Learning languages in tandem

Would you like to learn a foreign language while going for a walk, strolling through a town or visiting a museum? Learning languages in tandem makes it possible.

Many universities help to establish contacts for language tandems between just arrived students from foreign countries and students who speak the national language. By this means the foreign students will improve their language skills in their new country’s language faster and the students of the host country will have the opportunity to practice a foreign language. Since their respective country of origin is going to be a frequent subject of their conversation, the tandem partners will acquire cultural knowledge as well.

Learning language in tandem is convenient for the daily life of many people, because the situation of learning can be adapted to the needs and wishes of those two who want to work together.

The basis for learning in tandem are weekly meetings of a duration of one to two hours. The time is divided equally between the languages. It is important not to mix the two languages to avoid acquiring a mixed language.

The location and content for the tandem meetings is a mutual decision of both of the participants. Many meet in public places, they go for a walk, visit museums and art exhibitions, or stroll through the town, which can be an advantage for easily finding concrete topics for the conversation. Others meet in cafés, bringing along a dictionary and using articles from newspapers and magazines or other written material as a base for their conversation.

It is not recommended to match two partners who are both beginners in their respective foreign language, because they would only be able to communicate in a very simple language. But it is possible to cooperate in a tandem, where one part is a beginner and the other one has an advanced level of knowledge in his foreign language. When the advanced learner is practicing his foreign language, the beginner will be using his mother tongue, which will give the opportunity for more interesting communication.

The main objective of learning in tandem is to use the foreign language, to communicate something to the other person without fearing possible mistakes. If something is difficult to understand or one uses incorrect expressions, this will often be noticed in the course of the conversation, when the native speaker asks a question or repeats parts of the other’s sentences in his own answer.

As mentioned above, universities often try to establish contacts between tandem partners, but there are other institutions as well, like language schools or sometimes, as in Berlin, the municipality.

In 2002 the municipality of Berlin, together with the German cultural institution Goethe-Institut and a radio station, organized the project “Bürger-Sprachen-Tandem”, where the inhabitants of Berlin were invited to sign up for tandem learning. Three months after project start there were already seventy tandem pairs working together, learning from one another German and Russian, English, Turkish, French, Polish, Chinese and several other languages. (Source: Pressemitteilung Bürger-Sprachen-Tandem)

If it is not possible to find a tandem partner for personal meetings (“face-to-face-tandem”) at your place of residence, you can look for an “e-tandem”, where you can learn a language from a tandem partner by using e-mail contact, telephone and chat or video e.g. via Skype.

You will find more information and advice about tandem learning on the Tandem server of the University of Bochum in Germany. To date, they have matched more than 190 000 participants for e-tandem from all over the world. If you would like to try a language tandem, you will find possible tandem partners on this Page for those who have English as their mother tongue.

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