Metro-East Living

Language tables: Please pass the German

SIUE student Tyler Herron, of Belleville, center, draws clues for Caroline Cochonour, left, and Robin Cummings in a game of Pictionary at a German conversation table at Morris University Center. Playing the game in German helps them learn the language.
SIUE student Tyler Herron, of Belleville, center, draws clues for Caroline Cochonour, left, and Robin Cummings in a game of Pictionary at a German conversation table at Morris University Center. Playing the game in German helps them learn the language. tvizer@bnd.com

Robin Cummings wanted her teammates to guess the word “grandfather” in a game of Pictionary, so she drew an elderly man with a cane.

“Alter Mann (old man in German),” said Tyler Herron, 18, of Belleville, an English major at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

“Ein Bart (a beard),” said English major Caroline Cochonour, 19, of Casey.

Robin then drew a small child next to the man. Tyler and Caroline guessed “Santa Claus” then “Jahre (years) then “klein (small) and finally “Grossvater (grandfather).”

“Ja (Yes),” said Robin, 18, of Casey, an English major.

Games are among the activities that take place at the German conversation table each Friday at SIUE’s Morris University Center.

It’s an informal lunchtime setting for students, faculty and staff who want to practice speaking German. Local residents also are welcome.

“We don’t sit around having deep conversations about philosophy,” said Doug Simms, 40, an associate professor of German who leads the table with colleague Belinda Carstens-Wickham.

“That wouldn’t work. That wouldn’t be helpful. We stick to activities that help us practice colors, numbers and vocabulary.”

When you’re talking in German, and you come to a word you don’t know, it kind of halts the conversation. So you have three choices: You either rephrase it, or you stop and look it up, or you just fail and start talking in English.

David Favre on learning the language

The SIUE Department of Foreign Languages and Literature also sponsors Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish and Arabic conversation tables.

“The Spanish table is the most popular because we have the highest enrollment in our Spanish courses,” said Office Support Specialist Carolyn McCall Catalano, 57, of Edwardsville.

Carolyn, a retired music teacher, taught violin in Austria in the 1970s. Today, she spends her Friday lunch hours at the German table to stay fluent.

On a recent Friday, Carolyn was one of about 20 students, faculty and staff members. The university provided a light lunch of Suppe (soup), Brotchen (rolls), Keks (cookies) and Wasser (water).

Tyler chose to take German to meet his college foreign-language requirement after hearing that Spanish was harder.

“I didn’t really like French, and last year at Belleville West I was in a show called ‘Cabaret,’” he said. “I was the emcee. It was set in Berlin, and I learned a little bit about the German culture, and I had some lines in German, so I figured I’d expand my knowledge a little bit more.”

Across the room, Doug was playing a dice game called “Zehntausend” (“Ten Thousand” in English) with Luke Morell, a student in his German 101 class.

“I go to the Arabic conversation table, too, because I’m in an Arabic class,” said Luke, 35, of Shiloh. “I come here for (extra credit), and this is right after my last class. It’s Friday, and it’s fun.”

The same day, David Favre and Madelyne Knipp were playing Uno, a card game, in German.

Madelyne, 18, of Belleville, is an engineering major and German minor. She has been studying German for four years, mainly because of her family heritage and Lutheran religion.

“Plus, I feel I would have a lot more job opportunities by knowing German,” she said. “One day, I would like to work in Germany. Or I could live here and work with some German engineers.

“A lot of engineering is done in Germany. There are a lot of car manufactures and new technology developed over there.”

Favre, 27, a philosophy major who lives in Collinsville, took four years of German at Belleville East and is enrolled in advanced classes at SIUE. But he still likes to practice.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “When you’re talking in German, and you come to a word you don’t know, it kind of halts the conversation. So you have three choices: You either rephrase it, or you stop and look it up, or you just fail and start talking in English.”

At the end of the lunch hour, the German speakers gathered their backpacks and coats and bid each other “Auf Wiedersehn” (goodbye).

Doug sees conversation tables as invaluable tools for students trying to learn foreign languages.

“The computers are great if you want to do repetitive exercises,” he said. “It’s not going to get tired as a person would. But this is meaningful communication.”

At a glance

If you’re interested in joining a language table, here’s what you need to know.

  • German and French tables always are open to the public.
  • German speakers meet from noon to 1 p.m. Fridays in the Willow Room of SIUE’s Morris University Center.
  • French speakers meet from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Fridays in the University Club at SIUE’s Morris University Center.
  • For more information on the Arabic, Chinese, Italian and Spanish tables, call 618-650-3510 or visit www.siue.edu/artsandscience/fll/.
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