A young woman and a young man standing close to a window chatting to each other.

Would you like to improve your German in real-life situations?

Then, let us introduce you to the Tandem programme by the University of Stuttgart. Kavya shares her experiences with Tandem and how she ended up making a great friend.

The basics: What is tandem?

Tandem is a programme offered by the Language Centre at the University of Stuttgart. It promotes tandem learning of languages. This means that two people wanting to learn a foreign language exchange by offering their native language which is the target language of the partner. In my case, I was searching for a German tandem partner to improve my German and in exchange, I offered English. You can choose to exchange with your tandem partner either face-to-face or online. The language centre has a database where you can find a tandem partner and/or post your request to find one.

Moving on to my experience: How did I find my tandem partner?

I moved to Germany in the winter semester of 2019 and as you know we were hit with Covid-19 in spring 2020. So my language learning which started in full swing in the fall came to a semi-halt by spring. Although I was taking German classes online, I rarely had the chance to speak German outside my classes due to the lockdown. I spoke German only in passing with my international flatmates.

On paper, my German ‘technically’ improved and I levelled up from A2 to B1 level during the course of Covid-19. However, I felt I could not hold a conversation or speak enough German to navigate my daily life. That’s when I actively started finding ways to speak German and thanks to the Language Center I came across tandem learning. I went through the database and applied. Luckily, I found my first tandem partner and we tried to exchange regularly. I must say my German was very poor compared to my tandem partner’s English which was almost flawless! So, there was an imbalance in our target languages. Unfortunately, my first tandem experience was short-lived because my partner moved to another city and we could not continue our exchange remotely.

I tried my luck again in 2021 and sought a tandem partner on the database. That’s when I found Marc, a PhD student at the time with whom I still practice my German! It is 2024 and we have been exchanging regularly for 3 years! After all these years and despite moving to other cities, we managed to still stay in touch and practise our target languages!  

A success story: How did we make it work?

In our case, to begin with, the lockdown was lifted and life gradually resumed back to normal. After a year and a half of online classes and meetings, we both looked forward to learning our target languages face-to-face. We arranged to meet regularly once a week in the city centre and go for a walk taking turns in speaking our target languages. We tried the 30-minute method where for the first 30 minutes we spoke in one of our target languages and switched to the other’s target language for the next 30 minutes and repeated this when we had more time. We always tried to make sure that we got equal opportunities to speak.

Two persons sitting on a table having coffee and cupcakes and reading in a book together. Their faces cannot be seen, only their hands.

We adapted our once-a-week meetings to the weather and had variations in the meetings. Most often we walked, shopped, window-shopped, participated in some events together, visited museums and if the weather was nice we got something from the bakery and had a little picnic. Seeing Marc interacting in shops allowed me to observe, ask questions and learn how German works in a real-life context. Since we had common interests that was a bonus in discussing those topics. We gradually started to get to know each other, and discover each other’s interests more and over time we became really good friends. In my opinion, it’s this friendship that has made us keep in touch regularly and still practise our target languages regularly despite being in different cities and having different professions.

In short, my advice is to meet regularly, have a genuine interest in learning, find someone with common interests, be respectful and most importantly be patient. Be patient with yourself and immerse yourself in your target language as much as possible. Moreover, keep in mind that a tandem partner won’t entirely replace the classroom learning experience. Personally, having a tandem partner helped me ease into speaking German. The classroom learning coupled with having a tandem partner with whom I could easily speak, is what helped me. It gave me the confidence to speak naturally in other situations. Overall, I would say try having a language partner to practice your target languages to help you navigate your daily life with ease.

Lastly, if this article has piqued your interest, here’s the link to learn more about the University of Stuttgart’s Tandem programme. Go check it out and find your tandem partner!

Find your tandem partner

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