If you are interested in learning another language, you may have come across tandem language learning. Also known as language exchanges, tandem language learning has a simple idea: uniting two or more people interested in learning each other’s language. In our case, since our goal is to learn French, we have to look for native French speakers and we will help them learn our native language in return. It’s that simple. Or is it?
Although the idea behind tandems is good, there are several catches to consider. Does that mean we should avoid them? Not necessarily. I have heard mixed opinions about them. You can ask as many people as you want, and they will all tell you different things about them. Each one of them talks based on his experiences.
Are tandems effective? What should we be aware of? What resources are there? What should we consider when looking for a language partner? Let’s answer these and other questions about the subject.
Are Tandems Even a Thing?
Tandems are not new. In fact, they have been around for years, but they were limited to face-to-face meetings, phone conversations, or correspondence. However, nowadays, thanks to the advances in technology, we have a myriad of resources to choose from. There are countless sites and apps where you just have to create an account and look for partners that match your preferences.
Tandems are one of the most used tools by language learners. When used in combination with private lessons and other learning resources, they’re even more powerful. Remember we should not limit ourselves to just one tool when there are so many out there.
If we know where to look and use tandems wisely, we put ourselves on the way to success.
Where to Look
As mentioned earlier, there are many resources to choose from. Some of the most used are:
The first two are mobile apps available for iOS and Android, while conversationexchange.com is a website. Italki, on the other hand, has both a website and a mobile app. Whatever method you choose, you have to create an account, set up your preferences, and start contacting people.
I have used them with varying results, but there are many more you could consider. You can also try sites like mylanguageexchange.com, interpals.net, easylanguageexchange.com, or The Mixxer. Some of them are more social than others, but you might get lucky and find a regular partner.
Benefits of Tandems
If you’re still not sure about tandems, think about the following:
- They’re free.
- You will get to practice with a native speaker of your native language who can correct your mistakes and teach you new things.
- You will improve your listening skills.
- You can learn about another culture.
- It’s a great way to practice immersion if you don’t live abroad.
- It’s a fun way of learning.
- You can make new friends and even visit them someday.
Drawbacks of Tandems
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect. Tandems are a double-edged sword. Below are some drawbacks you should seriously consider:
- Some people are not serious about learning. All they care about is flirting with the opposite sex.
- Time differences do matter. If your partners live on the other side of the world, deciding on a day and time is not as easy.
- It can be hard to find people who match your preferences.
- Since tandems are informal and that provides more flexibility as compared to private lessons, that can be counterproductive. Not all depends on you. For instance, your partner may forget about your session, or he may take too long to answer your messages especially if you’re in different time zones.
- If you’re not at the same or similar speaking level, you or your partner may get bored/frustrated and the exchange would not be equitable.
A Few Recommendations
There are some steps you can take to ensure you benefit from tandems. Below are some recommendations:
- Take time to set up your profile as specifically as possible. Introduce yourself in detail, indicate your learning goals, your interests/hobbies, your communication preferences, your availability, and include a photo if possible. The more info you include, the more chances you have of someone contacting you or replying to your messages.
- Be flexible. You may have established your partner preferences but at times, adjusting those preferences will be unavoidable. For instance, you might have to expand the age range of your partners or accept requests from both genders.
- Be straightforward from the beginning. No need to be rude, though. This will save you a lot of trouble later on.
- Let your partner know if you want to be corrected every single time you make a mistake, if you want him/her to wait until you’re done, etc.
- Be responsible and considerate to your partner. If for some reason you can’t make it to your session, let him know in advance. We understand things happen, but letting others know about it is greatly appreciated. Don’t stand him up just like that.
- Be patient. Some people will tell you they’re busy, while others won’t even reply to your messages. I’ve had to message a LOT of people until I found a few I could speak with.
- Tandems are NOT meant for dating. Many sites have rules addressing that issue, but it seems many users don’t care. If you’re interested in dating a foreigner, there are sites for that. This is not Tinder. Please don’t be that guy.
I hope you understand a little more about tandem language learning now. As you can see, there are many benefits and drawbacks to consider. I recommend you try at least a couple of sites/apps and then decide if they’re something that you should continue using. If we don’t try something, we will never know if it’s going to work. The same principle applies to tandems.
Are tandems effective? Yes, as long as they’re used correctly. Some people have been lucky, while others have had horrible experiences. Don’t let this deter you from trying.
Tandems, when used effectively in combination with other tools, are a great way to practice and learn another language. They don’t substitute formal lessons/tutoring by any means but are rather a complement.
What about you? Have you ever engaged in tandems? How did they go? Would you try them again? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments section below. Au revoir, les amis!