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Tandem language learning - an interactive method


Date13 Jan 2022


The tandem method of language learning helps two people progress in learning a language at the same time, just as a tandem bicycle helps two people progress with a combined effort. For this method, you find a person who speaks your target language as a mother tongue and is learning your mother tongue.

Often the step from acquiring the basics to speaking freely is the most difficult. Overcoming the threshold of inhibitions and insecurity requires some effort. The tandem language learning method is perfect for crossing this threshold with ease.

The tandem method has several advantages. For example, it is usually less stressful for the learners than in a classroom, as the language is learnt easily and playfully in a relaxed private atmosphere. Learning with native speakers gives you a realistic idea of how the language will be used. In addition, you can learn more about the country and culture from your partner's personal perspective. This promotes intercultural understanding and often leads to beautiful friendships. Tandem allows more flexibility than a language course, because you can choose the best method, time and place for you.

The tandem method is not a substitute for language schools and formal language courses. You should still learn the basics with a trained language teacher.

Some basics about the method

The language levels of both partners should be similar so that both benefit equally from the tandem. In addition, they should know the basics of the language well enough to be able to hold a conversation. The most important basis for the success of a tandem is continuity. Regular meetings are the key to success. How you organise these meetings is up to you. You can meet for coffee, to go shopping, to cook, to go to the theatre or to visit a museum - this way you will have different topics of conversation each time and learn different vocabulary along the way.

Of course, you should spend the same amount of time on both languages so that you both learn something. It is also important that you remain consistent and do not switch to your mother tongue. The rules for your tandem are up to you, you can try out what works best for both of you. Agree on a strategy for corrections, which should always be constructive.

Different forms of tandem

There are different ways of using the tandem language learning method. The first form is suitable if both partners are already at a stage where they have no problem understanding the other language. In this case, it makes sense for each partner to speak consistently in the foreign language in order to practise as much as possible. Corrections from the other person help.

If you have not yet fully mastered listening comprehension, you should divide the time. Spend the first half of the meeting on one language and the second half on the other. Nothing is better than practising listening comprehension with a native speaker. You can also devote a whole meeting to one language and the next meeting to the other.

Of course, there is also the possibility of forming written or digital tandems. You can exchange emails or messages, which can then be easily corrected. Video phone calls and voice messages are also a variant. However, direct communication with regular meetings is the most promising.  

How to find a tandem partner?

For a successful tandem, you first need to find a partner. There are many websites and apps for this. We have listed a selection here:

Before you start a request, you should think about exactly what you expect from the tandem method and what your partner should be like, so that you can communicate this clearly. This includes the language level. For a tandem, you should already be advanced enough in your target language to be able to hold a conversation. Your partner is not a substitute for language training.

In your request, you should also reveal a bit about yourself so that the other person knows who they are dealing with. Common interests are an advantage so that you have a topic for the first conversation. However, an interest in the other person's culture and language is a good start. If you state the reasons for your interest in the other language in the application (such as a stay abroad or something else), your counterpart will have a better idea of what you need.

Respect and patience are important for the success of the tandem. Be prepared for your partner to speak slowly and make mistakes, that is part of it. The tandem should be a learning space where both feel safe. Praise can boost each other's self-confidence and trust in the method. You should also be prepared for the fact that the understanding of language can be different. The systematic approach of learning a language with grammar as in Latin lessons is not obvious to everyone. Speaking should be in the foreground, and you can look up the grammar later.

However, it is legitimate to break up the tandem if it does not fit. You should talk openly about your ideas, expectations and goals so that both of you can get involved. Nevertheless, you may not feel comfortable with the tandem or the language level may not be right. The tandem should be successful for both partners. So if you find that it is not right for you, break it up sooner rather than later.

However you structure the tandem is up to you. It can be a wonderful experience in which a new friendship is formed. If you have any questions, feel free to write to us in the comments or directly to [email protected]!

Written by: Tanja Holbe

Cover Photo Credit:  Etienne Boulanger - Unsplash

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