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If It's Friday, It's Lunch at the Korean Language Table

Tamara Okoro '12 of Nigeria, left, and Suk Massey, lecturer in East Asian languages and literatures, are lunchtime regulars at Friday Korean language table. Click the image to a watch video of the Korean language table.

If you enter the special dining room of Smith's Duckett House around noon, you'll immediately notice two things. The first is the clamor of conversation as hungry college students chow down on pizza or salad or tuna grinders. The second is that the chatter is not in English.

On any given weekday, this is where rookies and native speakers, professors and students alike, gather for lunch at tables sponsored by a variety of Smith's foreign language departments and programs throughout the year.

On Fridays, students munch and speak Korean. Visitors and students at all levels of language proficiency are welcome. They tell stories, crack jokes, make weekend plans. The beginners fall back on English words when they are flummoxed. The more proficient Korean speakers talk easily and quickly.

On one Friday in November, Suk Massey, a lecturer in East Asian languages and literatures, brought a heaping basket of Korean pancakes made from mung beans that morning. Pancakes became another topic of discussion as students passed the basket around and sampled the light, airy Korean variety.

The same day, one Smith student had in tow her boyfriend from the University of Massachusetts. Never mind that he could speak only a few words of Korean, says Massey who is present at the Korean language tables every week. This becomes a teaching moment for everyone.

"Whenever we have guests, we use it as practice, to learn a conversational dynamic, to practice our greetings."

Massey recommends, but does not require, that her students attend the language table. They earn extra credit for doing so.

Tamara Okoro '12 is a frequent attendee at the Korean lunch table. "I'm thinking that I may want to go to Korea for medical school," says the international student from Nigeria," so I'll need to know the language."

"I hope they can learn something in casual conversation that they cannot learn in the classroom," says Massey. "At first they are so quiet," she says of her beginners. "Motivation is the key. That is my role, to motivate them, and once they are motivated to speak, they get enthusiastic and engaged and open to conversation."

Smith is the only college in the Five College Consortium that offers instruction in the Korean language. It is also the only one that sponsors a Korean language lunch table. The classes as well as the Friday lunch table draw students from the campuses of University of Massachusetts, and Mount Holyoke, Amherst and Hampshire colleges.

Jacob Evans, a second-year graduate student studying computer science at University of Massachusetts, says he drives to the Smith campus three times a week for class at 11. On Fridays, he stays for lunch. He's taking Korean because it's "always good to learn another language." Plus, he jokes, "it's a good way to meet girls."

"The good thing about the language table," says Massey, "is that students feel comfortable eating lunch together, they build friendships and are more motivated to speak Korean in casual conversation and in a relaxing environment. It's really a complement to what goes on in the classroom."

Mais Oui! Practice Your Français!

Lunch, conversation and the opportunity to practice hammering out the grammar of another language throughout the week are the key elements of the language tables in the Duckett special dining room. On Mondays, French, Italian and Japanese speakers gather; on Tuesdays, tables are reserved for German and Hebrew students. Wednesdays are for Spanish/Portuguese and Chinese; Thursdays are for Russian.

The language tables' diverse compositions are their greatest strength. Students get a chance to meet professors and students from all walks of campus life.

"Participating in the lunch-time table has been a fun kind of learning," says Tanne Stephens '11, a frequent attendee at the German table. "You get to take the German vocabulary and grammar you learn in classes and apply it to everyday speech and to describing funny experiences. It really gets you eager to talk and learn more words. It is also a good way to meet people who share your interest in German."

For two years, Elaan Lino, an Ada Comstock scholar, has been going to the weekly Hebrew language table to fulfill a class requirement. She enjoys "being able to casually speak in Hebrew outside the class setting."

Many students say they appreciate the chance to practice speaking another language without the pressure of worrying about making mistakes.

Anais Lugo-Guercio '12 is in her third semester of French instruction but until now has avoided the language table. "I was too scared to go, even though my professors, every semester, have encouraged me to go. Now that I have gone, I like it. I think it will be a really cool tool to help me build up my conversation skills so that I have a fair chance of getting into the Paris JYA program next year."

Lugo-Guercio compares speaking French to "building a skinny, teetering tower that I am trying to use for support." But thanks to the lunch table, "my comprehension might be getting better. That is why I am going to the French table, because in class, I have a hard time participating. I am busy just trying to understand what everyone is saying. That is what I have to keep working on."

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