Delve into new cultures with the TUC Language Tandem Board

On a language trip to Meißen with my tandem partner Emine (Photographer: Emine Taşpınar)

Rediscover your culture, explore new languages and increase your career prospects with this compelling method!

Apart from coupling new coming international students with local assistants, the Student Buddy Programme maintains a language tandem board which connects speakers of different languages for face-to-face tandem learning. This is the basic principle: a native (or fluent) speaker finds a speaker of their target language who is also interested in their language, so both participants exchange their proficiency, as it were. The tandem couple then schedules regular meetings, and each partner prepares both for the language they are learning and for the one they are to instruct. You may be wondering what there is to prepare for when teaching your mother language; however, once you get down to business, answering the gazillionth question from your disappointed student with “It is just like that” will not cut it. You will have to dig into the old grammar books from your school years. Hence, this is one of the biggest highlights of the language tandem method – Apart from learning a new language, you also become aware of numerous interesting facts about your own. You will have a lot of fun with your new buddy while both of you are improving your basic communication skills, and getting closer to that one fascinating culture you have always dreamt of delving into. If you want to achieve the highest effect possible, here are some essential aspects you need to pay attention to:

  • Found a willing partner and a suitable time slot? Great! Now it is important to find out more about their level and objective. Are they attracted to your language out of pure interest; are they planning a stay abroad or are they thinking of a prospective international career? This will determine the topics you are going to discuss. If your partner cannot specify their proficiency level, start a conversation where you use the simplest phrases and gradually make them more complex. The point where you fail to understand each other is your starting point, and from there you slowly upgrade by using more complex structures and vocabulary. Adapting and controlling your language is of course the most challenging part, which requires much concentration and clear pronunciation. You can show how phrases are used naturalistically by giving everyday examples, playing songs and decoding puns and idioms. Explaining why jokes are funny in a foreign language is either absolutely hilarious, or a catastrophe of awkwardness, but either way you will surely have a good laugh.
  • As with any other teamwork activity, tandem language learning requires collaboration. In the

    Practice makes perfect (Photographer: Marina Ivanova)

    beginning everyone is usually enthusiastic and motivated and learns and regularly reviews the grammar and vocabulary; yet, this determination can fade quite quickly, especially with the approaching exam period. In order for the tandem to keep functioning, it is crucial that each learner remain autonomous and persistent, puts some additional effort at home and does not fall back on using the more comfortable common language which most of the pairs have and use for explanations. I can confirm from my personal experience that it is quite easy to get carried away in a good conversation in the common language, and to forget about the tandem’s aim. In this case it is a good idea to set a realistic time period in which only the target languages will be spoken and leave the rest of the meeting for catching up on news from the previous week.

  • Teaching your mother language also comes with its own challenges. Some tandem participants try to speak artificially slowly, when they should rather just have articulate diction. Others immediately translate their sentence when they are asked to repeat it, which does not help the learner. As a teacher in a tandem, you should always be ready not just to correct your partner, but also to explain why, in case they do not understand their mistake. Then it is always tricky to immediately think of a grammatical rule for your usage of a particular word order, emphasis, set expression, etc. Of course you do not need to be an expert philologist in your native language in order for your tandem to succeed, but some basic knowledge and a grammar reference (like a book or the Internet) will help to make it truly effective.

If you are interested in making new friends and exploring both a foreign and your own languages while you improve your cooperation skills, I would recommend checking out the language tandem board. Observing your progress in teaching and learning will not only make you feel more accomplished, but will also open up more career possibilities.

Best wishes,


(Bachelor English & American Studies, 6th semester)

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