Senior Ally Byerly and her friend were having a hard time finding a place to sit in the caf when a professor waved them over to the French Table.
Byerly now attends regularly and the instant involvement is part of what draws her to French Table after studying abroad in Besançon, France.
“I just really wanted to continue that atmosphere of camaraderie and continue to learn the language and practice the language even though I’m not taking French classes anymore,” she said.
The language tables happen throughout the week at lunch, providing a way for students that are developing their abilities to speak and listen in natural conversations.
Byerly said that she had gone a few times as a sophomore but found herself intimidated by the fluent speakers. However, since returning to Knox during Fall Term, she finds herself enjoying the time practicing French and being with the friends she has made at the table.
Professor of Modern Languages Caesar Akuetey is excited to see students develop from elementary-level students that were unsure and not confident in their French abilities to gaining fluency while they are preparing for or returning from study abroad.
“When you see them some years after, they are intimidating the new students. It’s obviously a very interesting, roller-coaster type of situation. I actually appreciate those who feel intimidated by them [and still] have the courage to come to the table all the time, that’s what I feel is most exciting,” Akuetey said.
Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures Todd Heidt has noticed that the German Table often has the opposite set of students come, drawing mainly from 100-level classes.
Like the French students, the German students may be wary of talking at first, especially when the more advanced students and the professors start talking about topics with more advanced vocabulary like current German politics. Part of the learning is to expose students to actual conversations in the language.
“Discussions go in all directions and sometimes some are so animated and we can stay at the table long after we finish eating,” Akuetey said.
Heidt pointed out that the tables also offer a place for elementary students to apply their basic conversation skills.
“These are things that we learn in class, but it’s different when you actually get to use that in real conversation because someone’s asking you because they just want to know,” Heidt said.
The tables are a long-standing tradition at Knox – they started well before Akuetey joined the faculty in 1994. However, he noted that average attendance has declined over the past fifteen years, to where he considers having five students a high week. Heidt says that German Table normally has six to eight students, though faculty members from other departments sometimes join.
“When faculty and staff like that come, it’s an awesome opportunity for students to see that speaking the language is not just about teaching Kafka and Goethe. You can do other things,” he said.
One advantage Byerly has found particularly enjoyable from her experiences at French Table has been keeping her skills up enough that she can stay in touch with her host mom from Besançon.
“Going to French Table has helped me maintain my French to a certain level so that I can still understand her letters and talk to her on Skype and not make a complete fool of myself,” Byerly said.