Conversation Hours set stage for relaxed learning of foreign languages

There is no grading during conversation hours, and foreign language professors enable this setting so students can dialogue in a relaxed manner and have fun learning.

Students spent Friday afternoon at Spanish conversation hour in the Morris University Center. Photo courtesy of Theresa San Luis.

Foreign language professors, instructors and tutors volunteer to host weekly conversation hours in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. Held mainly on Friday afternoons on the second floor of the MUC, the sessions are open to the SIUE and surrounding communities.

According to Tom Lavallee, foreign languages department chair, he appreciates the commitment of faculty members who have offered conversation hours to students for roughly 30 years.

“Classroom is just one type of environment,” Lavallee said. “I think the faculty are quite dedicated to building experiences where they can get outside of that and use the language in a slightly different way.”

Lavallee added that he is grateful for Narbeth Emmanuel, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, whose office covers the cost of room space and food for the events.

According to Lavallee, the conversation hours consist of open-ended activities led by facilitators who guide participants of varying fluency levels.

Last Friday, for instance, Chinese instructor Carine Yang led a group of students in the Wabash Room in a game of Bingo. She quizzed students on Chinese culture and had them repeat the numbers she called in Mandarin.

In the Board Room, Spanish professor Heidy Carruthers and a handful of tutors guided more than 30 students in group activities. Each group brainstormed to write a story in Spanish based on images and words provided on cards.

French professor Debbie Mann and instructor Julian Darius conversed with students and participants in the University Club while snacking on food.

The goal of the Spanish conversation hour, according to Carruthers, is to provide a low-anxiety learning environment which has proven to be popular among students.

“They get additional practice of conversation and writing without being evaluated,” Carruthers said. “Some classes require students to attend, but many students come every week because they like it.”

Mann said students benefit from conversing with each other in such a casual setting.

“They’re not so worried about whether they are going to make a grammar mistake,” Mann said. “They are just using what they know, and the more you use it, the more you feel comfortable and the more you learn.”

Freshman Anthony Lampman said conversation hours helps him in his plans to become a Spanish instructor and is a lot of fun.

“I don’t really have a lot of friends who speak Spanish and so I am meeting new people in the department who can help me,” Lampman said. “I like meeting new people and I like learning the language.”

Larry Brown, a Glen Carbon resident, said he has attended French conversation hours for many years and enjoys the company.

“It’s very relaxed, very informal and very positive,” Brown said. “You don’t see people criticizing people. That’s why I’m here.”

To learn more about conversation hours, contact Tom Lavallee, chair of the Foreign Languages Department, at

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