What Is a Conversation Circle?
In terms of learning a second language, few people will question the benefit of formal training by a qualified teacher in a classroom setting. But if a student aspires to move to the next level of confidence and fluency, he or she would definitely benefit by supplementing classroom learning with regular visits to—what German learners refer to as—a stammtisch, or conversation circle.
If you aren’t familiar with the word stammtisch, it’s a German word which literally means, “a table reserved for the regulars.” On a more figurative note, a stammtisch is an informal meeting, a gathering of the minds, and a chance to socialize and imbibe, if one so chooses. For those who are learning to speak German, a stammtisch is a chance for students of various levels to practice what they are learning or have learned in the classroom. Students most often meet at a local beer garden or coffee shop, stay for an hour or two, and simply chat with one another in German. Although it is referred to as a stammtisch in the German culture, learners of countless other languages often gather together in the same fashion to improve their language skills, while getting to know like-minded individuals in the process.
The setting of a language conversation circle is usually quite relaxed, so grammatical errors are usually the norm and not the exception. In fact, opponents of this type of informal learning might claim that such a casual setting allows for errors to become permanent fixtures in the speech patterns of beginning speakers. After all, no one is assigned to correct mistakes as they arise. Instead, the language learning is decidedly organic in nature, which is why conversation circles like these can be highly effective as a supplement to more structured learning, or as a way to practice and maintain a language that a student has already spent a great amount of time learning.
Benefits of a Practice Group
What makes a language group, like the stammtisch, an effective tool in learning a second language? First of all, without a professor or teacher present, students are more relaxed and more willing to verbally practice what they have learned in the classroom. The goal of the group is usually to communicate an idea well enough so that fellow listeners can understand and respond, while the objective in many foreign language classrooms is to master the mechanics of the language, with less focus on communication.
In addition, an informal language practice group usually has students of varying levels, so beginners are giving the opportunity to mingle with intermediate and expert speakers. This gives beginners a chance to challenge themselves in a non-intimidating environment, while simultaneously giving higher-level speakers an opportunity to share their tricks of the trade. The learning environment can truly be a win-win for everyone involved.
Language groups exist in most major cities and suburbs and can be a fun and rewarding way for students to enhance their foreign language study. To find out if there is a stammtisch or foreign language meet-up in you area, start by checking out www.meetup.com or by contacting local universities or colleges in your area.