Tracey Carter


Sunshine Coast Libraries makes it easy and enjoyable for multicultural members of our community to learn how to converse in English. One in every five people on the Sunshine Coast is born overseas and Libraries bring together new-comers to the region to help them practise their English skills, share cultural practices and introduce them to the Australian vernacular. Sunshine Coast Libraries host English Conversation Circles that are as laid back as our lifestyle and provide an informal and friendly setting to practise speaking English.

People from non-English speaking backgrounds appreciate the opportunity to practise their conversation skills and ask questions about Australian cultural practices and sayings. Pronunciation of certain words is a common challenge for people with English as a second language, together with understanding meanings of phrases which they often hear in social and work situations but do not feel confident enough to clarify the meaning. For example, ‘I had a great day but dinner tonight was just the icing on the cake’. Icing on the cake? Other phrases that Australians use that don’t exactly mean what they say include, ‘I will pick you up at 10.30 for coffee’. Pick you up, literally?

Library staff are on hand to guide the discussion and start each session with a topical theme. At the November Conversation Circle for instance, participants will bring in celebratory food and drink and wear Spring fashion clothing in recognition of Melbourne Cup Day. At the session Library staff have the dubious task of trying to explain and explore why the nation stops to watch a horse race and why people wear fascinators. In January, Australia Day was the topical theme and the merits of lamingtons and the meaning of ‘Aussie Pride’ tattoos was up for discussion.

Conversation Circles are three hours long and during the session there is time to pass around an article from the newspaper for everyone to pass around and read together. The article content is discussed and meaning of words explained. Recipes are often swapped and passed around and word bingo is an essential part of the program. Celebrity Heads is played, TV shows are discussed and Tim Tam slams are encouraged.

All the while new people in our community develop their social skills, build their confidence, make new friends and learn how to make the most of the free services available at their local library.