Tandem Language Learning

In the blog post Make the most out of your language lessons with these learning methods we shared tips and tricks for effective learning methods before, during and after language course lessons. The blog post How to Write a Good Summary focused on one of the methods: writing a summary. However, you can also learn a language outside the classroom. A language-learning tandem partnership is a relaxed, interactive and extremely enriching way to do this. In fact, a language-learning tandem partnership can complement or, in some cases, replace language courses. And the best thing about it: language-learning tandems are one hundred per cent free of charge!

What exactly is a language-learning tandem partnership?

In a language learning tandem, you are both teacher and learner at the same time. In most cases, two people with different native languages meet. Let us take Lena, whose native language is German, and Fabio, whose native language is Italian, as an example. Lena wants to improve her Italian, which has become a bit rusty over the years. Fabio goes to a German course, but, since it is a group course, he does not get to speak much there. For this reason, the two of them meet once a week in order to speak Italian for half an hour and then talk in German for the second half hour. Since Lena’s main goal is to have fluent conversations, she does not want Fabio to correct her for every little mistake, but only for more serious ones that negatively affect comprehension. Fabio, on the other hand, often has questions about German grammar, discusses his homework for the German course with Lena and wants her to correct him more often. Thus, language learning tandems are extremely flexible and adaptable to individual learning preferences. Both partners determine their own learning goals, the topics they want to discuss and their strategies. Furthermore, there is inevitably also a cultural exchange, which makes language-learning tandems all the more an enriching experience.

How do I find a language-learning tandem partner?

In fact, it is quite easy to find a language-learning tandem partner. The first step is to choose a suitable platform.

Students, PhD/doctoral students, University of Zurich and ETH staff and members of the PHZH and ZHdK can use the Language Centre’s tandem service which arranges learning partnerships free of charge:


Tandem is free of charge and is offered by the School of Applied Linguistics at the ZHAW. It is open to anybody who is interested in participating, regardless of whether you study at the ZHAW or not:


Many other universities have similar offers, including the University of Basel:


You can also find many other tandem services on the internet. There is also an app that makes it easy to meet people from all over the world:


All you must do is download the app and register. Then you can search for the language you want to learn, and the app will immediately show you countless native speakers who would like to learn your native language. You can then contact them and, if you want to, arrange a meeting with them.

How do I meet my language-learning tandem partner?

There are basically two ways to meet with a language-learning tandem partner: in person or online. If you decide to meet in person, a café or a park – preferably with benches and tables – would be suitable places. However, you can also go for a walk or even a hike together, visit a museum or cook together. But what if your language-learning tandem partner does not live near you but in another country or even on another continent? In this case, the meeting can take place online, for example via Skype or ZOOM.

How would a meeting with my language-learning tandem partner look like?

As already mentioned, language-learning tandems have an individual format. Both partners take responsibility and agree on the place, time, duration and regularity of the meetings. It can also be decided individually what the focus should be: Speaking, writing, listening or reading. The topics of the meetings can either arise spontaneously or be discussed in advance. Possible ideas include hobbies, interests, culture, world news, politics, sports, nutrition, travel and so on. It may also be agreed that, for example, at the next meeting, both bring along some idioms or proverbs, and then explain them to the other person. In short, no two language-learning tandems are the same, and that’s the wonderful thing about it!

Do you have your own experience with language-learning tandem meetings? What are your tips and recommendations? Do you have any questions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – we look forward to your feedback!

Nelly Müller – Sprachen Akademie

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