Improving a foreign language through eating dinner

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Students who live in the foreign language housing units cannot speak English at home.

The foreign language housing program strives to bring the cultural aspect of a study abroad to Provo. When the students are at home, they are required to speak in their respective languages, and they are also required to be home for dinner Sunday through Thursday.

This dinner program provides the opportunity for students to learn conversation and grammar skills outside of the classroom.

Neoma Williams, a comparative literature major from Rockford, Ill., lives in the Hebrew house. She said there is a $68 fee per month for food, used for dinners, in addition to rent. Students who live in the foreign language housing are each required to make a meal once a week. The money is pooled together and, using this fund, the group goes shopping together to buy food for the week.

Jonathan Mahoney learns conversation skills in Russian while he eats dinner in the Russian House. (Elliott Miller)
Jonathan Mahoney learns conversation skills in Russian while he eats dinner in the Russian House. (Elliott Miller)

Williams said she has seen significant improvement in her language abilities from being a part of the program.

“It amazes me to see the difference in my Hebrew,” she said. “I’m learning how to joke or be sarcastic in Hebrew, and it’s from having to practice all the time. It’s like having mandated hang-out time with friends.”

Malachi Hopoate from Springville lives in the Portuguese house.  He said the hours between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. are a critical element to the program.

“That’s the time where most of the language immersion takes place,” Hopoate said. “We talk and build relationships while using the grammar skills we are learning in class.”

Hopoate, an international relations major, said another critical element to the program is the opportunity to have regular communication with a native speaker. In each house, a language facilitator ensures proper grammar and usage of the language among residents. These language facilitators are native speakers and help keep the students on track with conversation techniques.

“My relationship with my facilitator is very personal,” he said. “I take what I learn in class and get help from my facilitator to learn how it is really said.”

Another benefit to having a native live in each house is the opportunity to taste authentic food.

“We eat really well,” Hopoate said. “My facilitator often cooks Brazilian food for us.”

Hopoate isn’t the only student to benefit from different cultures. Jonathan Mahoney, a linguistics major from Nova Scotia, Canada, lives in the Russian house. He said he enjoys having a native speaker live in close proximity.

“He goes out of his way to help us speak,” Mahoney said. “He tutors us, helps us and even corrects our papers.”

While many might think the time restriction for dinner would be inconvenient, Mahoney said he enjoys having meals ready when he gets home. Mahoney said he believes the time spent at dinner and living in the housing can be as productive as a study abroad experience, depending upon the work students put in.

“You get out what you put in,” he said. “I think you can learn a great deal, but it’s limited to your environment. You won’t have certain experiences because of where you are, but it’s possible.”

Amandine Giraud-Carrier, an elementary education major from Grenoble, France, is the language facilitator for the French house. She said meal time is an opportunity for students to practice in a non-stressful environment.

“There is less pressure,” she said. “It makes it easier to communicate and helps students learn conversation skills outside of the classroom.”

Giraud-Carrier said another reason for the mandated meal time is so students will leave campus and be a part of the home community.

“If we didn’t have that dinner time, people wouldn’t come home and wouldn’t get the conversation skills,” Giraud-Carrier said.

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