Cal Poly offers many language courses, but not only, there are foreign language conversation tables where students can learn, practice or converse with others.
“The idea behind a conversation table is that when students are learning a foreign language, they can have the opportunity to practice their conversation skills,” said history teacher Maggie Bodemer.
Bodemer is a lecturer in Cal Poly’s History Department and organizer of the Vietnamese Conversation Table, which she started in 2015. Vietnamese is a language not offered at Cal Poly, so the Vietnamese Conversation Table gives students the opportunity to learn a new, less commonly taught language. tongue, says Bodemer.
“I had students doing a seminar in Southeast Asia and a couple of them were planning to travel to Vietnam, and they wanted to learn some Vietnamese,” Bodemer said. “After that, I had a few Vietnamese-American students approach me and want to continue.”
Foreign language conversation tables are often hosted by faculty members outside of their scheduled work hours.
“The language tables are not remunerated. It’s something that’s often a labor of love,” said Spanish language and literature teacher Marion Hart.
Hart is the organizer of the Spanish Conversation Table. She also works with the Spanish club and is Cal Poly’s Spanish Language Debate Coach.
Hart said Cal Poly feels like a very English-speaking campus to some students and there is a large multilingual student population on campus that tends to get overlooked.
“I think that [the faculty hosting language tables] is truly amazing and necessary,” Hart said. “We need to do more to promote linguistic diversity, so that our students can graduate not just with the language, but also with the awareness of how to use that language in a culturally competent way.”
Victoria Tsinker, a business administration junior, is president of the Russian Student Association (RSA) and is working with her advisors to program the conversation table in Russian, another language not currently offered at Cal Poly .
“I love [the Russian conversation table] just because I call my parents… and my grandparents a few times a week, but that’s often not enough for me to keep my Russian speaking ability at the level I want it to be,” Tsinker said. “It’s really nice to be able to come in and talk.”
Anyone is invited to join these tables, regardless of their level of language proficiency. The students who attend range from beginners to native speakers.
“Often we have people who are fluent in Russian… and [other] people coming in who just want to learn or develop the Russian they have,” Tsinker said. “And then sometimes we have people who have never heard Russian in their life and they just want to hear [what] that resembles.”
The other conversation tables currently being held are German and Italian. Previously, there were conversation tables in French and Japanese.
“I think it’s really important that we work together to conserve space to increase visibility and ultimately to better support our colleagues, students, faculty and staff, because I think we have a very rich tapestry,” Hart said.