”They have no accent, and they have the ability to learn something fast because they don’t question,” explained Ms. Reinhart, a native of Germany who also teaches the language. “For children, they just repeat and they learn by doing. They’re like little learning machines.”
Princeton is a polyglot university town that draws people from around the globe. Library staff say they hear patrons speaking in a different tongue all the time.
That language diversity also is evidenced in the students attending the local public schools, said youth services librarian Lucia Acosta.
”We do know from the Princeton schools that there are over 50 different languages that are spoken in this community as first languages,” said Ms. Acosta, who is in charge of foreign language programs at the library.
Ms. Acosta, who is multilingual, is a part of the diversity. Originally from Colombia, she came to the United States to attend graduate school but never left. A library employee for the past 13 years, she speaks English, Spanish, French and German.
When it comes to accepting volunteer foreign language readers, the library is choosy. Staff want to make sure there will be enough children who will attend.
”Well, first of all we have to have a critical mass of children. If you have about at least 15 children of a homogenous age, then we will consider it,” she said. “And of course we have to have a storyteller that’s capable. It’s not enough to speak a language to be able to do a story time.”
Ms. Acosta said there is an art to story time, from knowing children and books to being a little bit of a performer. Also, there is dealing with the sudden outbursts when little ones decide they want to be heard.
In Ms. Reinhart’s case, she was approached to do a story time, urged on by the parents of her students who said she needed to do something for the younger children.
”I think there’s a big, big need for German,” said Mr. Reinhart, a native of Wurzburg, a university city near Frankfurt.
The children’s program is only a piece of what the library does in the way of foreign language programs or to cater to foreign speakers. Aside from foreign language books for children and adults, the library offers English conversation classes, ESL classes on Sundays, a Spanish book club and legal help for people with questions on immigration.
”This community is enormously diverse. I mean what with the university, with the institute (for Advanced Study), with all the foreign companies that we have around,” Ms. Acosta said. “So we try to serve all our community.”
For information about this or other library programs, visit www.princetonlibrary.org.