Kari Bergeson '07 is a member of the Norwegian House. She said that there has been good attendance at Samtalebordet so far this year. There is usually at least one professor and a native speaker in attendance facilitating conversation among students.
Bergeson said that this is an especially good chance to meet students who have been abroad and ask questions about their experiences. Some departments also schedule occasional speakers or presentations after or at the tables.
Many language departments require a certain number of co-curricular activities, which does help conversation table attendance yet others like Amelia Shuster '09 voluntarily attended German Stammtisch almost every week last year. For her, it was a way to "catch up" on speaking skills that she didn't really get in high school.
For many students it is a fun weekly event and a chance to meet new people.
"The best part was probably getting to know Katrin Schuhmann (the German resident assistant)," Shuster said.
French International Student Flavie Fichou is the native speaker resident of the Maison Française. She likes the idea of the conversation tables and said there is nothing like it at her French university.
"It's a good chance to speak the language like it's spoken in the country," Fichou said. "I hope more people will come for the rest of the tables. It's a good way for me to teach about France and learn about the United States as well."
Asian Studies major and Chinese student Nick Anderson '07 admits that it's hard to find the time to go. "I go, but not often," Anderson said. "It's beneficial for learning the language, but I'm often too busy to sit down and have a long dinner."
Students not majoring in a language may dread the activities required by departments, such as conversation tables. For some departments, attendance would probably be slightly lower without a requirement. For others, however, it has become a fun social activity.
Professor of Spanish Kris Cropsy is "amazed how many students come" and noted that many students in attendance are not even taking Spanish classes.
Cropsy pointed out that similar programs exist at many colleges but that St. Olaf's language tables are very successful. Professor of Spanish Juliet Lynd confirmed that 40 to 50 students show up every week. Faculty members rotate attendance and sometimes even bring their children.
While Spanish has a very large table, it is more difficult for other languages to get a big crowd. Professor of Russian Mark Robinson pointed out that "Russian, like Japanese and Chinese, takes longer to develop conversational skills." Most students enrolled in these languages start at St. Olaf, so conversation cannot occur until second or third semester. Robinson added that for these reasons the tables are mostly upperclassmen and bolder beginning students.
Students may, however, get hooked after one or two visits to the table. Robinson said that his colleague Professor of Russian Irina Walter is especially good at drawing in students. Language tables are a good mix of upperclassmen, language majors and students who just want a little more practice. St. Olaf's conversation tables are one model of learning outside of the classroom.