Hamilton College offers students the opportunity to study over 10 languages from Chinese and Spanish to Arabic and Japanese. While most of the learning takes place inside the classroom, foreign language enthusiasts have ample opportunity to brush up on their language and culture skills within the community.
“I want them to enjoy learning about other cultures and also speaking Japanese,” Yumi Saito, Japanese Teaching Fellow, said. “We try to create an at-home atmosphere for Japanese learners to speak in Japanese.”
Every week, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and German language faculty take an hour outside of the classroom to get to know their students better and in a more informal setting. Lower-level speakers can practice classroom lessons while more experienced students can learn colloquial phrases with other native speakers.
“I think the best part is that students and professors can communicate with each other,” Chen-An Chou, visiting instructor of East Asian Languages and Literature, said. “We don’t only talk about Chinese class, we also talk about other topics so professors can get to know students better and students can get to know their professors and classmates better.”
It is not uncommon for international students and native speakers to join these language tables and share their experiences. In fact, some language tables focus on teaching students about cultural events, such as the Quinceañera and the Chinese New Year, in addition to conversational dialogue and grammar. The French and Spanish departments even host their own radio shows, Le Monde Francophone and Ritmos Latinos, respectively.
This year the Chinese Language brought in traditional Nian Gao cakes to celebrate the New Year. The Japanese Table has hosted origami workshops and film screenings and, last spring, celebrated the Setsubun Festival by throwing beans in McEwen.
“I think that language table is awesome because not only does it give us a place to practice our Spanish, but it provides the space to learn more about different Spanish-speaking cultures,” Sarah Swinson ’20, a Spanish and psychology major, said.
Learning a foreign language need not take place in a classroom nor should it only focus on grammar. In addition to a good meal, language tables facilitate immersive verbal discussion and cultural exchange.