Why sit in on a language table?

Rachel Young

Whether you’re the enthusiastic person who is planning on majoring, or the person who begrudgingly goes to class because you made the decision to attend a liberal arts school where three terms of language education are required, it’s a fact of life that just about every Lawrentian at one time or another during their academic career studies a foreign language.

However, despite the high volume of students who have to take language classes, not too many of them take the odd hour out of their week to attend one of the language tables offered by the respective foreign language departments. In fact, there is a language table for almost every modern language taught at Lawrence: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Chinese. Sorry, Latin and Greek, your ancient statuses disqualify you. It’s nothing personal.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Rachel, I’m the person who just goes to my language class because I have to. Why should I waste time going to a language table to sit with a bunch of strangers who are way more fluent than me? Plus, how can I say anything when my mouth is constantly full of organic sweet and sour chickpeas or toasty homemade grilled cheese?”

All of these arguments are definitely valid. However, if I may be so bold, I’d like to make a case for the lowly language table, and provide a few reasons why all students should take the plunge and go at least once during their respective period of language study.

I’ll acknowledge my bias right away — I’m a double language major. Language tables have been a regular part of my experience here since I was a freshman. That being said, I feel that my bias also makes me qualified to laud the benefits of language table attendance.

Firstly, all language tables are moderated by students who are native speakers, which automatically creates an outlet for conversation. Not only are these students able to keep the discussion flowing because of their comfort level with the language, but they also are totally willing to help people who don’t feel as confident about their skills.

In a classroom, under the looming pressure of a participation grade, speaking out can seem like an intimidating task. However, over lunch, it’s easy to practice the most basic phrases and vocabulary words — i.e., “pass the salt” — without over-thinking it.

Plus, you’ll meet other students at different skill levels and different stages in their language development, which can either allow you to see what is possible through continued language practice, or realize that no matter how small you feel your vocabulary is, clear communication is possible at all levels of study.

It can definitely be intimidating to walk into a room full of strangers while balancing a plate of food without any clue about how to define yourself verbally. If you’re worried about not knowing anyone, bring a friend that you know also has experience with that language.

If you’re feeling extra bold, ask that cute guy who you know is a native speaker of the language you’re studying if he’d like to go with you.

Any and all students, even those who aren’t currently taking language classes, are welcome to go to language tables. And yes, there are going to be times when you don’t say exactly what you mean, and maybe even a few moments of silence. However, isn’t that what learning is all about?

It’s exactly the same situation as raising your hand with the answer to a math problem and getting it wrong. Nobody is perfect, but we should never let the fear of making a mistake keep us from trying. Language tables are a great way to really put your knowledge to the test and make you feel more confident about speaking in class.

It’s like a group review session that you don’t even have to have an awkward e-mail exchange about. I swear, no one will judge you if you speak grammatically incorrectly. However, I make no promises about what people will think of you if you talk with your mouth full.

Language Tables Schedule:

Chinese Table: Every Tuesday, 6 p.m. in the Perille Room

Spanish Table: Every Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. in the Perille Room

German Table: Every Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. in the Parrish Room

French Table: Every Tuesday, 6 p.m. in the Parrish Room

Japanese Table: Every Monday, 6 p.m. in the Perille Room

Russian Table: Every Monday, 6:30 p.m. in the Parrish Room