Students interact over language, gain skills

The Modern Language Program began hosting regular conversational learning opportunities for both French and Spanish students this semester. The International Conversation Tables events are scheduled to be held three times per semester at 1:00 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month for Spanish and on the third Tuesday for French in the Cauthen Educational Media Center (CEMC).

According to Associate Professor of Spanish Kristin Kiely, who monitors one of the Spanish tables and organizes the events, the conversation tables provide an opportunity for students to practice their speaking and listening skills in a less controlled environment.

“Inside the class, it’s a very organized environment set on what lesson they’re going to do, and it’s one skill level,” Kiely said. “Whereas when they get outside of class, all skill levels are meshed together. It can be intimidating at first for the lower levels, but then the upper levels help the lower levels and they come out of their shells, especially since they are sometimes more willing to ask another student for help where they might not necessarily ask us for help.”

Kiely said as the event satisfies students’ desire to have additional exposure to the language, the students also get the opportunity to have a more comprehensive experience with their chosen language, such as hearing different accents and learning various cultural elements.

Kiely said the structure of each conversation table event varies with the number of students, their proficiency in the language and the goals of the professors involved. However, she said the events usually begins by having students introduce themselves and answering any questions they may have. Kiely also said some of the common activities involved include conversations around specific topics for the day, language-specific games and, for the upper levels, discussions around the latest books they have read in that language.

Professor of French and Coordinator of Modern Languages-French Program Elizabeth Zahnd, who is one of the professors involved with the French conversation tables, said the purpose for the event is to develop language proficiency and have conversations in context. Zahnd said she achieves this by having fluid conversations among different topics, such as academic subjects, current political events and what is of interest to students.

Junior student and modern languages major Jessica Haines, who attended the Spanish conversation table event, said she valued the opportunity to practice the language through conversations outside of the classroom, where she was able to receive the feedback of professors and students.

“Everyone was on different levels of understanding and it worked really fast, but overall it was just simple conversation,” Haines said. “I liked the input; overall it was pretty good.”

Junior Emma Driggers, a history and French double major, who will travel abroad to France in the spring, said the conversation tables event would prepare her for the real-life applications of the language that she would encounter in another country.

Sophomore Ashlei Jones, a pre-med major who is taking French, said it was a very practical way to get the most out of your studies in a foreign language, especially with the constructive criticism of professors.

Junior nursing major Taylor Saxton, who is also taking French, said the event would help her and other students feel less embarrassed about mistakes, to better prepare them for experiences in the actual country.