This fall, students will once again have the opportunity to improve their fluency in a foreign language over dinner.
The conversation sessions, called “language tables,” allow students to practice the languages they are learning in class through informal discussion in dining halls during meals. So far, many departments, including French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew have offered language tables to their students. Faculty interviewed said the dining hall conversations improve their students’ fluency and foster discussion with peers of different skill levels.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for using the language in a hands on way,” said Hebrew professor Ayala Dvoretzky.
The tables aim to bring together students with varying levels of proficiency. One of the most rewarding elements of having a language table with mixed levels, Dvoretsky said, is watching the students from higher levels help those from a lower level.
Russian professor Julia Titus said that because the Russian department has many heritage speakers come to the language table meetings, the conversations are an important opportunity for students to hear Russian spoken with a native inflection.
Students interviewed expressed similar views to Dvoretsky, adding that speaking with their more advanced peers provided motivation to continue improving their development in the language.
“It’s really nice getting to speak with people who are level two or level three and knowing they started where I am and they are able to communicate pretty regularly and fluently,” said Hannah LaBovick ’18, who is taking level one Hebrew.
The Hebrew department places such a high value on the tables that attending a certain number of language table meetings is required through the level four course.
During her time at Yale, Dvoretzky said she has also seen small groups of students create their own language tables for additional practice.
Other departments with more students host language tables specifically for different levels of proficiency.
The Spanish department, for example, hosts two language tables: one for beginning- and low-intermediate level students, and another for high-intermediate and advanced students.
Even though some language departments require language table participation, professors interviewed stressed the importance of keeping the content of the conversations informal.
“A lot of time students will say to their teachers, ‘Why can’t we talk about current events in class?’” said French professor Ruth Kozim. “But, we have a syllabus and things we need to cover, so this is a setting outside of class in a non-graded situation to communicate in French.”
Kozim added that she has seen measurable results in students’ speaking abilities when they participate in language tables.
Abigail Elder ’17 said the conversations have helped her further develop her language skills.
“It adds a special element to language classes because you get to know your classmates on a personal level as well as an academic level,” she added.
Dustin Vessy ’17, who has participated at the Chinese language table, said he enjoyed his experience because it allowed him to meet Chinese professors he had not met before.
Yale offers 53 different languages for study.