Language tables as LU learning tradition

Language tables have always been a long-standing and established hallmark of language instruction and learning at Lawrence. For each language department, language tables are offered twice a week. They are one-hour conversational sessions required in some classes, but are mostly optional. For lower level classes, it is required five times per term. Seniors in the major must lead two of the discussions. However, anyone who is interested in learning the language and culture is welcome to join.

Senior Andrea Magana, sophomore Alfiza Urmanova and sophomore Robert Meiser lead language table discussions as teacher assistants.

Urmanova, a native Russian speaker, leads Russian table and conducts individual tutoring lessons with second-year Russian students. “It is part of my scholarship agreement with Lawrence,” Urmanova says.

As a teacher assistant leading the German language table, Meiser wants to give students the opportunity to speak, hear and listen to German. This is Meiser’s first year leading table, but he went last year to learn how they are run and became inspired.

Associate Professor of Chinese and Linguistics, Kuo-Ming Sung leads the Chinese table. For Sung, language tables have been around since he came to Lawrence University in 1994. “The reason is for the learner to be able to use the target language in a relaxed setting outside classroom.” Sung says.

All language tables function differently, some have a structured led discussion while others are more natural and free-flowing. In Russian table, it’s a combination of both. “I come up with questions prior, but students come up with their own follow up questions on the spot,” commented Urmanova.

In German table, Meiser allows participants to ask any questions and is open to any topic, but he will mostly lead the discussions with German news, especially German politics such as the elections, voting process, and the attack on the Berlin Christmas market. Meiser likes to include the history and culture of Germany, and how Germany views global issues such as the United States presidential election.

For Spanish table, Magana prefers to use various activities to engage participants in Spanish table such as games, cultural videos and funny videos. Urmanova, who also uses movies in Russian tables, added, “I use movies as a way to share my culture and my favorite is to explain Russian people and their habits, behavior, traditions.”

In French table, a participant, junior Emma Arnesen, commented that the activities for French table included “questions about what we did that week and other prompts for intro level.”

Language tables are a way to engage students in practicing and learning a language in a relaxed, non-classroom setting. It is also an introduction to Language Immersion Weekend at Björklunden, where students must communicate in only their respective language. Students who participate in the tables not only gain confidence in speaking the language, but make new friends and meet faculty.

Magana enjoys listening to what students are interested in, as it gives her the opportunity to share her experience as a Spanish as a second language learner. Meiser responded, “I enjoy when we all get into an argument, because then there is the sharing of opinions and ideas.”

When attending French table, Arnesen commented on how she did not feel pressure to speak fluent French because it was more for fun. “It is easier to meet people in the language departments because it is more conversational,” she continued.

“There is no expectation of any sort or preparation,” added Sung. “No one is expected to say something smart. It provides a relaxed opportunity for students and faculty to [get to] know one another at a more personal level with the use of the target language.”

Language tables provide a safe space for students interested in learning a language to come together. Not only does their competency in a language increase, but a global perspective in the country’s history and culture. “Learning another language opens doors to learning a different culture,” says Magana, sharing her enthusiasm for speaking Spanish.

“Learning a language that is used by more than a quarter of the entire [human race] seems to be a good reason [to learn Chinese]. It makes more sense if one chooses to look into the rich cultural heritage and to possess the increasing political and economic practicality of knowing the language,” adds Sung. “If you go to Europe, German is an important language,” says Meiser, but adds that any language can increase your knowledge about the world.