Port Arthur man’s library language work leads to world travels

Published 12:19 am Thursday, January 9, 2020

Jim Richardson can speak several languages.

Jim Richardson looks through his flash cards Wednesday at Port Arthur Public Library.

From Spanish to Mandarin, the 63-year-old has spent the past decade travelling the world, interacting with new cultures and learning dialects. His ambition has taken him from the jungle in Taiwan to the streets of Belize — and it all started at a library.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to communicate with other people, when no one else could,” he said. “For me, nothing in life is more fulfilling than to say ‘hello’ to someone in their native language and watch their face light up with a big smile. They know that you made the effort to learn about their existence and that pleases them greatly.”

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Richardson started studying at Port Arthur Public Library almost daily in order to learn new languages and research different cultures before setting out on his travels.

“I was always involved in learning Spanish, so I began to use the library’s ‘Mango Languages,’ which is the language learning program they have,” he said.

Richardson has learned Mandarin, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish in the last six years.

“The cool thing about Mango Languages’ is that they teach about 75 different languages,” he said. “From Navajo to Chinese and Japanese, any language you think you want to learn is probably on there.”

Mango Languages offers daily conversation, learning techniques, critiques and lessons. It is available for free to all library cardholders and can be used on a desktop or mobile app.

In addition to Mango Languages, Richardson utilizes cultural books, apps and travel planners available at the library.

“At the library, they have books like Fodor’s Travel, Eyewitness Travel and Frommer’s,” he said. “In those travel books you find pieces of language, but they are also about sightseeing and culture. I’m surprised that sometimes when I go to a new country and talk to them about what I’ve studied, the natives will say they didn’t even know a lot about that.”

Richardson said learning a new language before visiting foreign countries changes the perspective on travelling.

“It makes the experience so much more enjoyable,” he said. “You can actually interact with people and speak confidently, whereas other folks have to depend on someone to help them get around.”

Steven Williams, the Port Arthur Public Library director, said he is excited that citizens, such as Richardson, have been able to use the library to gain knowledge and new skills.

“As a director, I appreciate his words and other people’s words that say ‘Hey, we are taking advantage of this library,’” he said. “We say free, but it comes from taxpayers’ dollars and we want them to take full advantage of it.

“Without this library, even my life wouldn’t be the same. It’s all about the library. I wouldn’t be sitting here as I am today if this library never existed.”

Richardson, who is also a chairman on the board, has mentored Williams since he was 18 years old and working at the front desk.

“(Richardson) has mentored me since I was a part time student,” Williams said. “He’s been here through all the ups and downs. I’m proud.”

Richardson said he wants to encourage everyone to use the resources given to the community.

“It’s great to have this kind of resource,” he said. “People don’t realize what we have here at this library. Your tax dollars are paying for it, so use it. There are free computers, free music, free books, everything you could want is here — take advantage of it.”

Port Arthur Public Library also hosts English as a Second Language classes Monday-Thursday.

Residents of Port Arthur can sign up for a library card for free to gain access to all resources. Non-residents can apply for temporary access or buy a card at $20 for adults, $30 for families and $15 for students.

For more information, visit paplibrary.org.