man and woman sitting on chair in restaurant

Learning and deepening foreign languages in tandem

Especially if you are learning a foreign language on your own or refreshing your language skills, a “tandem is an interesting and promising learning method. The basic idea is that two people with different mother tongues exchange and support each other in learning the foreign language. Thus, both sides benefit from this learning method.

An example of a German-Italian learning tandem – If you are in the process of learning Italian, you form a tandem with an Italian learning partner who wants to practice his German language skills. He or she will now help you learn his or her language while you assist him or her in practicing the German.

In such a learning tandem, you will meet at regular intervals either in person or – if this is not possible – exchange information via media such as telephone, mail, chat or video conference (e.g. Skype).

However, a personal meeting is generally the most sensible way to achieve sustainable learning effects.

How should you organize your joint meetings?

First of all, it is important that you meet regularly. It’s best to arrange a fixed day each week when you can spend two or more hours together.

Discuss in advance how you will divide up this time so that there is roughly the same amount of space for both languages. You should divide the time in such a way that one language is spoken in the first half of your meeting, while you devote the second half to the other language.

How you both organize your meetings is entirely up to your learning needs.
For example, you can discuss current political or cultural topics using articles from a daily newspaper or the Internet. Always try to stick to one language and not switch between the two. Only if you or your partner do not know a vocabulary word, you can ask for it in your native language.

If it suits your learning needs more, you can also go through lessons of your language course with your tandem partner and discuss open questions (e.g. grammar phenomena) or talk about the texts of the course.

But of course, you will also have a great learning gain even if you “only” have casual conversation with each other – whether about your hobbies, unusual travel experiences or your family. After all, the important thing is that you use and understand the foreign language and lose your shyness to speak.

What are the advantages of learning in tandem?

Learning in tandem is learning in an authentic situation. You acquire the foreign language outside of formal learning environments (e.g. at the VHS or with multimedia courses). Here you have the opportunity to always ask questions, explain your own views, share individual experiences or discuss current topics or ideas.

You are free to set the time and decide how much you want to learn. You both determine the scope and content of your training and can clarify together what goals you are pursuing with the tandem.

Moreover, learning in tandem is always intercultural learning: you learn about the culture of the other country as well as about the living conditions and viewpoints of your counterpart.

When learning in tandem, you not only expand your vocabulary. You also learn how to express certain things in the foreign language (idioms, etc.) and train your pronunciation, listening comprehension and speaking skills.

The biggest advantage of learning in tandem, however, is that you reduce your inhibitions about using the foreign language and don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake – after all, your partner doesn’t have a perfect knowledge of your native language either.

What should you bring to a tandem learning partnership?

In addition to openness, interest and the willingness not only to take, but also to give, both sides should already have a certain amount of prior knowledge about the other language (and sensibly also about the foreign culture). Both should be able to form and understand at least simple sentences in the foreign language.

If you do not understand something, always dare to ask and ask for an explanation of what your partner means. Likewise, if you make a mistake, you should correct it and explain what the mistake was. Only in this way can both of you learn from your mistakes. Otherwise, there would be a danger that your partner would internalize these mistakes to such an extent that they would be difficult to undo.

Furthermore, your foreign language learning should not be done exclusively through the tandem. A tandem is a very helpful learning method, but it should primarily serve as a supplement.

Especially the grammar of the foreign language can be learned better in a language course. A native speaker has usually learned the grammar of his language less systematically than playfully in childhood. Therefore, he uses them rather from the gut than to recall these rules always or to explain.

Tandem learning is above all a method with which you can learn authentically, interestingly and profitably for both sides, and with which moments of success will occur almost by themselves.

Try it out!