In the blog post Tandem Language Learning, a language-learning tandem partnership was described as a learning method that can complement language courses. More specifically, the following questions were answered:

  • What exactly is a language-learning tandem partnership?
  • How do I find a language-learning tandem partner?
  • How do I meet my language-learning tandem partner?
  • How would a meeting with my language-learning tandem partner look like?

In this blog post, I will share my personal experiences with tandem language learning. I hope you enjoy reading it!

Arabic on Tuesdays, Spanish on Wednesdays, French on Thursdays…

Whenever I tell my family and friends that I meet with my tandem partners three evenings a week, most of them can hardly believe it. The truth is that I did not start with three tandems a week. For a very long time I only had one tandem partner with whom I met weekly – usually at the same place and at the same time. He wanted to improve his German; I wanted to make progress in Arabic. We used to study together outdoors and, after two or three hours, we walked to the bus stop together. Twice, due to the weather, we did the tandem meeting at his Syrian family’s home, where we drank tea and ate sweets. Covid-19 then moved our meetings to the virtual space, which worked surprisingly well. In fact, this is why I decided to also look for a Spanish language-learning tandem partner, so I would not be out of practice.

While I had met my first language-learning tandem partner through the tandem service offered by the School of Applied Linguistics at the ZHAW, I met my Spanish tandem partner through the app Tandem. Of course, there are countless people who either have Spanish as their mother tongue and want to learn German, or speak German as their native language and want to improve their Spanish. So, it could be difficult to find a suitable partner. However, in my case, José * wrote me a message in which he clearly expressed his expectations – weekly meeting, 20 minutes German, 20 minutes Spanish – which I liked very much. Therefore, I texted him back and we agreed to meet via Skype. Since then, we have been meeting almost without exception for almost a year – first every Monday evening, now every Wednesday evening.

Since my Arabic tandem partner and I did no longer meet regularly, the meetings with José were my only tandem meetings for a long time. During that time, I also attended an Arabic course at my university and had lectures in Spanish, English and German. However, after graduating from university, I missed studying Arabic and, what is more, I also had more free time. For this reason, I looked around again on the app Tandem and met two men who wanted to learn German and help me with Arabic. One of them never got in touch again after two meetings, but with the other one, Mohamed *, I have been meeting ever since. More precisely, Mohamed and I meet every Tuesday evening for an hour via WhatsApp video call.

Some time ago I started an internship in a transnational context. It turned out that one of our most common working languages is French.  Although I had French lessons for eight years, after finishing school, I never really spoke French again. Until recently. I started listening to French music, watching films in French and so on. Soon I realised how much I liked all that and that I would like to speak French better. And so, I met François *, also via Tandem. We meet every Thursday evening, also via WhatsApp video call, and also for an hour.

And this is it. Arabic on Tuesdays, Spanish on Wednesdays, French on Thursdays – an ordinary week for me.

How do my tandem meetings look like?

Every Tuesday evening, shortly before my meeting with Mohamed, I send him photos of the exercises in my Arabic book that I would like to discuss with him. Sometimes I read texts aloud and he corrects me if I make mistakes. And occasionally he repeats what I just have read in order that I hear the correct pronunciation. Another helpful task is, in my point of view, describing pictures. From time to time, I bring some pictures with me, which I then try to describe. As a beginner, I appreciate those learning materials since a spontaneous conversation would still be too much for me.

On Wednesdays, things are quite different. After many years of Spanish lessons, studies and stays abroad, I speak fluent Spanish and enjoy being able to chat easily with José, without any language barriers.

On Thursdays, I am a little less relaxed for the French tandem. Finding the right words and not confusing them with Spanish is quite difficult for me. But François has a lot of patience and humour, which makes it much easier and fun.

Secrets to success?

My language level is different in each language. And for each language – Arabic, Spanish and French – I have developed a feeling for organising the language tandems in a way that I can enjoy the meetings and, at the same time, achieve improvement. I also think that it is important to mention that all three languages I learned first in the classroom, that is, with learning materials and a teacher. The tandem meetings were and are a way for me to, one the one hand, practise orally what I learnt in class, and, on the other, not to lose the ability to speak the languages.

Moreover, I find the cultural exchange incredibly interesting and enriching. I learn about different perspectives on political, societal and social issues and question my own ideas.

Finally, I would like to emphasise how important I find consistency when having a language-learning tandem partnership. The tandem meetings are fixed in my agenda, and I only postpone or cancel them in case of emergency. For me, this means that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I will not go to the cinema or out for dinner with friends. However, I am happy to accept this because the advantages that I personally experience from learning in tandem far outweigh the disadvantages.

Nelly Müller – Sprachen Akademie

* All names have been changed.

Previous Post