Learning a language from scratch, especially at the collegiate level, can be a daunting task. To make this learning less scary and more fun, the Modern Languages Department has set up informal language tables in order to help students practice in a group setting with professors over lunch in the Caf.
Todd Heidt, a German professor who is one of the professors at Deutscher Tisch (German Table), explained that students who eat at the tables learn to speak much more naturally because of the conversations informality compared to a classroom setting.
“It’s a nice opportunity to have a normal conversation. It is often where students will ask how to do those little fillers, like how do you say, ‘Oh you know what,’ or how do you say, “The other day IÉ’ I think we teach a very natural language in all of the programs, but sometimes just sitting down and needing to ask for the salt just does not come up in the book,” Heidt said.
Another benefit for the informality of practicing at the tables is that students find it less stressful by being away from the classroom and because it is often the student’s professors practicing with them.
“They are really helpful in starting conversations with you since usually you’re their students, they know what level you’re at, so they know what sort of things to ask you about. With the younger students they’ll just say, ‘Hello, how are you? What are you eating?’ But with some of the more advanced students, they’ll ask more personal questions. It feels a bit more personal that way than being in a class. I feel like I’m having a real conversation,” Waleed Khan, senior and a long-time eater at French Table said.
One of Heidt’s favorite parts about being part of the German table is seeing brand-new speakers realize how much they have improved at having conversations in a new language.
“We will get 100-levels who come and they’re usually pretty intimidated at first, but when they come and can kind of follow along and have some discussions outside of the classroom with real people all of a sudden it really cool right. It really dawns on them how much language they’ve really learned,” Heidt said.
The language tables do not just involve professors of the language and students, but also other staff members who want to practice. Once, the German table even had German High School exchange students coming from Galesburg High School which Heidt thought was invaluable for Knox German students.
“It’s just a great way to be on a college campus, far far away from a community of native German speakers to really take it out of the classroom and to really build up the confidence for students and show students that they’ve really learned a lot and can communicate and understand everything,” Heidt said.
Professors of the language tables try and keep the environment informal, inviting and friendly which for students like Khan is a big reason for coming back every week and continuing to improve.
“It’s a nice way to measure my progress because I can think back to my freshman year visits to the French Table and at that time I could barely speak the language, now it’s just much more fluid,” Khan said.
All language tables meet in the Oak Room between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. French and German tables on Thursdays, Spanish Table meets on Tuesdays.