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Tandem language learning

It works better if there are two of you!

What is tandem language learning?
Tandem language learning is a way of learning language through a language partnership. In tandem learning, two people with different mother tongues meet regularly to learn each other’s language. If you want to improve e.g. your English, you can (either in addition to taking part in a language course or just independently) work together with a tandem partner whose mother tongue is English and who learns you native language.

How can I find a partner for tandem exchange?
You can access our constantly updated tandem database in the self-study area (Language lab 3, KG I, room 1030). There you can search for a matching tandem partner or ask to be included in the database. The database is ordered according to the language looked for. You can download the registration form here. Please fill it in and send it to Rosanna Pedretti or print and submit it to our staff at Language lab 3. Other options for finding a tandem partner include search ads at notice boards of the university (e.g. at the entrance of the institutes of the relevant languages), the tandem service of Student Services Freiburg or the tandem market of the University of Education.

Who has access to the tandem program?

Anyone permitted to work in the self-study area (Language labs 3 and 4) can join our tandem program: students and members of staff of the University of Freiburg and other colleges and universities in Freiburg (University of Education, University of Music, etc.)

How long will my contact data be kept in the tandem database?
Your contact data will be kept in the tandem database for one semester (6 months). At the beginning of the new semester, you will be requested to confirm that you are still interested in finding a tandem partner. If you are not, your data will be removed from the database. This allows us to keep it up to date.

What may a tandem agreement look like?
You and your tandem partner agree, for instance, that you will meet each week for two hour and dedicate each language one hour. You may further agree that when talking in your partner’s native language, it is up to you to establish how you would like to work and which topics you would like to cover; when talking in your native language, you will try to support your partner and his/her efforts of successfully communicating in your native language.

What are the advantages of tandem learning?

Tandem learning

  • is free and usually highly effective.
  • combines learning and real communication: at any moment, at least one of the partners is learning regardless of the topic and the language they use.
  • is fair: in a tandem pair, both partners give and receive equally.
  • may help increasing learner autonomy: you decide what, how much and how you will learn and your tandem partner will help you reach your goals.
  • may help improving your intercultural competence and your knowledge of the political and cultural institutions of the country where the language is spoken: you will not only learn a language, but will also come in touch with new interesting information about your partner, his/her environment and the culture of his/her country of origin as well.
  • is the ideal supplement to a language course: you can work on the tasks assigned in the course or revise them together with your partner.

What should I keep in mind when taking part in a tandem program?
In order to work effectively with your tandem partner, you may follow the following ten golden rules for successful tandem language learning.

1. Be consistent and realistic!
The tandem partners should meet on a regular basis. They should arrange a fixed time for meetings. Of course, the frequency and length of tandem meetings will depend on the schedule of both partners. The partners should not set too high goals; rather, they should estimate realistically how much time and energy they would like to spend on their language tandem. Otherwise, demotivation may be an inevitable consequence!

2. Look for the right place to meet!
The choice of an appropriate place for meeting is not to be underestimated. It may be better to agree on a neutral place at the beginning (e.g. somewhere at the university, in a coffee bar, etc.)

3. Keep languages apart!
The partners should refrain from mixing both languages. They should establish at the beginning how much time will be devoted to each language and switch to the other language only after that time. Both languages should be granted the same amount of time, so both partners can equally benefit from the tandem exchange.

4. Be autonomous!
Partners are responsible for their own learning. They should decide what they would like to learn and how to do it. Still, goals and methods are to be matched with those of the partner. This is called the principle of learner autonomy.

5. Help each other!
The tandem partners respect each other; they keep their appointments, come in time to their meetings and inform each other in advance if something has come up. Additionally, both partners should respect mutual agreements and bear responsibility both for their own and their partner’s learning process. This is called the principle of mutuality.

6. Act both as a learner and as a mediator!
Each one of the tandem partners will alternatively act as a learner and as a language mediator for his foreign language and his mother tongue respectively. Yet both partners should bear in mind that learning in tandem exchange is not the same as taking individual lessons with a language teacher. As a rule, tandem partners are no qualified teachers. This means that tandem partners will probably answer specific grammatical questions or explain linguistic issues only on the basis of their feel for their native language.

7. Try to match age and language level!
The tandem partners should be approximately of the same age. This is often a precondition for a shared living environment, which can serve as a basis for finding appropriate conversation topics; the same is the case for interests and goals. Moreover, the partners should ideally be equally proficient in their foreign language.

8. Avoid monotony!
Chatting together over a cup of coffee may prove to be boring after a while. Diversified activities give both tandem partners the chance to experience new communicative situations and to use the foreign language “in context”. For instance, partners may practice different language skills from week to week: they may read and discuss texts, send each other e-mails, write short texts and discuss them… You may find further guidelines for successful meetings here  (this is the website of the Tandem Foundation).

9. Be fair to each other!
If one of the partners loses interest in language tandem, he/she should be honest and tell his/her partner about this. That way they can discuss together if they should stop meeting or if the existing problems can be solved somehow.

10. Be fair when correcting your partner!
Both tandem partners should have the opportunity to ask for corrections. However, partners should refrain from correcting each mistake. It is advisable that they point to mistakes when one of the partners does not understand what the other means, when an error occurs very frequently or when the partner is searching for the right word and explicitly asks for help.

Any further questions?

Further advice is given in a short introduction to tandem language learning which is available in the language lab 3.  There you may also access our tandem database. If you have any further questions, you may come and see the language lab supervisor or contact her via e-mail.

Contact for tandem learning related questions
Rosanna Pedretti

Tel: 0761 - 203 / 3273

Phone:  0049 761 203 3224
Fax: 0049 761 203 3516

Sprachlehrinstitut der Philologischen Fakultät der Albert-Ludwigs Universität Freiburg
Universitätstr. 5
79098 Freiburg

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