As is Kenyon’s long standing tradition, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (MLL) began hosting language tables at the start of the semester. However, they have recently taken on a new look. In previous years during lunch and dinner hours, language professors and apprentice teachers would sit in the Alumni Dining Room of Peirce Dining Hall to host informal gatherings, giving students the opportunity to speak a second language in a casual setting. This year, however, with indoor capacity restrictions and the inability for professors to dine in Peirce, language tables are being hosted virtually or in other areas on campus.
The French language table, one of the few language tables that is able to meet in person, is hosted every Tuesday in the Horn Gallery. Though the setting is different than it has been in past years, the integrity of the language tables is maintained through the casual conversation they foster. Participants are able to have the type of conversation that can’t be had in language classes, according to William P. Rice Professor of French and Literature Mortimer Guiney. “In classes, most of the speaking that you do is grammatical and structured. [The language tables] provide a way of practicing the language that is spontaneous, unstructured and more authentic,” he said.
For the language tables that haven’t had the luxury to meet in person, the transition has been more challenging. Assistant Professor of Japanese Kai Xie, the current host of the Japanese language table, admitted that meeting over Zoom has created a less casual environment as it so closely resembles the remote classroom structure students have come to know throughout the pandemic. “The online format is a little bit more awkward because only one person can talk and we’re not all eating together,” she said. “But we maintain that the goal of the conversations isn’t to learn — we rarely correct people. The goal is to have fun and practice.”
Despite these hurdles, turnout at language tables this year has remained high. “Before [COVID-19], we often had too many students that we couldn’t fit them all on one table. But during [COVID-19], surprisingly, more students are actually coming because people got so used to doing everything online,” explained Xie. Even through the pandemic, language departments have retained relationships with native speakers and Fulbright Program teaching assistants, both of which have continued to host the tables this semester.
The language tables’ consistent turnout is likely due to its stress-free nature. They are open to students of all levels of proficiency, and even to those who have never studied that language at Kenyon; all that’s needed is an interest in the language. Xie summed it up best: “There’s no limit to anything discussed. Just show up!” she said.
The French language table is hosted every Tuesday from 11:10 a.m.–12 p.m. in the Horn Gallery. The Japanese language table is hosted over Zoom from 11:10 a.m.–12 p.m. every Thursday. Links to the online other language tables are sent out via Student-Info emails.