How to practice a new language? try a Tandem!

Do you know what's a Tandem language exchange?



After some months in language school, I realized I learned a lot of grammar, basics, reading and writing, but guess what? I still couldn't speak super good “fluent german.” Normally in language class, we didn’t get a lot of time to speak or practice, so whenever I’m with a german or in a situation where I have to speak german, I freeze and spend more time thinking about the right word or article I need, and I end up switching to english instead. Does this ever happen to you when trying to speak a new language?

One day talking about this with my husband he suggested to try a “tandem.” To be honest, I’ve never heard this before, so I didn’t even know where to start. If you are like me, and have no clue what a Tandem is, let me explain a bit: A tandem, is a language exchange method, where you meet in a casual environment with a native speaker of the language you want to practice, just to talk and exchange two languages. The ideas is that the other person is interested in learning or practicing your native language, that way is interesting for both parties, and you can both practice.

At first, I was not too sure about this idea. I mean, honestly I was a bit embarrassed, but anyways, I decided to give it a try. Now, we ended up creating a little group of two german girls and two Spanish speakers. (one Colombian and myself- Mexican) 

How to start? 

There are so many ways you can find a “tandem partner,” in your language school, casually with friends, online, or normally there’s also Facebook groups that are specially for this. This is how I found my Tandem partners, there’s a group called “Spanish-German tandem” in my city, where people can post if they are looking for partners, etc. 

In my case, we decided to first meet in a coffee shop just to get to know each other, talk about our language goals, and also to see if it was honestly a fit. I think this is super important, you need to feel comfortable with the person you are going to be talking or meeting once or twice a week. After that we set up the next official “tandem-meetup” and the place. For the place, it can be a coffee shop, library, restaurant, etc. 

Some tips for your Tandem meetings.

  • Make sure the place you choose is not too loud, specially because you are going to have to put extra attention to the pronunciation and conversation. So maybe skip that new bar or trendy restaurant.
  • Prepare some topics in advance, not the whole conversation, but maybe some topics or vocabulary you would like to improve. It can be anything from favorite movies, family background, favorite foods, travels, culture or traditions, everyday expressions, etc. 
  • Set times, you can do for example, the first 30 min. in one language, then the next 30 min in the other language. Ask questions, but try to make it more like a conversation than an interview. Maybe the first meetings will feel a bit awkward, but with time it will be getting better. 
  • Commit to your tandem meetings, it’s so easy to put it aside, but when it comes to practicing a language persistence is key. So I would recommend once or twice a week. What we did for example, we scheduled the first month (with time and place) that way we can plan ahead and make it a priority. 
  • It’s also really important that you and your tandem partner are in about the same language level. So example, I’m trying to improve my German and my tandem partner is trying to improve her Spanish, the first time we met we talked about what our level on each language was, that way is not getting to boring or repetitive for each of us. 
  • Whenever you are practicing, do not interrupt, or switch the languages. The idea is to try to have a conversation as normal as you can. You could have a little notebook where you write new vocabulary or questions, but always wait until the end, this way you are getting more fluent instead of worrying about what to say next. 
tandem language practice

And that’s it, so far, I’ve only been in doing the tandem meetings for about a month, but I think is a great experience to get yourself out there and practice without being judged, I mean we know that we are going to make mistakes, but that's the point, to practice and get better at it. Also, practice, practice, practice. 

Have you tried a Tandem language exchange before? Share your experience!