Department of Germanic Studies launches its first Conversation Café

On Sept. 19, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies enjoyed a successful turnout for the first session of German Conversation Café, which takes place every Thursday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the McPherson Library’s international commons, next to the Maltwood Gallery, room A025. It welcomes all German speakers of any background to talk in German and share their ideas and experiences.

This is the first time the department has tried a German Conversation Café, though conversation cafés have formed for various languages such as Italian, Mandarin, and Korean. Professor Charlotte Schallié, who teaches courses on both German language and culture of German-speaking countries, is in charge of the meetings that are moderated by two UVic students, Mauritz Schild and Angus Hardy-Francis. Everyone who attended the first meeting had a varying level of proficiency in German, but the participants showed enthusiasm at the opportunity to polish their skills.

Speaking is often considered the hardest part of learning a new language. No matter how strong a person’s language skills are in terms of reading, listening, or grammar, it is hard to find ways to practise in real life, let alone to manage the fear and embarrassment of using broken language in front of native speakers. Interestingly enough, the phenomenon “Denglisch,” in which more and more English words are substituting German vocabulary, is common among students, even though they  have learned the German alternatives. The Conversation Café aims to help people feel more comfortable using the language and show them new possibilities and perspectives.

Despite being the very first session, the Conversation Café ran smoothly. Moderators divided the participants into two groups, one with first-year students who wished to learn more about German culture and grammar outside the classrooms, and the other with those who wanted simply to strike up casual conversation about their interests. Many ideas have come forward to improve the upcoming sessions. Not only the moderators, but also the participants were eager to help each other out.

This German Conversation Café is not the only German-speaking session for students, however. The UVSS German Klub has been offering weekly get-togethers called Stammtish, that take place at the UVic Grad House. What differentiates the newly formed Conversation Café from Stammtisch is that Conversation Café holds official sessions prepared by the language department, open to all UVic community members who are interested. The emphasis is more on using and improving the language with the help of moderators, whereas the German Klub facilitates fun-oriented activities for students.

The hosts of the German Conversation Café, Schild and Hardy-Francis, are recruited by Professor Charlotte Schallie, and they are German native-speakers who study at UVic. Moderating the first session was an adventure for them, as they were both new to the experience. “Speaking in public and leading a discussion is a skill that everyone should have. I took it as an opportunity to build up, to practice those skills,” said Schild.

“Neither of us was quite sure what to expect—how many people would show up, how fluent they were in German, etc. After the first session, I can say that I’ve learned a lot already though. The feedback I got in class was very valuable and I am sure we can improve the experience that the participants get out of this.”

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