Language Tandems: How to do it Right?

And before you get your hopes up, I must disappoint you by saying that that is a genuine question of mine, as I am still in the process of learning myself. I have recently moved to Germany, I do not know that many people yet, and as my job does not involve speaking any German but it does take up most of my time, I have decided to take matters into my own hands, and find some German people to talk to. Now the easiest way to do this is to find a tandem partner, who will want to practice your native language (or another language you speak well) in return for help with theirs. You can easily find such people online: so far for German I have used and can recommend www.tandempartners.org and www.erstenachhilfe.de.

But finding a website where you can contact other people is not the hard part. It’s how to contact them, and how to react to being contacted, that can be problematic at times. And then there’s the “blind date“. So I will talk a bit about both.

First of all, when you create your profile, you should really be careful. You do not have to say much about yourself, other than what languages you seek and which languages you offer – however, you might want to specify what kind of tandem you are looking for. If you are like me, looking for young people to hang out with and have fun while practicing the language, you should say so. Otherwise you will be contacted by all the wrong people – people way out of your preferred age range, people who think they are on a dating site, and people who want to do Skype learning – which I’m personally not too interested in. And while you can easily ignore emails, or write polite refusals, I recommend you do not put your phone number on Erstenachhilfe for example, otherwise you can be called by just about any premium user, and then it can get awkward (especially if you have a hard time saying no to nice people who just do not happen to fit your criteria, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation…)

Now to the meeting. Well, it’s always a bit weird, meeting a complete stranger, but I happen to be one of those people who enjoy it. Of course it’s better if you get to take a look at their Facebook profile first (on these tandem sites you can only see a teeny-tiny image of the user) and exchange a few messages before the date, but it will still be a bit awkward. But I don’t mind, because the way I look at these meetings is, you either find a new potential friend, or if you don’t really like each other, you just call it a day. What I find frustrating, however, is that some people consider your willingness to meet them as a quasy contract for a weekly language exchange. As far as I’m concerned, if you need a scheduled appointment, pay for language courses. I do not want to be feel pressured into hanging out, regardless of the language benefits of such an arrangement. Remember, learning a language should be fun, and so should you tandem!

[Magyar]

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