Conversation tables

A Spanish conversation table practices their speaking skills at the Language Lab Lounge in Burnett Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

With an abundance of snacks, steaming tea, soft music and friendly faces, the Japanese Conversation Table encourages students and others alike gather to immerse themselves in Japanese culture through conversational talks. 

Through different conversations, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students can enjoy a new language without the pressure of grades or extra credit that a classroom setting might enforce.

According to Kawasaki Reading Room director and Japanese Conversation Table supervisor Madoka Wayoro, conversation tables are weekly meetings that provide anyone who wishes to practice a foreign language the opportunity to participate in an interactive class. 

The classes cover many languages, from Arabic to Japanese, German, French, Russian and Spanish. Each class meets at a different time and in a different room, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s events website.

“I like to see students helping each other and having fun,” Wayoro said. “It’s not a classroom setting; there is no need to be nervous. I just want students to come here and have fun and then, at the same time, improve their Japanese.”

The Conversation Tables have varying routines. For the Japanese Conversation Table, a normal meeting may start with tea and snacks and relaxing music in the background before a quick review of past vocab words on flash cards and small talk with each other. 

The Conversation Table students then move on to learn about something new, whether that be an aspect of Japanese culture or new vocab words. After, students watch a video that incorporates the vocab words, according to senior global studies major and Japanese Conversation Table leader Anastasia Dehtyarenko.

“We always try to make it with the least pressure as possible when people come,” she said. “It’s nice they come to learn a language, but they also find friends there and they come because they want to hang out with each other.” 

The Spanish Conversation Tables have a similar routine, but the group is more focused on having conversations. According to Conversation Table leader and graduate student in modern languages and literatures Stella Valencia Galvis, a normal meeting consists of different conversational topics such as immigration, politics and technology — things that may be discussed in an everyday conversation. She said this sort of conversation is good practice for students.

“My favorite part is the people, my students, because they are so different,” she said. “Here, we have different people of different opinions and different ambitions talk about a specific topic and participate, and they don’t feel afraid. They feel comfortable.”

Galvis said Conversation Tables are important in today’s world because knowing another language can help people find future jobs and connect with people from around the globe. Even if someone is proficient in a language, it’s nice to keep it up by attending a class.

According to Wayoro, Conversation Tables are important because they’re an opportunity for students to truly immerse themselves in a new language and enjoy a new cultural experience.

“I encourage students to learn outside of classrooms because it’s more like living [the] language — if they practice more, they feel comfortable using it,” he said. “The extra hour [outside of the classroom] gives students the opportunity to use the language and openly communicate with each other.”