I’m not a regular visitor to language tables, but I do drop by occasionally when I have the time and happen to wander up to the second floor of the dining hall at the right time. At Grinnell, most language tables take place on a weekly basis in a room devoted almost exclusively to the purpose, just off the dining hall. For example, German table takes place every Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Every week most or all of the German professors come to the dining hall to eat dinner with the students who show up. My last visit to the German table occurred the week of Thanksgiving.
I didn’t plan it ahead of time, but I noticed that German table was starting and decided to go in and sit down. Soon I was drawn into a discussion with a professor about how my semester was going, which somehow evolved into a debate about the fastest route to St. Paul (which is where I’m from).
The discussions around the table were quite varied, in part because of different levels of language proficiency. One student had only taken German for two months, and because no English is spoken, she mostly sat and listened until another professor asked why we had all chosen to come to Grinnell. The novice German student spoke slowly, but kept going, misplacing a verb here and there. When she came to a word she didn’t know, her own professor stepped in, supplied the word, and explained that she had only started learning past tense the week before.
As much as I like German, I am a college student with lots of academic commitments and I do have a life beyond studying — much of it centered around dinner. At Grinnell, dinner is one of the few times on weekdays most people have relatively free. Before dinner there are classes, and afterwards homework, club meetings, and rehearsals occupy people’s time and attention. Thus, dinner is a time to unwind a bit, to take a short communal break and enjoy the company of others. One reason I have hesitated to go to language tables regularly is my reluctance to miss out on social time with my friends.
But when I did start dropping by the German table, I found it was actually a lot of fun. The people were fun to talk to, and even the professors didn’t talk about boring things like homework. Instead, there was talk of movies, of musical and dramatic performances, of trips to Europe, and of experiences with summer jobs. There was even a discussion of the merits of Facebook as a way to maintain relationships.
None of these things are unique to German, and I’m sure the other language tables would offer a similar experience — although of course their languages aren’t as cool as ours. Still, if you insist on learning a language other than German and you need to practice it, language tables give you an opportunity to do just that, while having a nice meal at the same time.
Patrick Busch ’08 is a German and Mathematics major from St. Paul, Minnesota.