At the International House’s English Language Table, students use a variety of methods to gain a better grasp of English.
Students who attend the English table do not simply sit down and study a textbook in the hopes of improving their English. Instead of discussing the tongue’s subject-verb agreement, they are likely to act out a lovers’ quarrel or a father and son arguing about the wrecked family car.
The English table is designed for international students wanting to improve their language skills in a relaxed and conversational setting. Students from various parts of the world, including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, participate in the program.
“Mostly, what I want to do now is focus on speaking,” said Patti Griscom, one of the Monday night discussion leaders.
A graduate student in education, specializing in English as a Second Language, Griscom wants to encourage learning the language in a casual conversation by putting the students in scenarios where they have to speak to each other.
The method seems to be working. Though Griscom said it is difficult to judge progress based on an hour’s exposure per week, she has noticed an improvement in some students’ speaking abilities. Students who last spring could barely ask questions can now speak almost fluently, she said.
Chang-Ta, a Taiwanese student at the English Language Institute, says his conversational English skills have improved since he started attending the table.
Chae Song-ah, a senior from South Korea who is also attending The University of Tennessee as part of the English Language Institute, comes to the English table every week. She said knowing English will help her get a job when she returns to South Korea.
“I want to improve my English,” she said.
But the improvement in speaking skills cannot only be attributed to the language table. Other factors also contribute to a student’s success.
“The most important factor is the student’s effort and motivation in speaking,” Griscom said and added that the everyday exposure to the language makes a big difference.
In addition to practicing their conversation skills, students are encouraged to ask questions about words or phrases they’ve come across that caused them problems. Questions range from, “What does it mean when someone says ‘up to’?” to “What does the word ‘nappy’ mean?”
While most might not expect it, the English table also serves as an impromptu American history class.
When Chris Young, the other leader of the Monday night table, asked if anyone knew about the “king of rock ‘n’ roll,” only a few hands were raised. This sparked a mini-lecture about the three things Tennessee is world-famous for: Elvis Presley, country music and Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
When Young asked how many of the students were familiar with Jack Daniel’s, almost every hand was raised.
“Are you telling me that whiskey is more famous than Elvis Presley?” Young asked in surprise.
After Young finished detailing Elvis’ legacy, he asked again how many people had heard of Elvis. This time more hands were raised.
But the table gives students more than just speaking skills and cultural information. It is also a place to form friendships.
“I hope to make the English table a good environment, not just to practice speaking English, but for the students to meet other people. I’ve become close to many people I have met through the English table,” Griscom said.
In addition to the English table, the I-House also offers French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Chinese and Korean language tables throughout the week.