Your first language exchange on Tandem can be quite daunting, so we asked the Tandem Fundazioa, the team that came up with this method of language practice, for their top tips on how to make the most out of your conversation.
A Tandem is a way of learning a language by exchanging with somebody who wants to learn your language. You divide your agreed time into two parts. In one, your partner learns and practices your language, and in the other, your partner helps you. When you arrange a Tandem online, this is an “eTandem”. This is what happens on Tandem – Language Exchange.
Tandems are especially good for:
- Learning new words
- Improving your understanding
- Learning to express yourself freely and easily with few words
- Finding out about other cultures
They usually work best for learners who are already at the Intermediate knowledge level. Basically – if you can use the perfect tense confidently, you are definitely ready for a Tandem!
Here are the most important elements of a Tandem exchange:
To begin with, it can be helpful to make notes about the next meeting to prepare. Think about:
- The subject that you want to talk about
- The materials you need (pictures, comics, articles, songs, short films etc.)
With a Tandem language exchange, you are alternately a ‘learner’ and a ‘learning assistant’. The best way to do it is by dividing your conversation into two parts. In one, your partner learns and practises your language; in the other, you learn and practise theirs.
Distinguish and alternate languages
Speak (or message) for a certain length of time, e.g. only half an hour, in one language, then the same amount of time in the other language. Try to use only the target language when you are speaking. For example, if your partner does not understand a word immediately, explain it to them using your own language rather than translating. If you translate, you end up using the language you can both speak better. So one learns more, and the other less – which isn’t the aim of a Tandem!
Read our top tips for avoiding translation on our blog here.
- Your work or university, where you live or have lived in the past, your spare time, parties, habits, plans for the future
- Common interests (sport, fashion, music, films, hobbies, pets)
- Things you have done (your last holidays, the first trip without parents, first love, the best or worst day of your life) or fantasises about the future (where you want to be in ten years time, what a biographer would write about you, who you might have been in a parallel life)
- Topical subjects that are particularly relevant to your country (climate change, politics, youth unemployment), though some of these may be best saved for when you know your partner a little better
Skills to practice
Listening: speak normally with the partner. If necessary, repeat something in other words, so he learns to guess the rest from words in a context.
Speaking: better a short sentence which is not quite correct than silence! Tandems are the best way to get speaking right away
Reading: choose real articles or publications, even if you do not understand everything immediately. First find out what it is about in general, for whom it is written, and the central message.
Writing: it’s practical to write something at home and then have a look at the results together, or read them out to each other.
Aim for mutual understanding
Not all words are in the textbooks. Getting to know the most up-to-date slang is one of the best benefits of Tandem exchanges! You can even focus on technical or business languge if this is what you want to learn. However, it is important to avoid using long, involved sentences that might confuse or discourage your partner. Also avoid baby talk at all costs, as your partner won’t learn anything from it. Your partner will want to speak like a normal person, so speak like one!
Unless you particularly want to practice translation skills, it is not very effective to jump from language to language.
Instead of translating words, try to describe them to your partner, using:
- Synonyms: stroll = walk
- Opposites: bitterly <-> sweetly
- Examples of the same category: tangerine-> orange, lemon
- Derivations: fly -> flight
- Associations: sea and holidays
- Word connections: tooth(-)pick
- Comparisons or references to the person: ‘You have jet-black hair.’
Learn from your mistakes
Mistakes are in no way bad – they are an important part of the learning process. Arrange with your partner how you want to deal with corrections. This is important especially for intermediate learners and below, because by correcting absolutely everything you could seriously undermine their confidence. For advanced learners, it is good to focus on phrases that could be more natural and any bad habits they might have got into over time! However, when writing, it it is best to be as accurate as possible.
Correct your partner when necessary
- DON’T stop all the time to correct
- DON’T correct absolutely everything
- DO decide on what is most important at the start of the conversation
- DO note down mistakes while talking to your partner
- DO use the word/phrase your partner got wrong naturally in a sentence. This will give them a good model to learn from!
- DO discuss mistakes towards the end of the conversation
- DO send corrections after a video chat via messaging so your partner has it to review
Here’s our guide on how to use the correct feature on Tandem.
- Write them down and look at them a couple of times a day
- Say them aloud – singing, shouting or whispering them can help!
- Highlight any similarities to words in your own language
- Learn a word together with its opposite
- Express them visually (make a flower in the ‘o’ of ‘the flower’)
- Form sentences with them or do a role play in which they appear
- Put in references to other words (vacation – sea – jellyfish)
- Order and collect them in groups or lists
Remembering vocabulary is fun! Check out our blog post with all the memory tricks you could ever want.
Enjoy linking up with different cultures
With Tandem language exchange, you get an insider’s view on what life is like in another country. You also find out how other people perceive your country and culture! While this is an amazing experience, it can also be challenging at times. Be patient, friendly and open. You may be surprised by what you hear – this is the point of cultural exchange.
If you have the feeling that it’s not going well, talk about it without making it personal. In every learning process there are highs and lows. Your teacher/counsellor can also give you advice.
Have a good journey!
Big thanks to Jürgen Wolff from the Tandem Fundazioa for providing these answers. For more insight from the masters of Tandem method, check out their website.
Jürgen Wolff, according to ’13 Tandem-Tipps’, Ed. by alpha&beta, © TANDEM® Fundazioa, Donostia / San Sebastián, 2012