Table Tasting: A Visit to Val’s Language Communities

Once a week, Val’s six different language tables welcome students of all skill levels and cultural backgrounds to dine together in their respective languages. Staff writer Simon Pearl ’27 tours all six tables to learn about the values and dynamics of each linguistic community.

Easy to miss if you’re not seeking them out, the six language tables in Valentine Dining Hall provide spaces for students to foster vibrant linguistic communities and practice speaking their language of choice every week.

As the name suggests, language tables are department-hosted spaces where everyone exclusively speaks in the table’s designated language. They are held at varying times, each once a week, either on the Mezzanine or downstairs in Terrace Room A. Over the past few weeks, I stopped by the German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic language tables to learn more about how they operate, how they differ from one another, and why they are important linguistic spaces.

German Table

The German table meets on the Mezzanine for lunch on Mondays from 12-2 p.m. When I stopped by, I spoke with Cara Hösterey, a German language assistant who facilitates the table, along with all cultural events in the German department. Hösterey appreciates the casual environment of the table, calling it “a great way to teach people more colloquial German.”

To increase engagement, Hösterey plans on developing a set of conversation starters which span a wide range of topics. The idea is to expand participants’ vocabularies, keep conversations fresh, and build a language experience that is applicable to real-world interactions.

French Table

The next day, I stopped by the French table, which meets from 6-7 p.m. for dinner every Tuesday on the Mezzanine. There are two dedicated language assistants who run the table, Elsa Stumpf and Camille Creusaton, and the table consistently gets a good turnout, including many advanced French speakers. Creusaton noted that though they welcome anyone interested in immersing themselves in French, she recognizes the difficulty of sitting down at a table of fluent speakers if you are just starting to learn the language.

To make the table more approachable for beginners, Stumpf suggested that themed conversations be advertised in advance. “For example, we can say, ‘We’re gonna discuss movies tonight if you want to join,’” she said.

Japanese Table

At the Japanese table, which meets Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m. on the Mezzanine, I spoke to student language assistants Imari Yasuno ’24 and Shinsaku Kataoka ’26, both of whom are native speakers. The Japanese department, along with the Chinese and Arabic departments, does not have a dedicated language assistant, so students are paid to facilitate conversations in these spaces. Like many of the other language tables, students at the Japanese table often connect over shared culture. “We’re able to talk about things students are interested in, such as anime, food, and places they’ve been — we build friendships,” Yasuno explained.

Kataoka estimated that there are about seven to ten attendees on a typical day, with about half being native speakers. Some are true beginners. “It’s a very diverse table,” he remarked.

With that diversity in ability comes unique challenges, though, as people tend to group conversations according to skill level. It can make sense to form groups at the table, but for new speakers to learn and build a cohesive community, it’s essential for everyone to engage with each other. Yasuno organizes an engaging conversation for the entire table to ensure everyone is involved.

Chinese Table

Next, I paid a visit to the Chinese table, which meets from 6-8 p.m. every Thursday night, and spoke with student language assistant Ruiyi Zhu ’24. I walked into the room to loud laughter, immediately feeling the sense of community. Zhu noted that the Chinese table brings together people who don’t otherwise spend much time with each other but bond weekly over their commonality of language.

Zhu appreciates the table but would like it to be even more open, encouraging anybody to participate, even if they just want to learn. Currently, most of the participants at the table are in high-level classes. Zhu recognizes it’s difficult to be the only beginner at a table of experienced speakers, saying, “I would like more beginners to come to the table, but I understand it’s very daunting.” She advocates for more language assistants who can facilitate conversations with speakers of different levels.

Spanish Table

Every Friday from 12-2 p.m., about a dozen students eat lunch at the Spanish table. At the table, language assistants Rubén Fernandez and Gabriel Cisneros Enriquez, from Spain and Mexico respectively, facilitate a friendly, conversational environment, embracing Spanish speakers of all levels.

Fernandez and Enriquez engage in conversation with all the attendees, talking about everything from classes, to movies, to friends. Although they are not regular students — they are employed by the college to organize Spanish cultural events — they are friends to everyone at the table.

Enriquez feels that the Spanish table is “the best way to connect and build a Spanish community.” He emphasized the difference between Spanish classes and conversations at the table; there, people talk about what kinds of food they like and what kind of music they listen to, as opposed to the more grammatical and literary-focused learning method.

Arabic Table

At the Arabic table, which meets from 6-8 p.m on Fridays in Terrace Room A, I spoke to Ahmad Ziada ’26, a student language assistant and a native speaker from Syria. Since the Arabic program is small, to Ziada, it’s especially important to engage with all attendees fully. There are usually only about three to five participants each week, with most attendees being students in the intro class. The small group makes for a tight-knit community.

Ziada noted they’ve had difficulty maintaining a consistent meeting spot, as Terrace Room A is sometimes booked by other groups on Friday nights. The uncertainty makes it difficult for students to attend every week.

Ziada suggested that Val advertise language tables taking place that day on the screen with the menus to boost attendance. Effective advertisement is vital because many people would presumably be interested in going but simply aren’t informed. “They put it in the Daily Mammoth, but most students don’t fully read it, so on the screen where they show the menu, maybe they can feature the language tables,” he explained.


Stopping by a language table is a perfect way to get a better sense of Amherst’s diverse student body. I cannot speak all of the languages I covered, but I appreciated the small-scale cultural immersion of visiting each table. The people were incredibly welcoming and always love to see new faces. If you have any interest in any of the languages mentioned throughout the article, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out the tables.