For 30 years, the Regina Public Library has been offering free instruction to people learning languages.

But a new initiative is aimed at making the information interactive and accessible to the Arabic community.

A Pictopages-based project was created to examine how effective pictograms are in teaching the English language to Arabic newcomers and refugees. The communication aid will help develop English language skills as well as Arabic.

Members from the library's literacy program will participate and develop their skills.

Munira Al-Ageili speaks fluent Arabic and is the lead researcher for the project. It's part of her post-doctoral fellowship in computer science at the University of Regina.

"We want to help people live easily in the community and adapt to the life here in Canada," she said.

The Arabic participants will use the Pictopages app and create a customized library with recorded phrases and pictogram symbols. The participants will record both English and Arabic words and sentences, later selecting the corresponding pictogram symbols which make the language clearer for them.

Pictopages was released in 2016 and includes a free version and $60 full version. The app was originally designed for people with speech disabilities but has since expanded to include languages.

"We're hoping to make it work for devices from other operating systems like Android and other systems," Al-Ageili said.

Designing the different types of pictograms and symbols plays an important role in the project. Subhas Maharaj, a speech pathologist from Saskatchewan began creating pictograms in 1976.

"What we looked at was what is most transparent in terms of understanding a symbol," he said. "We looked at a lot of common sense and common place symbols."

Nancy Mackenzie, the manager of community engagement and programming at the library, said the Arabic newcomers are given a new voice through the project.

"The learners are actually part of the research project," she said. "They're contributing the words and the knowledge and the information that will go together to make this a really powerful tool for learning to speak English."

Through the combination of culture and innovation, the project's partnership with the Regina Public Library will last for two years.