Coffee Hours brew success for students interested in foreign languages, classics


Students sit around a table and speak Spanish during coffee hours in Satterfield Hall Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

Cameron Gorman

If an interest in modern or classical languages sounds like your cup of tea, or coffee, you might want to visit the coffee hours held in Satterfield Hall.

The Modern and Classical Language Studies’ Coffee Hours program offers two types of events — foreign language and classics.

The first, foreign language coffee hours, have been around for 15 years, and are for languages such as Spanish, German and Hebrew, among others.

Francoise Massardier-Kenney, a professor of French translation and the director for the Institute of Applied Linguistics, created the program.

“I taught French grad students, and I just noticed that in class we talked about course stuff, but they never had a chance to talk informally and to get to know each other, so I started that French coffee hour,” she said.

Massardier-Kenney said students liked the idea, so other languages began to build on the idea.

Students and community members at these hours often use time to practice speaking and to socialize. Those gathered at a French coffee hour, held on a rainy Tuesday, spoke in French to each other over cookies and drinks.

Massardier-Kenney said coffee hour informal conversations never follow a script, which is good to show students how handling conversations varies depending on the culture.

“So you don’t know ahead of time that it’s going to be just about the past or using that kind of vocabulary,” she said. “And that helps people figure out strategies to say stuff, even if they don’t know a specific word.”

Every language is in charge of organizing its own coffee hours, Massardier-Kenney said, such as those for Spanish, which are arranged by Maria Zaldivar, a professor of Spanish.

Zaldivar said she chooses the coffee hour times, while the department provides coffee and cookies.

“But in addition to that, I try to bring authentic food. … I’m like the hostess; if you had a party at home, you try to make sure that everybody’s having a good time, and interact with everybody, and maybe introduce people to each other.”

Classics coffee hours are focused less on speaking the language and more on discussing them and their context.

“The classics unit, particularly, is in charge of the Greek and Latin languages in addition to classical civilization and other courses pertinent to the classical world, like history and archaeology,” said Sarah Harvey, a professor of classics and the coordinator of classics coffee hours.

Though the foreign language coffee hours have been around for years, the classics coffee hours are a newer offering, only an option for interested students since 2015.

“We just thought that it would be nice to have a venue for our students to come together, and we don’t really speak Latin and Greek in the classroom, but there’s many topics that are interesting to discuss,” Harvey said.

Another benefit of the classics coffee hours, Harvey said, is the opportunity for students involved with online classes, such as Cody Goetting, a graduate appointee in the Modern and Classical Languages Department, to meet face to face.

Goetting, an instructor for an online course, said he’s met a couple of his students at the coffee hours events.

“So it’s interesting; we introduce ourselves and such,” he said. It’s just cool to talk to people and such, and just hearing the stories about it too. There was somebody who had traveled all over Greece and Italy. We were talking about all the cool stuff he saw.”

In general, the coffee hours serve as a meeting point for those interested in their topics, Goetting said.

“If you’re interested in ancient history, if you’re interested in classics, it’s somewhere for you to show up,” Goetting said. “You can talk, get snacks; there’s a topic to focus you for that day. … But it’s just there to get people together and talking.”

Topics include those ranging from historical accuracy in classics-related films to free classics books.

Harvey encourages anyone interested to volunteer for the coffee hour events in addition to graduate students and faculty. She said after beginning the program, it has been pretty successful, something she hopes can continue.

“I mean, we’d certainly like to grow the number of students that we get at them, but many interested students have come and they’re just on a diverse range of topics” she said. “Whoever is speaking decides what they want to do.”

The classics coffee hours are often focused on cultural or scholarly topics and tend to be more “topical in nature,” Harvey said.

Goetting said teaching Latin and Greek is different from how you would teach Spanish or German because with modern languages, it’s important to get the conversational aspect.

“The only way you can get that with a modern language is by actually talking to people … there’s not really a need for, ‘Let’s sit down and speak Latin,’” Goetting said.

The most recent hour focused on a presentation by Amanda Whitacre, a graduate student majoring in Latin. She spoke about her thesis topic, “(Dis)Ability in Antiquity,” which she presented Oct. 23.

“I was thinking of October, Disability (Employment) Awareness Month, and I’m doing my thesis on Claudius, so it corresponds well to what I’ve been researching anyway,” Whitacre said.

When she was a junior, Whitacre took a Roman history course where she learned about emperors.

“And we came across Claudius, and on the PowerPoint, it said he walked with a limp and had a speech impediment, and the textbook actually said he could have had cerebral palsy. And that is what my diagnosis is, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s me.’”

Harvey said the coffee hours will most likely continue to be offered to students looking to add engaging discussion to their educational experience or to present topics they have researched, such as Whitacre did.

“We had a discussion about this,” Harvey said, “and I think that we all feel that they’re good and they’re beneficial, and we’d certainly like to get more students coming to them. … I think we’d like to keep going with them.”

The next installment of the classics coffee hours will be Nov. 1, and will cover the topic “Problems with Translating the New Testament” in Room 112A of Satterfield Hall. The foreign language coffee hours operate on a weekly schedule, which can be found on the website.

Cameron Gorman is the humanities reporter. Contact her at [email protected].