Tandem – how to learn foreign languages?

A tandem is a partnership between two people with different nationalities that are willing to meet and learn the language, and teach each other. For example, a moldavian who speaks Russian meets once a week for one hour with an austrian who speaks German to practice. Usually, the tandem partners meet in a coffee shop and engage in conversations, speaking half of the time one’s language and the other half – the second language. It is up to the partners to decide which topics to cover, and how much focus to put on speaking, reading, grammar and vocabulary.

When I moved to Vienna, and started to work for the company, I wanted to keep up with the German level since I was using only English at work and Romanian at home. After searching online for the ways how to practice German I stumbled upon the website tandempartners and registered. In a couple of days I already had a lot of people willing to practice Russian or Romanian, and willing to teach me German. The first meetings are the hardest, but after that it is going pretty well. I want to share with you, in my opinion, why tandems work and what I find interesting about them.

5 Reasons why Tandems work

  1. Tandems work because it is easy to find a partner as there are many websites out there that offer this service.

https://www.tandempartners.org/

https://www.tandemexchange.com/

https://www.conversationexchange.com/

plus many universities have their own programs that offer tandem learning. I remember the first time I found out about tandem was at JKU in Linz and many students were involved in this program.

2. If both partners are serious about learning and improving, many new things are learnt and discussed during these sessions. From my own experience, if I hear something in a specific situation I find myself, or if someone corrects me and explains it why it is correct this way, I remember it and there are 90 % chances that I will use it further, and 100 % chances that I will recognise it in case I will hear the same word again. So you get real knowledge for free.

3. It is free, it does not cost you any money, as if you were comparing to the costs usually we pay for language courses, which are sometimes exuberant.  It takes only the time you are willing to invest when organizing the meetings and no more. In case i does not work you did not loose much effort or money, and it will count as an experience.

4.Flexibility. I refer here to the fact that you can easily decide what topics you want to cover in your sessions, what exercises you want to focus on, or maybe you want to learn more words or put the accent on reading skills. This flexibility helps to improve those skills that you want and you feel that you need to. In the case you are training for passing a language exam this is of a great help since you already know your weaknesses and spots you want to improve.

5. The tandem partnerships can grow into real friendships, and especially for those who moved to a new country, it is of a great advantage to know someone local. The locals can teach a lot of things that are not to be found in books or expats manual. Therefore another advantage of a tandem partner is the information you can have only from a native speaker.

All in all, I am a real example that tandems work and I can say that I have only good things to say about this experience. First of all, I feel myself commited to speak more German, I meet more native speakers, the topics I cover are of great interest for me and also I improve those skills that I want. On the other hand, my partner is happy when I help him translating the articles he needs for work and moreover that he gets to speak the language, otherwise not spoken at wall. So it is a win-win situation.

But I understand that not all the time it can work out so well as for us, and I feel like I need to mention a couple of things that might not work as well as you think it will.

Why Tandems does not work

  1. It is sometimes hard to find a partner that has the same interests, aims and character as you have. I heard many times that the tandem partners are boring and not prepared for the sessions, or are distracted during the meetings.
  2. Tandem parteners are not willing to invest time in the mutual exchange of knowledge, or discipline. So, one of the main premises of the tandem partnership to work is that both partneres are willing to commit to a main goal. But it can happen that is not so easy to find a free time and the partner has to wait for the other, which can only lead to frustration and negative experience.
  3. Some sessions can be boring, with less interesting topics.

Tandems have the advantages and disadvantages, of which everyone needs to be aware, but after all there are many things to learn from and enjoy. Through tandems you can easily improve your German, Russian or Spanish, and this is the main goal. I will always recommend tandems to those who are looking for foreign language practice.

Did you ever had a tandem partner? What language did you learn? What were the best parts of the tandem? Do you think you can benefit from a tandem patnership? Please leave a comment and share your experiences wih us.

3 thoughts

  1. I love tandem, just like you do 🙂 One risk: I have an English Literature background and meet once a week with a Spanish poet (we’re both in Germany). His English is better than my Spanish so we often end up speaking much more in English because we can talk more deeply about literature and culture. This is fine with us, but I wonder if you or others have had the same issue — mismatched levels so you end up emphasizing good conversation over an equal split between the languages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gary for sharing your tandem experience with us. I perfectly understand that this can happen and why is this happening. Luckily, tandem partner has almost the same Romanian language level as I have for German, and we really try to stick to half of the meeting in Romanian and the other half in German. But I really like that you guys still keep on practicing, meaning that you are developing it into a friendship, and also tandem is meeting people that share the same values and as well hobbies, as in your case. There is a lot of information out there, and through a tandem meeting this exchange is priceless. Wish you luck with your tandem partner, and thank you one more time for your feedback.

      Have a nice evening!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent setup. I think the disadvantages can be overcome by continuing to look for a partner with the same commitment level. Certainly could be fun and always that small chance of meeting a potential romantic partner, or someone who knows someone that they think you would want to meet.

    Like

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