Support ESL Literacy for Adults and Children with These 4 Organizations

New York City has a long, storied history as a home to immigrants, looking to make a home and a life for themselves and their families. Currently, NYC is home to the largest number of immigrants in history – 3.1 million, making up 38% of the city’s population and 45% of its workforce¹. One of the critical elements for an immigrant to assimilate to a new country and culture is speaking the language, but increasing numbers and shrinking resources have led to a strain on ESL literacy resources in New York.

Approximately 49% of NYC immigrants (and an estimated 65% of undocumented immigrants) have limited English proficiency, making it difficult to access employment opportunities, education, health care, and social services¹.

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Even full-time students enrolled in NYC public schools have a difficult time getting ESL literacy. A recent study by LEAD found that multilingual learners (MLLs) in New York schools have a four-year dropout rate of 30% and a graduation rate of 27% - indicating that a multilingual learner is more likely to drop out than to graduate from school. The number of MLLs has increased by 20% over the past decade, in the face of a persistent shortage of certified ESL teachers².

In the face of a growing multilingual population and limited resources, the need for volunteers to help in ESL literacy programs has never been greater. To help fellow New Yorkers learn English, and improve their chances of graduating high school and finding employment, consider volunteering in NYC and give your time and energy to one of these organizations.

Explore ESL Literacy Programs in NYC

Literacy Partners

Literacy is an issue that spans generations, with illiteracy in the parents leading to higher incidences of reading problems in children. In fact, children whose parents have low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being in the lowest reading levels themselves³.

Literacy Partners addresses this problem with a comprehensive family approach; developing literacy and language skills in parents and caregivers while providing child development and parenting support to encourage school readiness and literacy in the younger generation.

Volunteers can sign up to lead a conversation group, help out in the office or at a special event, or, after get training to become a volunteer tutor. Find out more about opportunities with Literacy Partners here.

Reading Partners

Every day, thousands of volunteers with Reading Partners work with children in underserved schools and communities in New York City and around the country. They help students in need who require an extra boost by providing individualized attention to early learners. Volunteers follow a proven curriculum that is structured to help students learn specific skills, and they are supported by a trained site coordinator who can answer questions, solve problems, and assist with the materials.

Over the previous school year, the program measured significant results. 88% of principals reported improved school-wide reading programs, 100% of teachers reported that Reading Partners is valuable to their school, and 95% of volunteers are satisfied with the volunteer experience⁴.

Volunteers join to help tutor and mentor students to help them build literacy skills, confidence, and a life-long love for learning. If you are interested in volunteering, apply here.

We Speak NYC

We Speak NYC is an English-language learning program sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA). We Speak NYC organizes conversation groups that run in 7-10 week courses throughout the city. The program has trained more than 400 volunteers that have provided over 12,000 hours of ESL literacy support to New Yorkers. They are currently looking for volunteers to attend fall training and lead conversation groups – if you are interested, please apply to be a volunteer here.

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library offers literacy support for learners of all ages, at more than 40 locations throughout the city. The library offers series-based ESL classes, held year-round over 10 week sessions. Classes meet either two hours/day over two days/week, or for four hours on Saturdays. The library also offers a variety of drop-in English conversation practice groups, with times and dates dependent on the location.

Information sessions for adult ESL literacy support take place in September – find your local library’s schedule on the NYPL website to learn more about facilitating ESL literacy in your neighborhood.

The NYPL has several programs to support ESL literacy in children and young adults, including early literacy activities and workshops, and educational assistance, enrichment and support for young people from kindergarten through 12th grade.


Supporting ESL literacy programs is a great way to improve the lives of fellow New Yorkers. Immigrants have already taken a huge leap by uprooting their families in the hopes of changing their lives for the better, and ESL literacy plays an enormous part in ensuring that an immigrant’s new life is a success.

Improved English proficiency reduces poverty rates and enhances employment opportunities – with English-proficient people earning 13-24% more than less-proficient individuals⁵. Adults with improved proficiency can pursue their own higher education and participate in their children’s education as well, and children and young adults that are more literate are more likely to graduate high school themselves.

Perhaps most importantly, improving ESL literacy in immigrants makes it possible for immigrants to assimilate into the culture and daily life of their new community, becoming happy, productive citizens of New York. Volunteer in NYC to improve ESL literacy among immigrants is an important way to improve access to essential services among people that can benefit from them the most.


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