Tandem language learning

If you had an experience of being an international student in a foreign country, you probably hung out more with other internationals rather than locals. Being placed in the same dormitory, attending same parties, facing same problems as a foreigner you quickly get attached to the students from different geographical and cultural backgrounds. English naturally becomes a lingua franca that connects you. Although this means that you will improve your English, at the same time, you lose the opportunity to learn the local language truly experiencing the local culture.  That is why many European universities organize Tandem language learning programs to break the ice between international and local students enabling them to learn from each other.

In tandem language learning native speakers of two different languages are paired together to learn each other’s language. They meet and spend equal amount of time speaking in both languages.  It is upon them to decide when and where to meet and on what topic to talk about: they might meet at a pizzeria and have a nice conversation enjoying a pizza, or find a more official setting where they can teach the grammar of their language. The only prerequisite for participants is that they should at least have an Intermediate language proficiency in the language of their partner. Otherwise, imagine an awkward situation in which you and your partner sit in a silence staring at each other being unable to communicate.

So, what are the benefits of tandem learning?

          It helps to make new friends.

          It helps to develop intercultural communicative competence.

          It is convenient as you can decide the time and location to meet.

          It helps to practice a foreign language in a real authentic setting with a native speaker.

In my opinion, with the rise of international students, this approach of language learning can also be introduced in Kazakhstani universities, what do you think?


2 thoughts on “Tandem language learning

  1. Ariya, this is a great topic and a well-formulated piece. (5/5) When I was in Spain for a semester studying abroad, I found this issue as a negative, since using English as our lingua franca meant NOT spending enough time learning and using Spanish. Our program directors realized this was a problem and arranged terulias, a spanish concept of a social gathering with the purpose of talking about current affairs or the arts. In fact, we were practicing tandem learning!


  2. Dear Ariya, the practice of tandem learning is a great idea! I think this approach not only spices up the foreign language learning process, but also draws on the existing knowledge of speaker’s own native language. Have you ever be involved in the tandem language learning, and what are the drawbacks? Will this practice be realized only in the environment where there are many international students?


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