Boston Public Library
Literacy Services
Central Library

Learning English Volunteer Opportunities
Dudley Literacy Center Class Tours
Class Sets Upcoming Programs and Special Events

The library will consider purchasing books you wish the literacy resource center had.   Send an e-mail to with your suggestions, or speak to your local librarian.

For more literacy resources (including the City of Boston's Office of New Bostonians), please visit the Dudley Literacy Center's page.

Learning English For many newcomers and their friends, the first stop in learning in English is the library. Here is what we offer:

Conversation Groups
We have many. To see times and places check our listing. All conversation groups are free. There is no test. Just come.

Each group has a facilitator who makes sure that everyone gets a turn.

Groups meet at branches and at Copley. Beginners are welcome to come.    People who want more practice are welcome to come. All participants are encouraged to speak.   Many times there are three people or five people in a group.  Sometimes the groups are 10 or more. With U.S. volunteers, English learners talk informally about their impressions of the U.S., events in the news, and questions about Boston. Learners with some fluency will feel welcomed and challenged.


Anyone can pick up a list of the Greater Boston Adult Literacy Programs. Most of the 150 programs listed are free. Most also have a waiting list. However, the sooner you sign up, the sooner you get a spot in a class.

Boston's community-based organizations provide excellent ESOL and literacy classes. Many teachers have years of experience and Masters degrees in ESOL. Most programs offer from 6 to 12 hours of instruction per week. The Dudley Literacy Center, and the Adult Readers and Information Services Department at Copley, have a list of programs. A librarian can also help learners sort through the list, picking out the programs best suited to their needs. For example, some students can benefit from literacy in their first language while some students need to focus on their transition to college-level work. Different programs around Boston have different strengths. Many programs have long waiting lists.


Teachers are welcome to bring their students to use the computers at the Dudley Literacy Center. These computers have some software to help with reading, math, English and workplace skills. Call 617-445-3708 or e-mail for current programs.

Books and Tapes

Adults can improve their reading, writing, English, and math by borrowing books and tapes. Anyone with a card can borrow books and tapes which focus on conversation, pronunciation, reading, and the citizenship test. If nothing on the shelf or rack looks like the right fit, BPL staff are happy to reserve something.


If you come to the library, you may see learners working one-to-one with a tutor. The Library does not have any tutors.  Where can you get your own tutor?  Learners seeking help with basic reading and writing can contact Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts at 617-367-1313 or the Massachusetts Adult Literacy Hotline, 1-800-447-8844. These programs have long waiting lists.

Class Sets Teachers are invited to borrow multiple copies from the literacy collection. We have many copies of several whole books. The books are largely chapter books written at a fourth grade level or higher.  They contain leisure reading written especially for adult learners with relevant themes.

You can request multiple copies at your branch and they will be sent to you or call 617-445-3708  and leave your request.

Class Tours Classes are welcome to visit the library. Teachers wishing to bring their classes to Copley can call and ask for a librarian from the Central Library (617-859-2317) to lead the group through the various departments highlighting the world language books, non-fiction such as cookbooks, the literacy collection and a few of the architectural features of the building. Call your branch to schedule a tour.

If you would like a tour of the literacy collection and a short workshop for learners or for ABE staff, check with the librarian. Sample workshops include:

  • How to choose a book you will like and want to read.
  • How to choose a book to improve your English.
  • How to use the library when job-hunting.
  • How to choose a book to read with your children.
  • How to the use the library to research a health problem or a new medication.

Volunteer Opportunities

Conversation Groups at Copley and the branches are the perfect volunteer opportunity for people who like to chat, and who want to meet people from other cultures. Conversation group leaders work with 3-10 adults who want to practice their spoken English. Conversation Groups require a commitment of at least six months. Volunteers run conversation groups on a weekly basis. Participants come on a drop-in basis. The groups are designed to give participants a chance to carry on informal conversations and to improve their listening skills.

To run a conversation groups in English for adult speakers of other languages.

  • You do not need teaching experience.
  • You do not need to speak another language.
  • You need to be dependable, flexible, friendly, and patient. Come and chat with us.

Fringe Benefits:

  • Learn about other cultures.
  • Help people learn the English language skills they need to survive and thrive.


  • Meet regularly with your group.
  • Arrange for a substitute if you are away.
  • Attend continuing education workshops.


  • All scheduled meetings and groups are in the Boston Public Library's Copley Square location or its branches.

Take the step!

If you are interested in volunteering, please call to set up an appointment. All volunteers fill out applications and conversation group facilitators are asked to observe two conversation groups. Contact the Literacy Services Coordinator at 617-859-2446 for more details.

Programs and Special Events Conversation With Friends Groups, English as a Second Language

Click to see the Schedule for the Central Library and the Branches